AT A GLANCE
It is a most known trait that confidence is perhaps the most crucial element in sport. Often times the belief in your own abilities trumps the challenge before you. It is a truth that is moreso relevant in football.You only needed to see Nemanja Vidic perform in the immediate fixtures after Fernando Torres got the better of him in 2009 to see how much of a role confidence can play regardless of the inherent talent in an individual.
Manchester United are now oozing a level of confidence that was last seen a couple of seasons back. There is an aura about the way United have gone about their fixtures of late that makes it difficult to comprehend a few individuals that still think there is not much difference between David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. The ultimate difference perhaps lay in his post-match press conference. The Dutchman told journalists that his aim for the last 7 games was a late title charge to eat into Chelsea's 8 point lead over United (despite the still tough run of fixtures left). Compare and contrast that with Brendan Rogers who publicly gave up hope of Champions League football after defeat at the Emirates put his side eight points behind United.
Confidence is but one of the good things about United lately. There is method to the way United have gone about dispatching teams lately. The level of control that United have been able to establish in games lately is the stuff of Champions. Tim Sherwood was at a loss to explain why his side never looked like they would get anything from the game. He did explain though that United 'managed' the game. They picked out the moments they would attack with abandon, sit back and retain possession, then see the game out without losing control of proceedings. Add that to the precision of execution that United have applied in scoring their goals in the last few games and it's simply the stuff of dreams.
As is the norm under Louis van Gaal, United hogged possession and hardly let Villa have a sniff. The irony though is that in this period when the club looks like it would walk the league if we still had five months of the season to play, David De Gea has been one of the few liabilities. He followed up his error of allowing Sturridge to beat him at his near post last time out with another in allowing a Benteke shot to creep under him. Good work Dave, a couple more and Real Madrid will be forced to wait yet another season.
Having a number of players that are ready to pull the trigger from in and around the penalty area means that we no longer have to burden ourselves with breaking down entire defences right up to the six yard box. It's a welcome addition to the style of play that will go a long way to improving our lives.
Either side of Ander Herrera's goals was a Wayne Rooney cracker that further attested to his instincts as a striker. He's no midfielder, at least not a decent one for a top team, but he's quite useful further up. In fact, at the moment, it's hard to make a case for Robin van Persie in terms of being restored to the starting line-up when he makes his come-back. The Dutchman has scored double digits again but there is no real deficiency of goals at the moment to warrant an immediate restoration that could upset the balance attained.
It's amazing how everything we knew about this lad has come to fruition and then some. That it has taken him this long to convince the manager that he is a 'line-up' player has been one of the mysteries of our season. At a time when we were getting bored with the decade-long question of who would United replace Roy Keane with in the midfield, along came the question of who would replace the departed Paul Scholes after 2013. I've blogged before that Ander is 80% Paul Scholes but I might have to revise that figure to 90%. Think about it. Here is a midfielder that is not afraid to get stuck in, presses the opposition so vigorously in a perfect execution of the manager's philosophy, has joint-high passing accuracy in the team, joint second number of assists in the team, and scores goals from midfield with an accuracy that we've not known before (100% in the league). Look around all of Europe and you will only find a handful of midfielders that can give you that total package in that quantity.
United have had a long term problem of goals from midfield since the ginger prince departed. Michael Carrick proved not to be the type that ghosts into the box and that left a huge burden on the front one or two to provide the goals. A lack of variety of goalscorers in a side makes the team predictable to defend against. Herrera has since solved that problem. With 7 goals this season, despite only starting little more than a third of the season, he has become a wild card goalscorer for us. It's not just the goals though, the variety of net busters in him is quite diverse. From the straight forward shots like he hit on Saturday to the sumptuous volley at Yeovil Town to the criff-tithe flick early in the season at Leicester or the extreme improvisation of body adjustment to score at Preston North End in the Cup, the lad has them all.
That he celebrates his goals with the passion of a fan and speaks like one to the media, the little Spaniard has already made a strong case for our signing of the season. It would be amiss if the Manchester United midfield going forward is not build around this lad.
Ahead of the derby next weekend, United could not have been in better shape. The manager appears to have a settled team from which he can plan a methodical approach to games. Five wins on the bounce in this league is no mean feat. To think this the first time since 2011 that United have gone into a Manchester derby as the favourites is a measure of the strides made. (I blog this as City are currently 2-0 down at Crystal Palace). We've gotten such a poor recent record in this fixture that you would be hard pressed to imagine a time when we shall be better placed to get the result we want from this fixture.
More on that later this week, but for now it's full speed ahead for United!