Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag would’ve envisaged a straightforward path into the FA Cup fifth round by fielding a strong team against Newport County on Sunday. But the Red Devils were once again far from convincing at Rodney Parade, with three stars particularly underwhelming.
United were quick out of the blocks and flaunted their quality early on, with Bruno Fernandes and Kobbie Mainoo firing the visitors into a 2-0 lead after 13 minutes.
Ten Hag’s side then collapsed into common habits, wasting a handful of chances before conceding on either side of half-time as Newport shockingly drew level.
United restored their composure, and Antony scored his first goal of the season to make it 3-2 on 68 minutes. Rasmus Hojlund cashed in on his first shot of the game in stoppage time for a fourth.
Ten Hag named his strongest team, barring Altay Bayindir over Andre Onana and Antony replacing Marcus Rashford, who reported too ill for training on Friday, hours after clubbing in Belfast.
However, the M16 giants failed to get the job done convincingly, and three performances may have worried Ten Hag ahead of a crunch period for his short reign at Old Trafford.
Alejandro Garnacho, back on the left in Rashford’s place, regularly looked a threat and used his pace to get in behind Newport’s defence on several occasions.
But his decision-making in the final third was poor, especially when United boasted a two-goal lead and had a handful of chances to finish the game off. Rasmus Hojlund was audibly livid with the 19-year-old.
Garnacho has established himself as a regular starter this season but has a lot to learn. Bruno Fernandes called out his selfish decisions in the final third after full-time.
The Argentine has a big future at Old Trafford, though, unlike Raphael Varane and Casemiro. Both are widely expected to leave United this summer as part of INEOS’ sporting shake-up.
Varane didn’t impress and looked inferior to centre-back partner Lisandro Martinez, winning just one duel and completing two of five attempted long balls. His position is under threat from Harry Maguire.
Meanwhile, many hoped that Casemiro would showcase his form of last season after a lengthy injury lay-off.
But, while he wasn’t going to be in prime condition at Newport, the 31-year-old continued his sloppy form of the current campaign.
Casemiro returned to his role as the holding midfielder, allowing Mainoo and Fernandes to operate further up the pitch.
It wasn’t a performance that inspired confidence, though. He recorded a 66 per cent pass accuracy, lost possession 17 times, fouled four times and won just one of five ground duels.