Manchester United’s victory against Wolves saw the club manage to score more than 3 goals in a single game for the first time since visiting The Reebok in early September. After possibly one of the hardest weeks in Sir Alex’s career, he must be overjoyed to see his players play with the swagger and determination that’s been missing at Old Trafford for quite some time now. Despite not being the most talented side in the League, you cannot say that the Wolves lacked fighting spirit. It was going to be a challenge for United, but if there was a time the West Midlands outfit would have dreaded to face the Red Devils, it would have been on a day when they had an awful lot to prove.
A lot can be said about United hitting the goals again, scoring 4, but then people seem to say “it was only Wolves”. What must have impressed Sir Alex is probably not just the finishing, but the character that our players showed. But at United, playing with Stoke-like bravery will never be enough to satisfy the needs of many, so was the performance really something to brag about?
There were going to be questions asked of United’s defence following Vidic’ injury that will rule him out for the rest of the season. Johnny Evans took our captain’s place next to Rio, who again played on the left side of defence. Until the Swansea game, it is hard to remember a time when Rio played on that side. He has been a right-central defender for his whole United career, but ever since the City fixture he has been filling another role. The reason for this is still up for discussion, but it looks like it is to protect Evra. Vidic has been the left-central defender during Evra’s time at United, being the one to cover up space whenever the Frenchman moves forward. In the past, you would see Rio bombing up the right with the ball at his feet, meaning either Neville or Wes was there to help him out. Now that Rio does not seem to have that pace anymore, he will stay back. And with Vidic out, we will need someone to stay static and cover Evra’s space. Rio is intelligent, a solid tackler, and good in the air, so if you take away his attacking duties he seems the perfect man to replace Vidic as Evra’s protector.
The goal conceded came from a cross from their left that nobody really could have done much about. Just like in midweek it was disappointing to see Evans not get his head on the ball but instead let it pass him, but he does not have the best leap so you cannot fault him for his lacking ability. Overall he performed quite well and put in a solid shift, very determined and definitely did a good job helping out Smalling whenever Jarvis got past the big man. Chris has easily had better games, but then he had played 300 minutes of football in less than 2 weeks before the Wolves game so tiredness is an obvious reason for it. Thankfully there are no games during the midweek so players will come back fresh and get some rest.
During his 4 year long United career it is difficult to remember too many good games Nani has played on our left wing. Ever since his return to form in January 2010, he has been tearing apart full backs on United’s right getting assist after assist, and goal after goal. He has become one of United’s leading lights, a talisman, and someone to turn to when things go bad. Sadly, he has been too inconsistent and poor form, along with being a “supplier” in the team, means he has not made the impact people would have wished for. His job on the right wing is to skin opponents, put the ball in, and if given the opportunity, cut inside and have a shot. He has done this wonderfully, but when our strikers miss more than they score, like Rooney did against Basel in midweek, it becomes easy to forget his contribution to this team. He had a stormer against Wolves though, scoring twice and getting an assist for Wazza’s first goal. It was not the Nani we are used to see, as his role on the left is totally different to when he is on the right. Despite being skillful and good with both feet, he looks more like an orthodox winger on the right. Against Wolves however, playing on the left, he looked more like an attacking midfielder. He did not put too much emphasis on getting crosses in, but rather playing short-good passes, skinning his opponents, cutting inside and getting a shot in. Actually, you only saw him getting a cross in twice during the whole game, none of which really threatened. He played like an attacking midfielder, but off the ball he positioned himself intelligently enough to create amazing width in our team. Unlike Young, he was not afraid of going at his opponents or taking a shot, and it gave him 2 goals and an assist.
While Nani took his opponents totally by surprise on our left, Antonio Valencia played his best game of the season on the right wing. He seemed his usual self, going at opponents at pace, getting a cross in and notching up a few assists. When the game ended, he had a total of 3 assists to his name, the first time he has achieved such a feat in his United career. It is not much to write about really, as Valencia was his usual self. He stay wide, gets to the byline and gets crosses in, and it seems no-one can stop him. He played well with Smalling, but there were a few passes that were badly timed and ruined our attacks. Given Nani’s positioning, Valencia had a stormer. He always had 3 men to aim for in the box, and thanks to a very attacking performance by Carrick he often had 4 targets in there as well, Carrick being unlucky not to get himself a goal with a header in the early minutes. Tony gives United pace, directness, and especially width, which is vital for our strikers. Having him in full form is vital for the club, and his ability to find Rooney wearing blindfolds can prove to be the difference of how many trophies United win this season.
Having Nani play so centrally really seemed to get the best out of Wayne. His passes were sharp, and his positioning spot on. Despite having an illness called “chipwheneveryoucan-itis”, he had a really good game! For the first time since September, you actually saw him run at opposition players and get himself in goalscoring positions. The whole system seemed to fit Rooney. Having Welbeck in the team meant that he could drop off, but also be our front-man whenever necessary. He was played through by a magnificent Welbeck a couple of times, and this flexible approach really seemed to suit him. His understanding with Valencia was, as always, perfect, and he really hit it off with a very central Nani. Unlike the Villa game, their positions did not collide, but instead kept a healthy distance with a great understanding. Valencia was our “crosser” this game, and it was obvious focus was going to be down our right side. Jarvis did not track back, leaving their left back very exposed, and it gave us 4 goals. Jones performed well in midfield, again, and because Carrick was given more attacking duties we became very flexible and unpredictable when going forward. More of the same, please!
Having Welbeck, Nani and Rooney in the team at the same time gives this team a new edge. They interchange positions every time, all of them giving different options. Despite not getting a goal himself, Danny showed what this team have been missing for quite some time. His vision and passing range got others into play on multiple occasions, and he could have had himself 3 or 4 assists. Despite being the tall front man, he offers us something Chicharito does not, which is playmaking. Opponents do not seem to fear Hernandez with the ball, putting more focus on marking Rooney or Nani, but when Welbeck had the ball they all seemed worried. He ran at opponents, playing others into great positions, and also positioned himself well in the box. Brilliant game by the Mancunican, and he seems very important to Rooney. His presence gave Wazza more time and space on the ball, and that second can be the difference between a shot that creeps into the corner, and a wasted pass under pressure.
If United are to play a wide game, trying to get crosses in from both flanks, using Nani on the left is a bad idea. He is a right winger, but his skillset makes him an excellent Left Attacking Midfielder, so based on the team we are facing he gives us a great option. With Chicharito out, we will not really have a real goalscorer in the box, so not too many crosses will be swung in from both sides. We will try to play through, or at least have two possible attacking styles on each flank, so if Welbeck is to continue up front along with Rooney there would not be too much of a surprise to see Nani favored instead of Young.