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Five things we have learnt from United vs Hull City

Manchester-United-v-Hull (1)A third win in a row, a second clean sheet in the last three matches and yet more encouraging signs for Louis Van Gaal. Here’s five things we have learnt from United’s 3-0 win against Hull.

1) LVG’s man management works

In the seven days between United’s first win away of the season and their success against Hull, much was made of Louis Van Gaal’s comments over Robin Van Persie’s poor performance against his former club. Van Persie, his manager said, had been “very, very bad” against Arsenal and he hinted at dropping the 31-year-old in favour of James Wilson.

Instead, Van Persie retained his starting spot and, after a tentative start, grew into the game and netted his fourth goal of the season with a spectacular finish, before making way for Radamel Falcao.

Whether the Dutchman will get back to his best remains to be seen, but Van Gaal’s comments seem to have touched a nerve and provoked a reaction, exactly the sort of mind games world class managers can pull off and with Falcao returning from injury, Van Persie has even more reasons to impress his manager.

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2) Goals

If United were a car, they’d be a front wheel drive model, such is the unbalance between the attacking and defensive options at Van Gaal’s disposal. However, for all the talks of United being “top heavy” and looking to outscore oppositions rather than shut them out, Saturday was only the second time this season United managed to score more than two goals.

The first time they had done so, against Leicester, they conjured to implode in spectacular fashion conceding five goals to a team that then failed to score for seven consecutive games. On Friday, Van Gaal had called for his team to be ruthless and close games out when given the chance and his players looked to have got the message, displaying the sort of confidence they had missed for large spells of the season.

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Confidence means fluidity and fluidity results in chances. United had 13 shots, seven of which on target and converted three. Football is a simple game.

3) More midfield positives

Whisper it, but United may be finally edging closer to mend the 10-year long wound that has plagued their midfield. Hull, admittedly, aren’t the benchmark United should measure themselves against but Van Gaal would have been pleased to see Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick pick up where they had left off against Arsenal.

The Belgian, arguably one of the most improved players under Van Gaal, was again solid in possession and diligent without the ball, while Carrick reaped the benefits of playing in midfield system that is becoming increasingly settled. Freed by tackling duty, he was able to concentrate on what he does best and barely misplaced a pass.

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Ander Herrera’s introduction for the injured Di Maria forced Van Gaal to reshuffle the pack but the Spaniard looked comfortable from the moment he stepped on the pitch, despite making his second appearance in two months. With Herrera returning and Carrick and Fellaini proving increasingly solid, Van Gaal could have a selection problem in midfield, one which he’d very much welcome.

Juan Mata, meanwhile, was simply magnificent, as his passing and vision kept United ticking and his movement left Hull defenders chasing shadows. A great player who looks at his best when played in his preferred role. Who knew that could work?

4) Keep them out

United’s back four has been devastated by injuries and laughed at by United supporters, pundits and journalists alike but rarely looked troubled on Saturday. Chris Smalling produced a solid performance for the second time in two weeks and put United ahead, while alongside him Marcos Rojo looked calm and asserted in his first game back from a dislocated shoulder and the two look set to be United’s first choice centre-backs for the time being.

Often much maligned by United fans, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young were diligent and rarely troubled as makeshift full-backs. Of course, neither can be considered a long-term solution in the position, but in the second half against Arsenal and during yesterday’s match United’s back four has looked like an increasingly well-drilled unit.

That, of course, has nothing to do with being properly coached.

5) Injuries

Angel Di Maria, number 41 of the season and it’s not even December yet. United are, allegedly, planning to organise mid-week friendlies in 2015 to boost their revenue, which has been hit by a lack of Champions League football. Perhaps they should consider play them in Lourdes.

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Dan