Halfway through the group stages the World Cup has already lost the defending champions and England could be about to join them on the plane home, while just about every footballer who’s played at least a minute in the tournament has been linked with a move to Old Trafford this summer, some of the current United players have been impressive.
Here’s a little recap of how Reds have fared in Brazil so far.
Robin Van Persie
What a difference a few months make, ha? Last season the Dutchman, blighted by a few injury problems, was a paltry image of the man who had spearheaded United’s cavalcade to the title 12 months earlier. The enthusiasm had gone from his game, replaced by a sulking attitude that was a world away from the performances we had got used to in his first season at the club and many wondered whether the former Arsenal captain would even be at Old Trafford next season.
With David Moyes gone and Louis Van Gaal set to replace him, the answer is a resounding “yes”. Van Persie has never tried to hide the mutual respect between him and the Holland coach nor has he ever missed the opportunity to reaffirm just how much he enjoys playing under the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager.
RVP’s first goal against Spain was a joy to watch as was his celebration, which said more about his relationship with Van Gaal than a thousand words, while his second against the disgraced defending champions and his goal against Australia confirmed this is a player loving his football again and with every game Holland play, the expectation among United fans rises accordingly.
Yes, him. The pantomime villain of United’s dismal season and the player many can’t wait to be ushered out of Old Trafford, Fellaini was instrumental as Belgium turned a 1-0 defeat into a 2-1 win in their opening game against a spirited Algeria side that had looked set to spoil Marc Wilmots’ men party.
Brought in with an hour gone, it took Fellaini only 10 minutes to equalise with the sort of thumping header he never looked capable of producing last season and, even more importantly, he looked a lot more dynamic and sure of himself than he ever did since arriving at United on deadline day last season.
Many pointed at the fact that he was deployed further forward than in front of the back four as the reason behind his revival but with Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj in the team, surely United can’t afford to play Fellaini in the number 10 role next season, particularly if Van Gaal opts for his preferred 4-3-3 formation.
Having said that, however, if the Belgian has a good World Cup, he could turn into a useful squad player and the fact he was played out of position by the manager who knew everything about him says more about Moyes than he does about him.
Criticised by the media with the sheer venom that is prerogative of United players playing for England, Rooney has one assist and one goal to his name after two matches.
His performance against Italy in England’s opening game was unimpressive but it wasn’t helped by Roy Hodgson’s decision to deploy him out wide on the left to accommodate Raheem Sterling in the number 10 role and even though Rooney’s cross led to Daniel Sturridge’s equaliser, he was criticised.
Against Uruguay last night, Rooney was deployed in his preferred role just off the main striker and was England’s most influential player by far, twice going close to put England ahead in the first half before restoring parity in the second half with his first ever World Cup goal, having previously been denied by an excellent save by Fernando Muslera.
Where will Rooney fit in Van Gaal’s plans remains to be seen, but Holland’s flexibility in the first two games shows Van Gaal has a knack for finding room for talented players.
Much like in Fellaini’s case, it’s hard to judge a player on the basis of one game, but Evra looked solid and comfortable enough against Ecuador in France’s opening game of the tournament.
Having signed a new contract which will keep him at Old Trafford for at least another 12 months and with a deal for Luke Shaw looking increasingly complicated, Evra might well start next season as United’s first choice left-back, a role which is pivotal in Van Gaal’s plans and one in which the Evra seen over the last couple of seasons could struggle.
Ecuador might have lost their first game against Switzerland, but Valencia looked better than he’s done over the last two seasons for United – hardly a ringing endorsement, in truth – and he’ll be pivotal to his team’s chances of progressing to the knockout stage.
The United winger was heavily involved in the majority of his team’s moves, touching the ball 34 times and displaying an usual accuracy with the ball at his feet, with 93% of the 27 passes he attempted finding their intended target and could carve himself a role at United, were Van Gaal to opt for a 5-3-2 in which the two wing-backs push forward.
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