As we approach the blockbuster face-off against Manchester City at Old Trafford this Sunday, proposed and predicted line-ups are already hitting the web. Most believe that not much will change, due to United’s thunderous form as of late. Assuming that this is true, and United play the regulars seen over the last couple of games, who will prove to be most important? In this article, I will assess the key players in question for Sunday’s clash by reviewing their form over the last 3 games, and their recent achievements. Let’s break it down to the individuals themselves.
Ander Herrera: It almost goes without saying that Herrera has been more than a key player in United winning the last couple of games. Against the Spurs, although he had a rather silent game, he did more than his part. He played a pivotal central role, and boasted a 92.9% passing accuracy rating with 72 touches on the ball. In his next appearance, United took on Liverpool at Anfield. In this headline clash, nerves were high, and so were the stakes. United needed the win to further put Liverpool behind them on the table. Herrera seemed practically unfazed by these high stakes, and his performance reflected it. His contribution became heavily evident in just the 13th minute of the match, as he put in a wonderful ball through past several Liverpool defenders to Juan Mata on the right side. Mata tucked it away wonderfully in the far corner of the goal, giving Herrera an assist. By the end of the day, Herrera had an 86.7% pass accuracy rating, and 79 touches to the ball. He did tremendously to circulate play in the centre area of the pitch and beyond. Finally, we come to his most recent performance, as United took on Aston Villa at Old Trafford. It was in this venture that Ander Herrera put out what many say has been his greatest performance so far in a red shirt. To start with the obvious, Herrera netted 2 goals. Scoring a brace is huge for anyone, but for a midfielder to achieve this is all the more impressive. Besides the double, the less noticed fact is that he also pumped out a completely ridiculous passing performance. One so good, that even without the brace he likely still would have won the man of the match award. So just how good? Herrera had 108 and touches of the ball, and 96% passing accuracy. It’s hard to believe he was even still standing on his own after such a active day. To sum Herrera up, I will simply finish by stating that Ander Herrera will be a pivotal asset to beating City this Sunday.
Michael Carrick: Since Carrick’s long awaited return from injury, he has showed us why he belongs in the starting 11. In his first start since his injury, United took on the Spurs. Carrick made his presence known in just the 19th minute of play, with a headed goal. By the end of the game, Carrick had put in a good shift, and was awarded a 8.3 overall match rating by calculation of his passing, position, and overall contribution. He had a slightly lack-luster match against Liverpool, with 63 touches, and 86% pass accuracy. Though slightly lack-luster, Carrick still did well to hold the line in his center defensive mid position. Against Villa, Carrick had a much more impressive day. He fielded 97 passes, and had a 93% passing accuracy. Though commonly uncredited and unnoticed, one may feel that Michael Carrick has certainly done his part to earn a start against City this weekend.
Daley Blind: One player who has been absolutely remarkable this season, is the versatile Daley Blind. Throughout the season, he’s been asked to play left-back, centre defensive mid, and a couple of other odd-job positions. Regardless of where he is asked to play, he always makes his presence known. Out of the entire United defensive camp, Blind provides more forward effort, and creation than the rest. At times, it’s hard to even believe he’s a defender by trade. Over the last 3 matches, he has been featured at left-back each time. He has been good to make wide forward runs, and provide with great passing assistance when the defensive line pushes up the pitch. Of all of the defence, Blind has contributed the most of the passing. He’s been great to press up the pitch when needed, and even got an assist against Villa. Many call for Shaw to start against City, but like many others, I am a firm believer that Blind should occupy left-back.
Wayne Rooney: Let’s look back on Rooney’s last 3 performances as I have the previous players. To begin, we view the match against the Spurs. In the 3-0 victory over the Spurs, Rooney scored the final of the 3 goals. He did so in the 34th minute of play, and did it with extreme fashion. The goal was no ordinary goal, and even by Rooney’s lofty standards, this goal was truly sublime. He got the ball in the middle of the pitch, and began an inspired run toward the goal. As he approached goal, with no support from others at all, he found himself against 4 defenders. He muscled, and dribbled his way skillfully through the 4 of them, and gracefully slotted the goal to the right of Lloris. Following the goal, he also did the “boxing celebration” that the media simply adored. In his next assignment, Rooney would face Liverpool. In this particular match, he had a rather poor evening. With just 2 shots at goal, only one was on-target. As for other duties, he had a 77% pass accuracy rating with 31 passes. Later in the game, Rooney also stepped up to take a penalty in the 94th minute of play. The shot was off-target, and Rooney missed his chance to get on the scoresheet. Overall, his performance against Liverpool was not very notable. His next match against Aston Villa however, not only did he once again get on the scoresheet, but his goal was brilliant. It all came together in the 79th minute with a great aerial-ball from the left side delivered by Angel Di Maria. Rooney touched it once to skillfully pop it up, and used his second touch to fire a high-velocity shot that glided into the back of the net. With the Liverpool clash considered, Rooney has scored in 3 of his last 4 games. That being said, picking Falcao or RvP over him seems like a bad decision. Among most fans, he is the trusted pick to start against City on Sunday.
Juan Mata: The last key person of importance I will discuss in this article, is arguably the most important of all. Our Spanish maestro Juan Mata has truly had a renaissance of from as of late. His creativity, passing skills, and finishing skills have been a huge factor in United’s recent success. To begin we will review his performance against the Spurs. He was put in a far-right position for this match, and played what was essentially a RM variant. Even though he was put out wide, this did not prevent him from doing his part. He had nearly 50 passes, and an 87% passing accuracy rating. He did very well to both play the ball from the wide position, and also make runs inside with the all to allow for more accurate short passes to be made. Next, we view his mad-man like performance against Liverpool. To begin, Mata scored both of United’s goals on the day, netting a double. It is also worth noting that he only took 2 shots the entire match. Both of which, went in. The goal of most mention, was his second of the day. He did a wonderful bicycle kick, lifting off the ground and striking the ball with precision. Almost as impressive as his goals, was his passing contribution. He had a remarkable 91% pass accuracy, distributed among 73 passes. This is especially notable because he was again in a wide position for this match. And even though he played wide, he had more passes completed than any of the central midfielders (Herrera, Fellaini, and Carrick). To sum it up, his performance at Anfield was superb. Finally, we look at his performance against Aston Villa. In this 3-1 victory, he racked up an assist, and overall did some great passing work. The assist came from as a careful grounded slide across from the right-side, into Herrera. As for his overall passing contribution, he had a 94% pass accuracy with 84 passes, and more than did his part for the 3-1 win we achieved. Looking at his recent form, one may feel that Mata has more than earned a place in the starting 11 against Manchester City on Sunday.
Regardless of who we play on Sunday, we must have faith that Van Gaal will pick the right men for the job, and that those men will perform. After just recently passing City on the table, it is very important that we hold this position. If Arsenal drop points against Burnley, we may even be able to take second place with a win at Old Trafford. Also, statistics and professionalism aside, I think all United fans will agree that we owe City a good thrashing. So let us not disappoint them.