Another nail-biting game at Old Trafford culminated in a 2-1 win for Manchester United against their toughest opponents yet in Everton. Back to back wins for only the second time in a year tastes good and Van Gaal can enter the international break as happy as his rather glum exterior allows. United started brightly and had an excellent first half but their second half display was again very poor and Everton were more than deserving of a draw. Their luck held out to send them back into the champions league places. A tougher set of fixtures lies on the horizon for United after their so called ‘easy’ opening to the season but the team looks too be settling and once key defenders return from injury, perhaps the club can regain the sense of stability fans are used too.
De Gea: If there were any residual doubts about the Spaniard living up to his massive promise then they can be put to bed after a match winning performance at the weekend. His penalty save and two world class stops late on were the defining points of an excellent showing from United’s number 1. David was commanding on corners after his blip last week and was the team’s leader at the back. United lack an outstanding candidate to captain the current side but De Gea looks every bit the ideal choice to captain the team in the future. With Madrid’ keeper situation looking precarious the club will have to brace themselves for a big money bid from their Spanish rivals but hopefully they can finally repel the waves of money from Real.
Rafael: If it wasn’t for De Gea’s heroics, rafa would have been my choice for man of the match. The marauding Brazilian was excellent going forward and solid at the back in a performance that may make Van Gaal rethink a reported move for Barcelona’s Dani Alves. United’s formation allows a lot of space on the right hand side and Rafael dominates this in powerful runs forward that stretches the opposition. Whether his questionable temperament will hold in games that are not going United’s way remains to be seen but faith should be put in Rafael to be United’s first choice right back.
McNair: It is a surprise to most United fans that McNair and not U21’s captain Thorpe got the nod to play CB but the Irishman has not let Van Gaal down. Lukaku is a formidable striker who has pillaged United in the past but Paddy handled him rather easily and did not lose out on the physical battle against the physically superior player. He was equally impressive with his feet, sporting a 92% pass completion rate over 90 minutes and even if United’s injuries subside, he has fully earned a starting place against West Brom.
Rojo: We may not yet know Rojo’s best position but he has looked comfortable at centre back, well, as comfortable as one can look in United’s shaky defence. Unlike the West Ham game, United were winning the first header from long balls which removed a lot of panic from the backline. Set plays are still a huge problem but Rojo wins his individual battles and has a slight heir of leadership in a defence (excluding De Gea) void of it. For me, it is so far so good on the complicated signing from Lisbon.
Shaw: The jury is definitely out on the 30 million pound man from Southampton. Shaw was the weak link in United’s team due to questionable fitness that saw Luke get beaten a number of times on the left and looked laboured running forward. At times last season, Shaw looked the perfect attacking full back but his fitness has really hampered him this time around. It is too early to sensationalise the transfer as a flop but better performances will be needed for his price tag to be justified. Shaw was unlucky with the penalty but he was too slow and had to tackle from an awkward angle and he was also the player who lost Naismith for Everton’s goal. It is difficult for any player to get forward in a left hand side dominated by Di Maria but Shaw was still very slow when the rare opportunities to get forward presented themselves to him. Getting fit over the international break should be Luke’s goal.
Blind: No one can deny Daley Blind’s football intelligence. He constantly pops up in the right positions to smother attacks and help launch counter attacks, he is the player that allows van Gaal to name attacking players like Di Maria and Valencia in his midfield. The frustrating thing about the game was that Everton’s tactics presented Blind with so much space, a criminal amount of space. Daley Blind is not Paul Scholes, so offensively he could not utilise this space to its full potential. As good a passer of the ball as Blind is, he is not a great passer and no amount of vines showing his lob to Van Persie can convince me otherwise. If Herrera was fit I would have loved to have seen Ander switch positions with Daley and control the game from deep. Unfortunately this was not possible so the midfield did not take full advantage of the space Everton gave them.
Di Maria: I love him, you love him, everyone loves United’s new number seven and another goal and assist further proved that his price tag is justified and that Real Madrid were bonkers to sell him. Di Maria completely owns the left hand side of the pitch, so much that Falcao cannot drift left and Shaw can rarely overlap. United might not yet be World Class, but Di Maria is and as this team develops he will be the epicentre of whatever it develops into.
Valencia: A surprise choice to replace Herrera but it paid off. Valencia’s strength and pace allowed him to drive forward when necessary and to handle the physical edge of being a central midfielder. However when Valencia got wide his crossing was again predictable and poor, it is hard to believe that he was once the most creative player in this team. Antonio is no longer a first team player but he is a useful sub who can be deployed in a number of positions.
Mata: Registering an assist was all that can really be said about Juan’s performance. In all honesty, at times I completely forgot he was on the pitch but that is not to say he is a bad player, he is just struggling to get involved in an all-star attacking team. United’s formation should allow for a number ten to flourish but Mata was anonymous which is good news for captain Wayne Rooney. United must find a way to get Mata involved as his creative talents, sitting behind world class strikers Falcao and Van Persie, could tear any team apart but for West Brom I would love to see Adnan Januzaj get a go at playing in the hole.
Falcao: Finally a Falcao goal! Fans have been waiting for the moment when Radamel ignites and I fully expect him to kick on and score a hat full this season. In terms of his performance up until the goal, it stank of a great striker who was off form. His movement and link up play was sublime but his finishing poor. A confident Falcao would have notched a hat trick against Everton but he scuffed a few well worked chances. The goal was the most important thing as United are having no problems getting the Columbian on the ball, so we can all look forward to what is to come.
Van Persie: Van Gaal’s boy got the armband and he did okay. It wasn’t the scintillating RVP we know and love but he held the ball up when needed and linked up well with Falcao. It is going to be difficult for United’s attackers to all excel in every game but the benefit of having so many world class attackers is that there will rarely be a game when all are not on song. As captain, Robin didn’t really have a chance to show his qualities, it is difficult for a player to lead from the front but he should have two more games to prove himself as captain material.
Blackett: Operating as a left back due to Shaw’s injury, we did not have the time to assess Blackett as a full back but he made a game saving block late on, just before De Gea’s acrobatic save seconds later. Being in the right place at the right time is a core attribute to being a successful defender and Tyler demonstrated this. He may not go on to be a Manchester United player but I am confident Blackett will have a solid career in the Premier League.
Wilson: I am going dodge the, ‘he had a few good touches’ summary and assert that bringing on Wilson was a mistake. United were in a highly pressurised position in the final 25 minutes of the game and the introduction of an inexperienced striker did not help the team. Wilson’s only real involvement was conceding a free kick just outside the box which almost cost United two points. If Falcao had to be substituted then more experienced players such as Fletcher or Januzaj should have been introduced.
Felliani: I never thought we would see Felliani and his wonderful hair ever again, but here we are. The physical presence he gives was needed to ride out Everton’s late onslaught and Felliani played his part. A ten minute cameo is not enough to analyse his performance but for the good of the player fans must give Felliani a fresh start and not perceive him as a Moyes hangover.