A few weeks ago Tyrell Malacia and Jadon Sancho looked embedded down Manchester United’s left-hand side, but then a few weeks is a long time in football.
For the second time in as many games Malacia was taken off at half-time in Cyprus on Thursday night and this time he was joined on the bench for the second half by Sancho.
The winger was disappointing in the derby defeat to Manchester City on Sunday and poor again on Thursday, on a night when United had enough possession to allow attacking players to make an impact.
READ MORE: How the United dressing room reacted to Ten Hag criticism
Malacia made his way into the United team as a half-time substitute, replacing Luke Shaw at Brentford and showing character in difficult circumstances, but after his struggles against City and Omonia Nicosia, his run as a starter must be coming to an end.
Shaw has looked revitalised in recent weeks, impressed on England duty last month and deserves to return. In front of him, he might be about to rekindle a particularly productive partnership for United.
Sancho’s place in the side is also under threat and after Marcus Rashford’s stylish 45-minute cameo from the left on Thursday, it feels a swap in that position is due.
Ten Hag explained his thinking behind the double change on Thursday night and in the performances of Shaw and Rashford, he clearly got what he was looking for.
“The width on the left side, for me, was no good [in the] first half. The movement from behind the defending line,” he said. “So I hoped with Luke and Marcus we get more effect from that and so, in my opinion, that happens.”
Malacia and Sancho are still a developing partnership down that flank, but they haven’t combined often enough. Malacia hasn’t been seen enough as an attacking force and Sancho is continuing to drift in and out of games. There have been encouraging moments this season but not enough for a £73million winger.
There will be more natural chemistry down the left with Shaw and Rashford, who have been playing together for years and know each other’s games inside out. Shaw will often look to give Rashford the ball early, giving him space to assess his options and run at defenders. The winger can also cut inside knowing that the full-back is overlapping.
Those runs have been a key part of Shaw’s improvement in the last few years and he is a much bigger attacking threat from that position than Malacia at the moment.
Just over a year ago, Rashford touched on his partnership with Shaw and why it worked so well.
“I feel we’re a threat on that side. That’s what it’s about: it’s about trying to connect with your teammates,” he said. “A lot of the things we do are simple but they’re effective so we have to keep trying to improve and getting into dangerous areas. I’ve always enjoyed playing with him. He’s a great player and going into a tournament you can have connections like that all over the pitch.”
The success of a team is often about partnerships all over the pitch, from central defender to full-back, full-back to winger, through central midfield and so on.
Shaw and Rashford’s connection was particularly productive in 2020/21 when Shaw registered six assists and created a hatful of chances in what was his best attacking season. Rashford wasn’t always at his best but still delivered a second successive 20-goal season.
Since then they have had their difficulties, but there are hints that both are getting back to their best. If they can reach that level and start displaying that understanding once again then it will give Ten Hag exactly what he wants down the left-hand side.