On an evening when David Moyes' signings virtually secured Champions League football next season, Manchester United showed the grit and fight that was all too absent on Merseyside a couple of weeks back. The fortune was back too in place of the
witchcraft pure bad luck in attendance last week against West Bromwich Albion.
Admittedly, United were probably poorer yesterday than last week. The three points can only be justified by a couple of outstanding individual performances and sheer will, little else. That United stood toe to toe with the force at which Crystal Palace came at them in the second period will have pleased the manager. But even that would have counted for little if Ashley Young and David De Gea didn't have the performance levels they showed yesterday.
Ashley, besides assisting the two goals was like an itch in that area you cannot scratch in public to Joel Ward all game. You almost have to decide whether Ashley was brilliant or whether Ward was poor but any winger would be pleased to leave a defender on his backside en route to putting in a decent delivery.
It's been a while since De Gea put in a spectacular performance. Our winning run over the last month meant he was rarely tested to his limits and he seemed to tail off with a series of goals at his near post. Not yesterday though. He was beaten by a deflection off Blind's
hair body so maybe he was handicapped for the free-kick. He however made himself big when he had to to deny Palace the lead at a time when United looked vulnerable for 20 minutes of the second half. Fellaini scored the winner seconds after De Gea pulled off one for the You Tube reel that Real Madrid fans will someday watch. For now, we can thank goodness that he plays for us.
In a further demonstration of the no nonsense approach that van Gaal has taken to the task, Juan Mata stepped up to take the penalty assuming the position from first Wayne Rooney and recently Robin van Persie. The manner of execution was so text book that you feel he might hold the role for a longer period than his 2 predecessors. That aside though, he seemed to be suffered along with Herrera from Michael Carrick's absence. The pair do not seem as close to each other on the pitch as they would like owing to the added defensive responsibility that the Gerodie's absence does to the them. Blind, for all his versatility, seems to be a tad too
pretty positionally undisciplined for the holding role. That shot he took that Speroni did well to turn onto the post sums up his ambition in that position. He has scored some crucial goals for us by moving up top and using his ability to shoot from range but it makes us vulnerable to the counter-attack. This is not to suggest Blind should not occasionally move closer and have a go from range, but that given how many bodies we commit forward, and the lack of the pace in our midfield, it would be safer if the Dutchman kept his counsel when in the holding role.
Credit to Marouanne Fellaini for applying himself onto what I thought would be a difficult game for him. The elbow-dishing Begian has now scored 6 goals this season, 5 of which have put us in the lead in games. The other one was an equaliser at West Brom that earned us point back in October. No matter how you look at it, that's an incredible contribution. His goals carry the weight of points. There's talk that he is among those who will lose their place in the side this summer but whoever comes in, has a job on their hands to match or better that contribution.
It was laboured, unconvincing and nervy at times but United can look back on a weekend in which they sealed their return to Europe's top table with satisfaction. It's a season goal achieved and now they can move on from here. Certainly more improvement is needed if we are to make it back to the summit but we can gauge that in August. This weekend was about correcting the biggest flaw of last season. Bar a collapse of apocalyptic proportions in the final two games, it's mission accomplished.