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Manchester United Shocked 2-0 by Cardiff City on Final Day of EPL Season

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistMay 12, 2019

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 12: Nathaniel Mendez-Laing of Cardiff City celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Cardiff City at Old Trafford on May 12, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Cardiff City shocked Manchester United and emerged 2-0 victors at Old Trafford on Sunday to end their season on a high note before dropping back down to the Championship next season.  

United's defeat means they finish the season in sixth and will enter next term's UEFA Europa League during the second qualifying round. 

Nathaniel Mendez-Laing converted from the spot after a harsh-looking penalty was given against Diogo Dalot, but the Cardiff midfielder's second was more conclusive following Jacob Murphy's assist.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first season in charge of the Red Devils ends with a stretch of six games without a victory, while defeat to his former club is a particularly bitter note on which to end 2018-19.

         

United's Midfield Needs Summer Overhaul 

United could afford to lose with some dignity against Cardiff, proud that their midfield and forward lines were made up entirely of players produced by the club's academy.

That's where the pride ended for Solskjaer's side, however, as an experimental midfield lineup promoting the likes of Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay failed to repay their manager's faith.

There was a bright spot among United's youth corps, though, as 17-year-old forward Mason Greenwood impressed in the first half, per Statman Dave:

Statman Dave @StatmanDave

Mason Greenwood’s first half vs. Cardiff by numbers: 86% pass accuracy most shots (4) most shots on target (2) most successful take-ons (2) Averaged a shot every 11 minutes and hit the woodwork. 👏👏👏 https://t.co/EWkfNoExjE

If only his midfield were as encouraging, however. With the club's future in mind, Solskjaer fielded those players he sees as having an Old Trafford future—the problem there is that the performance failed to inspire so badly.

McTominay didn't have the most effective of first halves, but was restricted from improving on that display after he was moved into central defence early in the second period.

Similar to the Scot, Jesse Lingard was largely anonymous in the opening 45 minutes, though he and Pereira were the only United players to hit the target in the first half, per WhoScored.com.

Despite now being a senior star at the club, Paul Pogba didn't do much to dazzle as the de facto leader figure, per journalist Samuel Luckhurst: 

Samuel Luckhurst @samuelluckhurst

A Young free-kick that went into touch generated some boos and there are more again as Pogba's backheel runs through to the 'keeper. Real lethargy about some of the more senior players. #mufc

As was the case in their UEFA Champions League knockout-stage clash against Paris Saint-Germain earlier this season, Pogba showed signs of ill discipline late on. Rather than lead by example in a fight for fifth, the club's record signing looked to be lacking in motivation at times and was cautioned in petty fashion.

And that's where this United engine room is lacking. The club has spent big to acquire the likes of Pogba, Fred and Nemanja Matic in recent years, but there's a lack of character at their core that transfer price-tags don't always reflect.

Juan Mata and Ander Herrera are two midfielders one could say reflect the club's morals well, but the former has been linked with the exit while the latter is already confirmed to be leaving on a free this summer.

The club has gone from producing a steady stream of loud and reliable dressing room figures—both British and foreign alike—to lacking experience and figures worth following in their engine room.

Character assessment should be as high a priority as talent when identifying targets for the job this summer. Pogba (who cost £89.3 million) and Fred (£50.2 million) are proof that hefty transfer fees don't guarantee results alone.

        

What's Next?

Manchester United will return to the Europa League next season and enter in the second qualifying round, which gets under way in late July and could hamper their pre-season plans. Cardiff move back down to the Championship after finishing 18th.

        

This article will be updated to provide more information soon.

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