We knew it would be a tough battle. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy. That was one of the reasons why Louis Van Gaal took over as manager, stating that the job itself was a challenge and he loved to test himself.
But nothing like this. Dropping 1-2 at Old Trafford was bad enough. But the club got a life-line in the second week, a matchup against Sunderland. A club, that United usually beats with ease, except last season of course, but we just blamed David Moyes for that. Even at not their best, and missing some players due to injury, this was still a game United could have won, even if it wasn’t pretty, as they say “a win is a win is a win”.
It wasn’t that easy, however. Juan Mata scored first for sloppy Manchester United. Things looked good until Jack Rodwell, fresh from sitting the Manchester City bench the last few seasons, scored off a poorly covered corner kick. And just like that, it was 1-1. United offense rarely generated any offence through the rest of the match. The closest United got was a nice through ball Ashley Young got, but Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone played it perfectly and rushed out just in time to disrupt the play.
As the second week will come to a close, United sit with 1pt and in 13th place. Here are some of this weeks winners and losers:
WINNER: Phil Jones
The defence was a mess and disorganised. Several times it looked like Sunderland was ready to pounce for a second goal and break the game open. But Jones stood tall and strong on defence. One of the only bright spots on the defence for United and it’s surprisingly that they didn’t allow more goals. Jones led the entire game in interceptions with 7 and also with clearances with 8. Both very high numbers for one player. On top of his impressive last-men defence, Jones also had a 93% passing accuracy.
Just two minutes before half-time, the fourth official made it official showing up the bulletin board to show that Chris Smalling’s day was over. At first, it was feared Smalling was leaving due to inconsistency but it was revealed that he was taken off due to an apparent groin injury. The injury to Smalling now becomes the 9th official injured player. With Marcos Rojo not receiving his work permit yet, Van Gaal may have a rather amateur defence when they face Burnley next weekend.
WINNER: Michael Keane
Once Smalling left, Van Gaal decided to bring on Keane. While, there was some shaky moments on defence, Keane did hold his own. For a player who wasn’t expecting much first team minutes this season however, any type of minutes is good. Keane played the last two minutes of the first half and then the entire second half. Keane finished the match with one interception, one clearance, and even one shot. He also had a 94% passing success. If the defence remains broken down, Keane could see much more playing time in the near future.
LOSER: Defensive Organisation
For the second week in a row, the defence in the 3-5-2 was a mess. At times it just seemed as if the defence was a set 5 back, at other times they were exposed with just three in the back. Smalling looked over matched, passing as quickly as he got the ball. Sunderland targeted Ashley Young all night long, seeing him as a weak link. The organisation is also to be blamed for the goal allowed, a corner kick, with Robin Van Persie guarding the goalscorer Rodwell. Lots of openings and lots of space left. The defence was forced to make several desperation type clearances, but either Jones or Tyler Blackett to keep the score tied at one. Not a good recipe for success. As a result, it was difficult for United to bring the ball up with pace and consistency.
WINNER: Juan Mata
Manchester United attack was non-existent. They never truly put Sunderland on their toes. Mata however, played a well good game. He scored the teams only goal, which was also the only shot on goal by the entire team until late in the second half when Young shot. Mata’s was also 2/6 on crosses, which also turned out to be the only 2 successful crosses in the game. Mata was also a 88% passer on the day. With players around him not doing much to help the cause, Mata did his best to bring United 3 points.
LOSER: Ed Woodward
Woodward promised when Van Gaal was hired: Signings were going to come fast and furious. No time to wait, they must rebuild the team quickly. The board gave Van Gaal a big budget to spend to fix the problems that Moyes had last year and so far, just three signings. Against Sunderland, none of the three signings were dressed. Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw injured and Rojo having work paper issues. Even if they were ready, it’s questionable if Herrera is a premier league ready midfielder and Van Gaal said to have issues with Shaw with fitness during pre-season. The premier league has gotten strong, and once you leave the elite 3-4 teams, it’s very hard to get back into the pact. United is now learning the hard way. The club is expected to announce Angel Di Maria this week, but the team needs much more. More defense and central midfield help or they will be a club outside looking in.
STAT THAT I LIKED…. 11. Since arriving from Chelsea, Juan Mata has been directly involved on 11 goals. That is more then any Chelsea player during that same span. (per Squawka football)
STAT THAT I DIDN’T LIKE…. 2/19. Manchester United were only successful on 2 of 19 crosses in the game. Both successful crosses came via Mata.
STAT THAT IS UGLY…. 0. Darren Fletcher hasn’t had a shot on target since February 1st, 2013 against Stoke City.
MAN OF THE MATCH…. Phil Jones.
UP NEXT…. Tuesday, Capital One Cup @ MK Dons.