Manchester United are joint top of the league after two games, have looked unexpectedly solid at the back and are yet to concede a goal. However, that’s where the positives end for Louis Van Gaal, as his side still looks to be struggling to regain the fluidity they displayed over six games in spring last season, when United seemed to have well and truly returned to their usual, pre-Moyes selves.
With European football returning to Old Trafford tomorrow, here are five talking points from United’s first two games of the campaign.
1.Wayne Rooney is not playing like a captain
Louis Van Gaal wanted a 20-goal-a-season striker but his decision to put almost all his eggs in a Wayne Rooney-shaped basket is looking increasingly ill-advised. During United’s first two games of the season, Rooney’s touch has horrendous and it is worrying he has no competition for his place. A big concern has been if he gets injured, who do we turn to? He currently offers so little that this problem no longer exists! Throughout the summer, the need to buy a world class centre-back and a replacement for David De Gea have made the headlines, but the gaping hole up-front needs addressing if United are to mount a serious challenge this season.
2.Darmian, bargain of the season?
A solid, no-nonsense right-back, who makes his presence felt at both ends of the pitch. The sort of man United have missed on that side of the pitch since Gary Neville moved from the pitch onto the Sky’s commentary gantry. It is, of course, still very early days in the Italian’s career at Old Trafford but it lookes like he could make the position his own for the next decade, if he continues as he has started. Luke Shaw was equally impressive and could offer some much needed penetration which seems to be lacking at the moment.
3. Young guns need to step up
After weeks of speculation surround his future, it was pleasing to see Adnan Januzaj being handed a rare start and grabbing his chance both ends as he netted the winner. However, bright as he was in front of goal, the Belgian offered little else and United’s front three remains very much a work in progress, with Rooney devoid of any meaningful service up-front, as United struggle to break teams down. Similarly, Memphis Depay has also struggled to impose himself in the first two games. Having been played as number 10 against Spurs, the Dutchman was deployed in his favourite role at Villa Park but failed to leave his mark on the game. Is it time for Van Gaal to unleash his team’s offensive potential? Attack! Attack! Attack!
4. Bastian and Ander
To no-one’s surprise, United have played better when Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ander Herrera have been on the pitch. The speed and creativity of United’s football improved in the opening two games when they came on. Schweinsteiger literally runs the game when he’s on and while the German might not start many games this season, he is a real joy to watch and the kind of leader this side desperately needs. Herrera, on the other hand, looks to have a fight on his hands to get into the side but he should have plenty of chances, as United will have more games to negotiate than they did last season. For the first time in a decade, United are spoilt for choices in the middle of the park and finding the right combination might take longer than expected.
5. Boring or efficient?
It’s going to be a long and boring season if we continue to play like this. Unfortunately, things aren’t expected to change any time soon. In the post-match interview, Van Gaal mentioned several times the lack of ball retention and insisted that, while United should have scored more, all it takes to win is scoring a goal more than the other side. While such a pragmatic has been effective so far and could work wonders in Europe, it seems the days when United used to blow teams away with with fast, relentless and risky football are gone forever. LVG is risk averse. Keep the ball, grind teams down and play that killer ball or have that shot when the gaps appear seems to be the order of the day. Not what fans want to see but if gets the red and black ribbons back on the Premier League trophy, should they really be bothered by the style?
Andy Sargeant (@)