When the fixtures for the 2019-20 season were announced, Manchester United fans may have felt nervous about playing Chelsea and Wolves in their opening two games. Given the way they had performed towards the end of the last campaign and their results against Wolves away, it wouldn’t have been a massive shock if they had lost their first two matches, which would have been a disastrous start for them.
However, after the surprise 4-0 thrashing of Chelsea, United fans enjoyed seeing their team dominate the first half against Wolves on Monday night, going in 1-0 up thanks to a goal from Anthony Martial, his second in two games.
Yet United struggled to get the second goal, with Jesse Lingard receiving most criticism for fluffing two good chances.
The biggest talking point of the game, from United’s perspective at least, should have been why Ruben Neves was left completely unmarked on the edge of the box before drawing his team level with an excellent strike. Given how deadly he has proven to be from outside of the area, it’s criminal that nobody picked him up.
However, social media and the post-match analysis by the media was dominated by discussion of Paul Pogba’s missed penalty.
The Frenchman charged into the box and was brought down, leaving Jon Moss no choice but to award a penalty. A discussion took place between Pogba and Marcus Rashford, who scored a great penalty against Chelsea last weekend, which resulted with Pogba putting the ball on the penalty spot. His trademark long run up was missing but he took a weak penalty. There have been worse, but it was at the perfect height for Rui Patricio to save and United missed out on going top of the table as a result.
Rashford played it down in his post-match interview, revealing that Pogba had asked to taken it but that missing penalties wasn’t unusual. But given Rashford has scored every professional penalty he has taken, including an injury time winner against PSG in the Champions League and against Colombia for England in a shoot-out at the World Cup, it begs the question why he isn’t the designated penalty taker.
Pogba has now missed four of the 11 penalties he’s taken for United, which is a pretty poor return. In Premier League history, when looking at players who have taken 10 or more, only five players have missed a higher proportion than Pogba.
Gary Neville was fuming after the game, labelling Pogba “selfish” for insisting on taking the penalty, blaming the midfielder’s ego.
“Pogba has missed four in the last 12 months,” he said. “You’d think he has had his chance. Rashford scored last week – take the penalty.”
The former United captain also labelled it “embarrassing” that there would be any confusion over who should take penalties.
“This is a Manchester United penalty – this isn’t a tombola,” he said. “This is not under-fives football on the playground.”
Did Pogba take the penalty off Rashford?
🗯️ "Initially I was fuming with Pogba. I thought typical you, you're selfish, why are you even thinking of taking a penalty off a player?" 😡 @GNev2 says there should never be any debate over who should be taking a penalty… pic.twitter.com/0U98eZXbBw
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) August 19, 2019
Solskjaer revealed after the game that both players are down for penalty duty and that it’s up to them to decide between them, which came under plenty of criticism, accusing the manager of not being more decisive and authoritative. Earlier in the summer Pogba had suggested it was time for him to take up a new challenge at a different club, so it has been suggested Solskjaer is trying to appease the midfielder.
Chris Sutton, in his role as pundit for the BBC, called it “weak management” from Solskjaer. Keith Gillespie chimed in as well, saying that clubs must have a designated penalty taker.
However, this isn’t the first time United fans have seen confusion over who their penalty taker is. Even Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t get it right, and you could never accuse him of not having authority over the dressing room.
At the beginning of the 2009-10 season, United were awarded a penalty against Burnley and nobody seemed to know who should be taking it. It was the club’s first penalty since Cristiano Ronaldo had left for Real Madrid in the summer and seemingly there had been no discussion over who would be filling the newly vacant role.
Michael Carrick eventually stepped up, missed and they lost the game 1-0. This would be one of the moments United fans reflected on at the end of the season when losing out on the title by a point.
Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen were both on the field, with Ferguson admitting he was “surprised” that Carrick ended up taking it. The bigger surprise was that Ferguson hadn’t considered who would be replacing Ronaldo for penalty duty.
Towards the end of that season, United were awarded a penalty against Spurs, and Nani ran up to collect the ball. Rooney had become the penalty taker after the Burnley farce but he wasn’t on the pitch. In the end, Ryan Giggs took the ball off Nani and scored, taking his first penalty since missing against Southampton in the FA Cup back in 1992! United were awarded a second penalty, and Giggs took that one too, scoring both.
The next season, with United not learning from their lack of organisation, Nani again went to take the first penalty the club were awarded, this time against Fulham, and missed.
Remarkably, despite all of this, United still hadn’t got their act together by the start of the 2012-13 season. They missed their first three penalties of the season, with three different players taking them. Javier Hernandez and Robin van Persie missed the first two, before Nani missed in the Champions League game against Galatasaray.
Maybe Neville had forgotten about the years of uncertainty in the team he had played in when laying into Pogba.
That said, just as Ferguson made mistakes in not making it explicit, Solskjaer probably should have made it clear who was responsible for penalties. Given Rashford’s run of perfect form when stepping up, he should be the player taking penalties when he’s playing, and United would probably be better off if they found a deputy with better technique than Pogba.
The furore that has followed Monday’s game has been ridiculously over the top and has lead to some idiots going as far as racially abusing Pogba. People have been whipped up in to a frenzy by the silly levels of over-analysis after the game, demonising Pogba for missing a penalty, and as is becoming increasingly common in England, has resulted in people using racist language to condemn the midfielder. It’s beyond pathetic.
Manchester United have "utterly condemned" the racist abuse aimed at Paul Pogba after his missed penalty against Wolves, branding it "disgusting." pic.twitter.com/Tr9Z1Qf2Ue
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 20, 2019
Thankfully the club and his teammates have rallied around Pogba, as well as many other supporters, but it’s a depressing reflection on football support and the climate of this country right now that incidents like this continue to happen.
Pogba was the last player to leave the pitch last weekend after the victory over Chelsea, applauded by the Stretford End as he gave away his shirt. He has plenty of people at Old Trafford and at away games who back him, even if not all unanimously believing he should get further opportunities to take penalties for the team.
Solskjaer is learning a lot as manager at United and this will likely be another lesson. But overall, his players have made a positive start to the season and that shouldn’t be overlooked because of one missed penalty!