Having conjured to spectacularly self-implode against Leicester a week ago, United were back to winning ways against West Ham on Saturday, registering their second consecutive home win and, crucially, conceding just once.
What looked to be a fairly routine win after 20 minutes, however, turned out be anything but as United made things complicated for themselves yet again. Here’s five things we have learnt from Saturday.
1) Wayne’s world
Wayne’s world is a place where, judging on the basis of yesterday’s performance, responsibility and leadership seem to hold little importance.
Given his track record, Rooney’s appointment as captain raised more than one eyebrow and after his antics on Saturday did nothing to dispel the doubt that he’s been given the captain’s armband simply because of a lack of real alternatives, rather than out of merit.
United, of course, have had captains sent off before for tackles arguably more aggressive and ferocious than Rooney’s petulant kick and neither Eric Cantona nor Roy Keane, Steve Bruce or Gary Neville could be considered shrinking violets. Cantona and Keane, however, balanced their occasional rushes of blood to the head by exuding leadership on the pitch, something Rooney has not done yet and will probably never do.
Getting sent off is bad enough, doing so for kicking out in frustration at an opponent who’s 70 yards from goal is calamitous but getting sent off at such a delicate stage of the game when United had already plenty on their plate to deal with, as West Ham were getting back into the game, was sheer stupidity.
Rooney has an immensely improved disciplinary record compared to his younger self, but his lack of leadership remains incredibly worrying.
For weeks now, we’ve been informed by Fleet Street’s finest that Manchester United have abandoned their tradition. United’s cardinal sin, as far as tabloid scribes are concerned, was spending money on world class players, despite the fact that they needed to do so and that some of their rivals have adopted the same policy over the past decade.
On Saturday, Louis Van Gaal, faced with an injury crisis of epic proportions, gave 19-year-old Paddy McNair his first team debut, while Tom Thorpe, Adnan Januzaj and Andreas Pereira were on the bench.
If that means veering away from tradition, then it’s a welcome change. Don’t expect to see it covered on newspapers, however, for it would disrupt their narrative.
3) Unselfish Falcao
For a man with a goalscoring record as extraordinary as that of Radamel Falcao going three games without netting could be considered a minor goal-drought, but while the Colombian might have not his found his goalscoring boots yet, United have found a more completed striker than many might have expected.
Arrived at Old Trafford as a traditional number nine, the kind of player that is very much the flavour of the month in South West London, Falcao is yet to open his account with United but has shown an extremely unselfish side to his game, notching his second assist in as many games as his partnership with Robin Van Persie continues to develop.
Against West Ham, Falcao had 29 touches and created two chances but it was his willing to receive the ball in the channels and hold up play that impressed, with the Colombian almost constantly double-teamed by West Ham defenders, allowing Van Persie and Rooney to exploit the space in behind the lines.
4) Small steps at the back
United’s defence continued to look far from solid on Saturday, with West Ham gifted a way back into the game as the back four failed to deal with a corner, while only the linesman prevented Kevin Nolan from spoiling out afternoon with what would have been a last minute equaliser – it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke, by the way.
There were, however, encouraging signs, considering that two of United’s four defenders were making their debut for the club. McNair looked increasingly comfortable as the game went on, showing more maturity than it could have been expected by a 19-year-old, while Marcos Rojo looked more comfortable at centre-back than he had done at left-back in previous appearances.
Rafael, meanwhile, had one his best games in a long time, producing the sort of lung-bursting run we had become accustomed to a few seasons ago before delivering a wonderful cross for Rooney’s opener, while Shaw was equally positive on the other flank. Both show remarkable accuracy, with the former completing 90% of his 89 attempted passes, while Shaw 86% of Shaw’s 66 touches was successfully completed.
It’s been too long since United have had full-backs capable of being a threat at both ends of the pitch and one feels Shaw and Rafael could be integral to Van Gaal’s plans.
5) Big month ahead
Despite a complicated start – had they lost yesterday, United would have been faced with their worst-ever start to a Premier League campaign – United are only two points behind Arsenal and three points behind City, the teams currently occupying fourth and third spot on the table.
Both have already faced sterner tests than United, having played one another, while City have already faced Liverpool and Chelsea and Arsenal entertained Spurs on Saturday, though neither has looked formidable.
United face Everton at home next week, before traveling to West Brom and hosting Chelsea at the end of the month, in what will be Van Gaal’s first big test in the Premier League. Everton’s form has been patchy at best this season, though they looked a better side against Liverpool on Saturday, while West Brom have struggled so far and shouldn’t pose too much of a threat.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have gone flying out of the blocks and look unstoppable at the moment. Seven points out of the next three games would be a good return for United, with Van Gaal now needing is team to put together a run of results ahead of the winter months, where the lack of European football could prove to be an advantage.
- Man Utd have their eyes on Dusan Vlahovic, Juventus open to selling him
- Man Utd interested in signing Andre Onana, Inter could sell him for €40-50m
- Erik ten Hag could unleash Alejandro Garnacho vs Man City after Antony Martial injury blow
- Man Utd’s next striker: Three stars on the radar
- FA Cup final preview: Manchester City vs Manchester United – where to watch, kick-off time, possible line-ups, form guide
- Major blow for Manchester United with Anthony Martial set to miss FA Cup final against Man City
- Man Utd decide against permanent deals for Wout Weghorst and Marcel Sabitzer
- ‘World-class’ Bruno Fernandes should get captaincy next season without question
- Porto star Diogo Costa wanted by Man Utd, ready to trigger his release clause
- Bruno Fernandes heaps praise on Goncalo Ramos, talks up move to Manchester United