Manchester United made it two wins out of two to mark a terrific start for Louis van Gaal. The man himself was not happy with the teams performance in a 2-1 victory over Roma, who came into the game fresh from beating Liverpool 1-0. The manager used the vast majority of his tour squad as he attempts to get a feel of what tools he has at his disposal…
Sam Johnstone: With four goalkeepers on tour, it is very difficult for the reserves to stand out and stake their claim for the number two spot. Johnstone was superb on loan at Doncaster last season so this was his chance to impress. United never looked secure at the back throughout the game so Sam can take pride in keeping a clean sheet during the half he played. A few shots outside the area tested him but he held them well to avoid any embarrassing errors. One moment of confusion occurred when a diagonal ball caught out Blackett and Johnstone’s punch went straight to Destro who fired over. Other than that, Sam had a solid performance.
Valencia: Assuming Louis van Gaal does operate with 3-5-2 this season then Valencia could be a regular starter. His power, pace and strength make him the perfect wing back, although his final ball will need to improve. Only having a half to impress meant Valencia done nothing of note but runners like him are essential to any team and van Gaal will definitely be impressed by his work rate.
Jones: Won his individual tussles well and showed us why he will definitely end up being a centre back. However he showed signs that he may not be comfortable in a back three as long balls over the top constantly caught United out. Whilst none of these long balls were due to poor positioning from Jones himself, he didn’t organise the defence or impose his personality onto the game. United need a leader at the back and it is imperative that van Gaal buys one in the coming weeks.
Evans: Johnny is now United’s most experienced centre half and his experience will be crucial with this season’s young defence. It is difficult to analyse his performance since he only played one half but United struggled a lot more in the second half so perhaps loosing Evans composure made United suffer.
Blackett: The only player to play 90 minutes may be a testament to how much he has impressed van Gaal in training but this was not emulated on the pitch last night. The 20 year old was caught out twice by long balls from Uncan and Benatia and looked shaky throughout. As talented as Blackett might be, United cannot afford him to be their back up next season. Investment is needed in the defence.
James: There was no recurrence of his heroics against Galaxy but James showed again how he could be a useful option in the new wing back role. He looks very comfortable on the ball however he failed to link up with the front three and a couple of forward passes to Rooney were misplaced.
Cleverley: van Gaal named Cleverely captain last night which came as a big surprise to everyone. Maybe it was a tool to lift Cleverley and help him overcome the criticism but he didn’t rise to the occasion. Tom was tidy in parts of the game but he never looked like a captain and when Roma brought on Totti and Pjanic in the second half his performance deteriorated. Van Gaal commented after the game that his passers continuously, ‘gave the ball away’, Cleverley was guilty of this and was subbed for Hernandez on the 68th minute.
Herrera: Despite not being as impressive as he was against Galaxy, Ander s showed some great touches. His pass into Welbeck that won the penalty was sheer class and was showing cohesion with Rooney and Mata towards the end of the first half but all three were substituted.
Mata: Operating as United’s number 10 will delight Mata who was often used out of position Under Moyes and Mourinho. The slow start to the game stalled any play between midfield an attack but when they got going the link up play was fantastic, with Mata and Rooney controlling the game. The magical first touch and finish for the second goal was sensational from Juan and if kept on would likely have excelled in the second half.
Rooney: Captain’s armband or not, Rooney was the leader yesterday. His man of the match performance saw him score a curling 25 yard thunderbolt, assist Mata with a pass that van Gaal described as ‘unbelievable’ and cap of the half with a well taken penalty. Performances like this must make Rooney a strong contender for captain and he should be rewarded as such against Inter on Wednesday.
Welbeck: As always with Danny, his work rate was outstanding. He caused Roma lots of problems with his runs but his decision making was poor in the final third. Winning the penalty was his best contribution to the game and like Mata probably would have had a great second half.
Amos: A mixed bag for Ben last night. Pjanic caught him off his line from half way with a sensational effort worthy of David Beckham. Amos positioning was poor but it is hard to take anything away from the impressive Pjanic. He made up for it with a sublime save when he knocked Castan’s overhead onto the post but at 24 Amos should consider leaving Old Trafford.
Smalling: The defensive problems continued and worsened in the second half. Smalling never looked sure of himself in the three man defence and long balls were eluding him throughout. He made a couple of good blocks but again a lack of experience was costly to United.
M Keane: He was very impressive on loan at Leicester last season and has a great chance of being used as cover at the back this year. He won headers and his distribution was fine. It is difficult to fully judge his performance due to how poor the defence was as a hole but he outshone Blackett and thus is more likely to be part of van Gaal’s premier league squad.
Shaw: Defensively Shaw was too easily beaten on a few occasions and that part of his game must improve. Going forward he showed signs of why he will be a brilliant wing back or winger in the future.
Young: Ashley Young at right wing back, who would have thought it? Perhaps it was forced due to the fact van Gaal wanted to play as many players as possible but slotting Young in here was a poor decision. Two bad tackles back to back were deserving of a red card and he was clueless as how to defend. It is time for Young to move on and hopefully the club can find a suitor.
Kagawa: Playing in the deeper role that he sometimes occupied at Dortmund, Shinji was as frustrating as ever. He had one moment of magic when he killed a long ball with a deft first touch and then turned his man and played in Nani. On the other hand he was knocked of the ball too easily which lost United possession. After van Gaal said that the squad has too many number tens, Shinji’s Old Trafford days could be numbered.
Lingard: Jesse is extremely unlucky to have not yet made his competitive debut but yesterday’s performance won’t help. It is hard to criticise Lingard as the entire side had a poor second half but he was dispossessed easily on more than one occasion and failed to make an impact on the game.
Nani: Nani was an anonymous figure due to United’s lack of attacking threat in the second half.
W Keane: Got into good positions but his lack of pace was apparent on two occasions when he knocked the ball passed Benatia but was unable to beat his man. This can be put down to not being match fit but it is likely that Keane will go off on loan again this season.
Chicharito: Didn’t have enough time on the pitch to make any impact.
Van Gaal has already asserted that he is too begin the season with 3-5-2 but after yesterdays performance I am not very confident about it functioning with the current squad. Attacking wise the front three will excel, especially with Ander’s energy and creativity however Cleverley is not strong enough to protect the back four. If this new system is too to be successful the club must invest in a ball winner in order to allow the team to flourish going forward without being caught on the break.
Defensively the backline looked disorganised and nervous throughout the entire game. Long balls from deep were constantly catching United out and they never learned how to deal with it. An experienced leader with pace is needed at the back if United are too prosper with this new style of playing.
A lot of emphasis is placed on the wing backs who provide the width. It is important that they have room to penetrate but they were often suffocated by Roma last night. Shaw impressed going forward in the second half but over all there was not enough of a threat from the wing back positions.
In all it is clear that van Gaal is only happy when he sees his plan working. No player is bigger than his philosophy which is why he was critical after the game despite two outstanding goals. The formation was starting to flow by the end of the first half so the poor second half can be put down to the mass changes at half time. If the right players are brought in 3-5-2 could be a breath of fresh air for United and the Premier League, now is time for the club to act and financially back van Gaal.