Slowly and surly, Manchester United is getting it’s mojo back. Fans wanted a quick fix knew that wasn’t a realistic route. No matter the sport or the club, any time you make that many changes to your starting lineup and have to play around so many injuries, there will be issues.
With Saturday’s 2-1 win over West Ham United, Manchester United has started to open the eyes of the league to what they are capable of doing. In the “recent form” standings, which outlines what teams have done in the past five matches, United come currently in 3rd place, behind Southampton and Chelsea. Not bad for a team that just a few weeks ago was considered by many pundits on the edge of disaster.
Just think about this: Had United beaten Leicester City last week, in a game they should have won, after squandering two 2-goal leads, and saw a once-a-lifetime type comeback against them, United would have moved to a tie for 3rd place after today’s win. Not so doom and gloom anymore? The season is young and still a lot of opportunity ahead to gain points, which is probably why manager Louis Van Gaal has been so patient with this team from the get-go.
Here are now some of this weeks winners and losers from match-day Six.
The 24-year old right back can never seem to get things going on a consistent basis. If not for bad form, then an injury, which he suffered at the start of training camp and was unable to show Van Gaal his worth in the teams preseason. But, Saturday was a different story. Rafael was a game-changing player. Not only providing pace down the right wing side, and keeping West Ham on their toes trying to take space away from him, but he also created the entire play in which Wayne Rooney scored the opening goal on. Rafael ran down the wing, beat his defender, and then perfectly set Rooney up for a easy one-timer. When not attacking, Rafael did his part defending. He had 7 successful clearances, 3 interceptions and 3 tackles.
LOSER: Wayne Rooney
Despite the goal scored, I felt Rooney played a good first half for United. He was active on the attack and threatened to strike for a second time. However, his penalty was uncalled for. The play was in West Ham’s end. Rooney seemed upset at a non-handball call and instead of letting the West Ham player go, still 3/4s of the field to go, Rooney decided to stick his leg out and trip him. A dangerous play that could have resulted in injury. Now, Rooney will face a 3-match suspension due to it being a straight red. Matches he will miss: Everton, West Brom and Chelsea. This was the first time Rooney has been send off since March 2009 against Fulham.
WINNER: Paddy McNair
Talk about unsung hero. The 19 year old teenager made his senior team debut due to a injury crisis on defense. To make things worse, he needed to defend for dear-life late in the match after Rooney was send off and United were down to 10-men with only a goal up. McNair played like a confident veteran. McNair had 13 successful clearances, a team high, which included a diving from behind header with 10 minutes left in the match, which saved what would have been a sure goal. Besides the goals, the clearance from the goalline, with David De Gea down on the ground, was the play of the game. McNair also finished with a passing success rate of 83%, also impressive for a player of his age and experience level.
LOSER: Aerial defence
Manchester United aerial defense is the teams biggest weakness. And teams will try to test them as much as possible hoping to break them apart and score a goal. West Ham United attempted 40 crosses (compared to 19 by United) and worked the sidelines to earn 10 corner kicks (compared to 7 by United). The goal scored by West Ham’s Diafra Sakho also came by way of a corner kick and they nearly equalized by a cross into the box that was ruled off-sides. Even at full strength, aerial defense is a issue that Van Gaal needs to address. But, only winning 33% of all aerial duels will not help their cause and won’t force teams to try different tactics to beat them. If United will want to beat the better teams in the league, their aerial defense must dramatically improve.
WINNER: Juan Mata
With the red card to Rooney, the most realistic option for Van Gaal now will be to insert Mata back into the XI, with Robin Van Persie and Radamel Falcao at forward. Mata did start, and played very well, in the first match after acquiring Falcao, but in that game, Falcao didn’t start. Considering the incoming three match ban Rooney will surely receive from the FA, Mata will get to play in two home matches, which will include his former team, Chelsea. If Mata wants to have a future with Van Gaal, now is the time to produce. The show must go on, with or without Rooney, and an opportunity lost for someone is an opportunity gained for someone else, but it will be interesting how Mata takes this opportunity and how far he can take it. With some solid play and gained chemistry with teammates, Mata could make it real difficult for Van Gaal to take him out after Rooney is reinserted.
STAT THAT I LIKED…. 70. With his goal, Robin Van Persie has now 70 goals in the last four seasons in the Premier League, the most of any player.
STAT THAT I DIDN’T LIKE… 10. West Ham United created and earned 10 corner kicks, and scored on one of the attempts. United needs to be more careful and allow less high-chance opportunities to opponents.
INTERESTING STAT I HEARD… 2. With his assist on the Van Persie goal, Falcao now has 2 assists in his last 2 matches for United. He didn’t have one in his previous 53 league appearances.
MAN OF THE MATCH…. Rafael.
UP NEXT…. Sunday, October 5th, vs. Everton.