Sunday, 9 August 2015

NERVY SPOILS, BUT WE'LL TAKE IT


Manchester United opened their 2015/16 Premier League season with a nervy display but ultimately salvaged three points to ensure a better start than 12 months ago.

The Match
United started nervy of the two sides which was a bit of a surprise considering all that Spurs have had to contend with since their couple of fixtures in Munich. As it were, Juan Mata lost possession in his own half to grant Spurs the honour of the first chance of the new season. Thankfully, Christian Ericksen lobed the ball over Sergio Romero to ensure the first defensive mistake United made was not punished. It proved to be a costly mistake for Spurs though as United scored (well, sort of) from their first real meaningful attack. Juan Mata found Ashley Young from an under-hit Bentaleb pass. The Englishman found his compatriot Wayne Rooney in acres of space in the area but the captain's lack of sharpness meant that he couldn't make the most of the opportunity first time. Luckily, the captain applied his Jedi mind-trick and Kyle Walker was at hand to poke the ball home on his behalf and spare his blushes that were very evident in the goal celebration.

Sergio Romeo
The breaking news ahead of kick-off was that Louis van Gaal had opted to go with Sergio Romero instead of Sam Johnstone in goal. Having ruled out David De Gea from proceedings, the starting position in goal was very much up for grabs right from the off but it's hard to see how Romero loses it from hereon. Unless David De Gea stays for the season, Romero should easily keep his place in goal after Day 1, if only because he largely held his own today. His only errors seemed to stem from Louis van Gaal's instructions to have the goalkeepers pass the ball from back as opposed to clearing their lines. He didn't, for instance, seem vulnerable at set-pieces the way De Gea did when he first arrived and was quick off his line to remedy any uncertainty from his defenders. His couple of saves late on will have enhanced his confidence but more than anything, the fact that he caught most of his touches on the ball will have delighted Louis van Gaal. Perhaps, his biggest compliment on the day is that against a Top Six rival on the opening day, De Gea was not missed!

The Debutants
Louis van Gaal handed debuts to all our new purchases today with Matteo Darmian predictably getting the biggest plaudits. The Italian, first a defender, showed ensured that if Spurs were to score, it was going to be through a blunder directly from central midfield and yet he even found the lungs to aid Smalling and Blind in the middle. It's easy to see why van Gaal branded him as a defender 'first'. The curious thing about it all is that: Why is van Gaal interested in a defender first at full back position when he prefers footballer first in Daley Blind at left-centre half? The genius in me thinks it should be the other way round. Maybe that's why I'm not the one being paid thousands per week to make those decisions. Excellent ball player he might be but logic, however, dictates that Blind could struggle when up against more physical forwards than Harry Kane. It's a fact that the versatile Dutchman somewhat recognised in a post-match interview during which he correctly reminded us that being a defender is about more than just physical strength!

I thought on the whole Bastian Shweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin had impressive debuts as well, stacking up 88% pass accuracy. The Frenchman, like the team as a whole, started off nervy, but his fouls tally without conceding a yellow card told of a player United have dearly missed since Roy Keane and (to a lesser extent) Owen Hargreaves. Indeed, the reason why United were able to keep Spurs at arms length for most of the match was because of the screening job Micheal Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin did in-front of Blind and Smalling.

Goals?
That United had their first shot on target at minute 63 tells the quite a story about United's attacking prowess. Juan Mata accomplished his designated duty of providing support in attack but the current set-up doesn't seem to suit United going forward, at least in terms of giving Wayne Rooney the service he now craves. Besides manufacturing attacks down the left, there seems very little else in varying United's attack at the moment. If Ashley Young is happily blocked off, as Kyle Walker did today, and Wayne Rooney starved of service as was done today, goals might yet again come hard for United. The team seem pre-disposed to making so many passes from defensive and midfield positions with very little directness going forward. Questions will have to be asked in the near future. For instance are United better off creative-wise with Herrera and Mata in the same team?

The slow build up play on display yesterday allowed for Spurs to easily get back and foil United's moves way before we got their penalty box. Indeed, the one moment when United showed urgency and speed of attack resulted in the only goal of the match. Juan Mata and Ashley Young broke at speed to capitalise on a misplaced Bentaleb pass and afford Wayne Rooney enough time to place a shot. The irony is that on tour, speed seemed to define the new ethos on poor American pitches and yet, here, United almost seemed uncomfortable with an excellent Old Trafford pitch.

Memphis Depay seemed the one lively aspect upfront with an excellent first touch but it often appeared that he and Wayne Rooney were at different wavelengths, at least in terms of the first touch! Devoid of world class quality up top, these two need to consistently be in tandem if United are to make something of their season.

Bottom line
Having picked two points from their opening three games last year, Manchester United have got off to a better start in picking up three from one so far. Squad-wise, they still have some tweaking to do before the transfer window ends but least they have already registered one of those grind-out results that are very necessary to accomplish a season's target!

Goodness knows if we had provided an entertaining 2-2 draw with Swansea City at home and Chelsea had unconvincingly beaten Tottenham 1-0 at Stamford Bridge, the headlines would have praised Jose's results-based attitude while slamming United's defence for letting in two goals on opening day!

So cheers people!

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