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Five things we have learnt from Villa vs United

Aston-Villa-v-Manchester-United (5)It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t entertaining but it was effective. Manchester United return from Villa Park with another three points and another clean sheet but, as it’s been characteristic of Louis Van Gaal’s tenure, there were more questions than answers.

It is hard to argue with two wins in two games, particularly given last season’s stuttering start, but United continue to look like a work in progress.

Here’s five things we have learnt from Friday night

1) Rooney’s gamble backfires

Last season, Louis Van Gaal lamented the lack of a striker capable of scoring at least 20 goals a season. Robin Van Persie and Radamel Falcao, players who were expected, and failed, to deliver in front of goal have left the club but a prolific goalscorer is still nowhere to be seen at Old Trafford.

Wayne Rooney was absolutely abysmal against Villa, displaying the first touch of a cement mixer and an alarming lack of dynamism even for a player who is renown for being a slow starter.

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Rooney was at his best when he played as lone striker during the 2010-11 season but Van Gaal’s decision to rely on him up-front seems ill advised, not least because of the ponderous nature of the current side.

United need to get the ball up the pitch much more quickly than they have done so far but even then, the England captain might not be the 20-goal a season striker his team requires him to be.

2) Walking Memphis

Memphis Depay has arrived at Old Trafford with high expectations given his goalscoring record for PSV and the reputation for being one of European football’s most exciting talents. However, so far, the Dutchman has been more miss than hit and the impression is that he’s tried a bit too hard to leave his mark on games.

Against Villa, deployed in his favourite role as left winger, instead of the number 10 role he occupied against Spurs, Depay often picked the wrong option, running into blind alleys and failing to capitalise on a superb pass from Juan Mata in the second half.

The United number 7 will soon find his feet, players of his quality almost always do, but could do without trying so hard to impress.

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3) Solidity the key to success

In his post-match interview, when asked if he was concerned about the lack of fluidity in attack, Van Gaal responded by saying to win games teams need to score one more goals than their opponents.

United have done that so far, although they will face much sterner tests throughout the season and they will need to click offensively at some point.

However, Van Gaal can be pleased with the degree of defensive solidity United have shown so far.

For a team still short of a world class centre-back and with a goalkeeper who, in the minds of many, is a disaster waiting to happen, United looked unflappable on Friday night, even though Villa offered very little threat.

Chris Smalling was again impressive, while Daley Blind looked accomplished alongside him and Luke Shaw and Matteo Darmian were excellent at both ends of the pitch.

4) German efficiency

Bastian Schweinsteiger might yet have to start his first game in a Manchester United shirt, but the German’s influence on his team has already been abundantly felt.

Having come on alongside Ander Herrera with just 30 minutes left, Schweinsteiger immediately controlled the game, as United dominated the final third of the game. The German might not play the full 90 minutes very often but he could have a similar impact to the one Andrea Pirlo had during his four seasons with Juventus.

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5) Januzaj could surprise

With United unlikely to sign a centre-forward before the end of the transfer window, Van Gaal’s options up-front are limited and he will need his midfielders and wingers to come up with the goods in the final third of the pitch.

The Dutchman’s decision to deploy Adnan Januzaj through the middle was a surprise move but paid off brilliantly, as the Belgian scored the winner with a superbly taken finish midway through the first half.

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After a week during which Januzaj had been linked with a loan move away from the club, being included in the side and scoring the winner will surely be a timely confidence boost for the 20-year-old.

Having proved the only beacon of light of David Moyes’ tenure, Januzaj found things harder last season but Van Gaal’s inclination to adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation could play in the Belgian’s hands this season and he could spark a surprise.

Dan