David Moyes got his first win on home soil today under the watchful eyes of Sir Alex Ferguson. While the 2-0 margin may seem a convincing one, the victory certainly wasn’t.
Here are the 5 standout points from today’s game:
1. Clipped wings
Let’s face it; Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia were pathetic today. None of their crosses found their mark. Young appeared overeager to dive for a swim every time someone so much as brushed past him rather than actually trying to get a decent cross in the box that found the desired target.
The less said about Valencia’s forays in the box, the better. With Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney lurking around in the middle of the box all the time, all Valencia had to do was get a cross to land somewhere near the 6 yard box. Rather, most of his passes sailed overhead or were through balls that were instantly cut off. Valencia’s greatest asset has become his weakest link now. The blistering pace that had torn apart defenses two seasons ago has become extremely predictable and defenders know where to quash his forward runs.
All the dominant Manchester teams of the past, particularly the ones who conquered Europe, namely 98-99 and 07-08 had world class wingers in the form of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. While these two players are among the all time greats of modern football and comparing Young and Valencia to them is unfair, Manchester United need a winger who is at least half as decent as them.
This is not to say that the current crop isn’t good enough, but the form they are in at the moment is hurting the team’s chances. Ryan Giggs isn’t sprightly enough to take the field in every game and its high time that United find a player in his mould to stand any chance of competing for titles. Nani needs to settle down quickly and consistently in his preferred left wing position and justify the faith of the manager in him.
2. Anderson’s mistakes
The Brazilian got his first start of the season today and while he showed tremendous energy in making surging runs to support the attack and likewise to fall back to help the defense, he had problems running with the ball and failed to deliver crucial passes when most required.
One clear instance of this was when Wayne Rooney and van Persie broke free from the centre line in a pulverizing counter attack only for Anderson to give the ball away meekly when in search of a teammate. Anderson was expected to bring in the Samba flair to the team’s game play when he moves from Porto in 2007, but that is yet to materialize.
With Marouane Fellaini likely to start more often as the season progresses, Anderson will have to produce near miracles on the pitch every time he gets a chance to play to keep pushing for a starting XI spot in the team.
3. The Finishing touch
The contest today was between the defending champions of the Premier League and a newly promoted team to England’s top tier. United were expected to cruise past Crystal Palace. However, It was anything but that. Yes, we did get two goals in the end but both of them were from set pieces.
Even though Palace played with 10 men for the entire second half, we were unable to find a single goal from open play. United had several excellent build ups up to the box only to see someone misplace a pass and bring the whole pack down again. It is an unsettling characteristic that has now been noticed on the last three occasions. Against both Chelsea and Liverpool, we enjoyed majority of the possession like we did today. United, however, was unable to find that one crucial through ball or that looping cross in the box on all three occasions.
Yes, we did have 12 attempts on goal today but there were hardly any that Speroni couldn’t deal with. I wonder how long Moyes is going to wait before he realizes he holds a beautiful answer in his hands to this finishing puzzle, who is still warming the benches.
Shinji Kagawa attained a near legend status as a no.10 in just two years at Dortmund. His quick one-twos with the strikers and strong darting runs off the ball were instrumental on many occasions for Jurgen Klopp’s team as they romped to the league titles in successive years. He may well prove to be the difference in our title challenge this year and Moyes would do well to employ Kagawa’s services promptly as the league table starts taking shape.
4. The mountain and the mountain goat
Manchester United have yearned for a formidable presence in the midfield ever since the legendary Roy Keane’s retirement. The wait is over. Fellaini’s debut didn’t look like the debut of a player playing his first match at a big club – there were no early jitters or misplaced passes.
Instead, the calm jogs and short passes started flowing from the moment he got the first touch in the United shirt. Fellaini is a tried and tested customer in the Premier League and he will have no problems settling into the new team from the word go. He will hopefully provide a long term solution to United’s dodgy midfield and his presence will let Michael Carrick breathe a sigh of relief at the prospect of a stable partner.
Adnan Januzaj may only be 18 years of age, but the mind boggling talent is there for all to see. His feet are as nimble as a goat’s, and it was a delight to watch him go after every ball in hot pursuit and his wonderful step-overs were enough to make everyone gape in amazement. He is still a raw talent, and it will take him some time to adjust to the rigours of the league. Given time and exposure and a bit beefing up, he is someone who could very well grace the no.7 jersey in the next few years.
5. He is BACK
Yes, Wayne Rooney is truly back to his scintillating best. His importance in the team is evident from the quiet smile of satisfaction that lit up Moyes’ face when Rooney scored a peach of a free kick to settle the match. Rooney at his best is probably amongst the top 5 footballers in Europe, right now, and it is no wonder that Moyes has worked so hard to keep him at United.
His performance on the field today was proof of his rare talent and undying determination- falling back for defensive work, sprinting forward for a lightning fast counter, driving past defenders and striking camaraderie with the lone striker up front. His long range pass from almost 40 yards that found van Persie’s feet just a few minutes before half time was reminiscent of that delicious goal last season.
Not everyone can turn from an out and out striker into one of the best midfielders in the world but for Rooney it has been an easy transition. He is undoubtedly the hardest working player on the pitch for United right now, and him maintaining his top notch form could well go a long way in determining United’s domestic and European success this year. If he can keep his ego in check, and pull the strings from behind the curtains while van Persie keeps the galleries entertained, Moyes may well lift a major trophy come May next year.