Manchester United have progressed through the UEFA Europa League group stage after winning at home to Sheriff Tiraspol.
Finishing top of the Europa League group is vital for United with the number of games they play, as the second-placed team has to play an extra fixture against the 3rd placed teams in the Champions League groups in a two-legged play-off tie.
The winner of this play-off will then enter the round of 16 draws.
They must now better the 1-0 loss they suffered to Real Sociedad in the reverse fixture in order to top Group E, and avoid having to feature in the playoffs.
Thursday night’s 3-0 victory, therefore, goes a long way in keeping their season on track.
It was as regulation as a win has been for United in recent times, but it wasn’t without controversy though.
Brazilian summer recruit Antony has caused a stir amongst those who saw the game by doing his signature 360-degree spin move during the first half.
In fact, one can call it a 720-degree given that he did two whole spins while under no pressure, before playing a heavy ball that went out of play instead of reaching its intended target in Casemiro.
It was the apparent needlessness of the trick that had enraged fans and pundits alike.
Some fans even purported that Antony simply wants to have his name in lights on social media.
Club legend Paul Scholes wasn’t all too pleased with Antony’s stunt either, calling it “ridiculous” and something that needed “kicking out” of him while his former teammate and fellow academy graduate in the Class of 92, Robbie Savage found it “quite embarrassing”.
On the other end of the spectrum, fans pointed to the entertainment value of football and how the English top flight doesn’t encourage artistry and willingness in players to get their audiences off their seats through moments of brilliance.
This argument can certainly be attributed to the fact that football has become a results-driven business for clubs operating at the top of the pyramid.
This was again met with backlash as some argued that individual brilliance has its place as long as it doesn’t break play down.
It was inevitable that Ronaldinho’s name popped up in this debate, with some arguing the importance of using these tricks in the right moments – as the former Ballon d’Or winner did.
He was known for using his trickery to bypass defenders unlike Antony, who actually slowed down the pace of the attack in this instance, argued one fan.
Manager Erik Ten Hag, when asked about it, said he didn’t mind players executing these tricks as long as they were “functional” in his post-match press conference.
“I don’t have a problem as long as it is functional, and also from him, I demand more. More runs in behind, more often in the box, more follower runs, and more tempo dribbles, especially, and playing in the pocket” said Ten Hag.
Continuing on the topic, he added, “We demand more dominance in his game and, now and then, if there’s a trick like that, it’s nice as long as it’s functional, if you’re not losing the ball and attracting players. But if it’s a trick because it’s a trick then I’ll correct him”.
Ten Hag has had to exercise his authority in the United dressing room in order to get everyone singing off the same hymn sheet, as evidenced by his decision to drop Cristiano Ronaldo against Chelsea for failing to stay back until after the game against Spurs.
It seems Ten Hag has taken a similar approach in dealing with Antony, hooking the 22-year-old at halftime.
A majority of fans appear to have backed this no-nonsense approach by the Dutch manager, given United are second in a group they were expected to top, behind Real Sociedad, who they face on match day 6.