The limp defeat against Newcastle on Saturday night flagged up some familiar concerns for United. Not only were they defeated by top-four rivals, but &aposattitude&apos returned to the microscope.
Before their re-routed journey to St. James&apos Park – which started with a cancelled outwards flight and ended with a winner from Anthony Gordon – United had been on an encouraging domestic run which had thrust them right back in the Champions League-chasing picture.
Whether or not those results papered over the cracks depends on your viewpoint, but the display in the Everton win was sound – if not spectacular – while United showed their mettle in two challenging environments there and during the European trip to Istanbul that followed.
Had it not been for two glaring mistakes from Andre Onana, victory would have been secured and United would have one foot in the Champions League knockout stages. Ifs and buts, you might argue, but those errors had little to do with the collective flaws that resurfaced in the north east.
United were second best in all departments vs Eddie Howe and his well-oiled machine. In most cases, there might be salvageable pride in losing to the better side on any given occasion, but that is only true when the players have turned up and given it everything.
There is little doubt United attempted to do that. Yet their underwhelming display – and not for the first time this season – lacked the heart and guts that Martinez for example would have given them.
It should never be on one man to carry the literal fight, while it would be unjust to label Martinez as old-school, the former Ajax star is a cultured footballer who also understands what it means to fly the flag in Amsterdam and Manchester.
Regrettably, United have no like-for-like replacement in their squad and that Martinez only totted-up six matches before an ongoing injury setback was detrimental to their aspirations at home and abroad. It said everything when Ten Hag opted to move Luke Shaw to centre-back against Newcastle as he tried to recapture a similar identity.