As much as United’s start to the season was dubbed as “easy” by the national press when the fixtures were announced in June our fourth game sees us try to beat a tricky Swansea team for the first time since the 2013/14 season. They too have started the season brightly, winning a respectable five out of a possible nine, with the opening day draw away to Chelsea being the most impressive. However in contrast to United’s goal-shy displays (two goals in three games…one of which is an own-goal) Gary Monk’s team has already netted five times.
In defence however we’re looking better than we have done in years – ironic seeing that our no.1, United’s best player for the past two seasons who has been involved in arguably the most drawn out and frankly boring transfer saga of all time, hasn’t played a minute of football this season. De Gea’s (current) replacement in goal however, Sergio Romero, has not had an awful lot to do and so cannot claim much of the credit, as the newly established defensive pairing of Smalling and Blind – protected by the brilliant Morgan Schneiderlin in midfield – have helped United have the joint-best defensive record in the league so far. Credit to Luke Shaw at LB as well who has been superb (a completely different player to the one that started his United career last summer), as has new boy and Fantasy Football favourite Darmian on the right.
Wednesday’s performance against FC Brugge in the Champions League qualifier 2nd leg was by far United’s best attacking display of the season that will hopefully inspire us to take our European form into the league. Depay, who has endured a slow, frustrating start to life in the Premier League, slid effortlessly through the Brugge defence all evening, while Mata was producing passes straight of his 2010 repertoire. Even Herrera, the forgotten man making his first start of the season, got involved with some sexy one-touch passing for United’s third as well as netting the fourth. However most encouraging of all was Wayne Rooney – lambasted by the media prior to the game for his poor form in front of goal – who bagged a hat-trick to emphatically end his 10-game run without a goal.
Still, one decent performance against Belgium’s 2nd best team is hardly anything to get too carried away with as in the league there is no denying we are very obviously struggling in attack – when “o.g” is your joint top scorer after three games you know something is wrong!
Depay has been poor, reminding me at times of a skilful yet wasteful Ronaldo circa 2005, while Mata has only enjoyed mere flashes of brilliance so far. All this has led to the delivery and support for lone-striker Rooney to be of a very poor standard. It is easy to use Rooney as the scapegoat and burden him with the blame as, of course, the only stat that will ever matter to a striker is number of times you put the ball in the back of the net, so zero out of three isn’t looking great. But that certainly doesn’t tell the full story.
It is in Rooney’s nature, both as a leader and a workhorse, to get involved and try and create opportunities for himself when no one else appears to be – it’s what sets him apart from Falcao and RVP, two players who in contrast to Rooney were deemed superfluous by the manager. His performance away to Villa a couple of weeks ago is a good example of this, where he was heavily criticised for not having a single touch in the Villa box until the 93rd minute. This stat however was rather naively used to highlight the Rooney struggling and being unable to play in this role, rather than indicate the lack of creativity and innovation from the players around him.
On Wednesday night however van Gaal’s master plan of playing Mata and Depay alongside Rooney finally made sense and worked a treat. The link-up play between the three at times was superb with Herrera, who looked far more comfortable in the no.10 role than Januzaj whom did in the first half, helped create an effective line of attack that Brugge had absolutely no answer for. Let’s hope that this is now the turning point that will spark our lethargic league displays into life.
Prediction: Swansea 1-2 United