Five talking points from United’s start to the season

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Aston-Villa-v-Manchester-United (5)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.

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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!

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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 (@ajvjsarge)

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4 Comments

  1. It’s very early days still but I have always had my doubts about Rooney as sole striker. His favoured position is one playing off a main striker. Of course if a specialist striker is introduced then something has to give in midfield which might detract from the solidity evident there in the first two games.

    If, for different reasons, LvG’s faith in Hernandez and Wilson is limited then the pursuit of a quality striker is of the utmost importance. Having placed his faith in “20 goal plus” Rooney it will be a bit of an about turn for Louis if he was to abandon this idea so soon. Perhaps he’ll give the current system another couple of games. However, already people are calling for Rooney’s head! If Muller et al are unobtainable I wonder why Bentecke wasn’t considered an option. Perhaps it was the concern that a physically imposing front man would automatically lead to more hoof ball tactics as opposed to hte possession stuff. Then again, without any additions, I can see Fellaini once again being employed to fulfill that role. Not sure how well that will go down with the traditionalists.

    Clearly Memphis is going to take time to get accustomed to the hurly burly of the EPL. With Herrera and Mata jostling for the No 10 role and with the possibility of Pedro coming, I cannot see Januzaj being retained. Despite his goal, LvG was unnecessarily disparaging about the young Belgian in the Vila post match. I doubt he’ll start against Brugge and is almost certianly going out on loan, unless Pedro decides, for whatever reasons, he’d rather be a Blue than a Red. God forbid!

  2. Bracing myself for another season of mediocrity. And with all the talk about who we should buy, who should play where, what system is best, I think people are missing the elephant in the room: United will not win anything with Van Gaal in charge. Take the way he treats players, for example: He had the best GK in England and one who won everything with Barca in the directors box and started the season with Sampdoria’s back-up and with a guy we loaned out 6 times on the bench. All to prove a point –not sure what that point is: either get rid of DeGea and Valdes or play them; what’s the point of embarrassing them like that? He managed to ruin DiMaria’s confidence (he had much more to do with his drop in form than the burglars did) panned Januzaj publicly after his Villa performance, and on and on and on. why are people surprised Otamendi may be going to City instead? You don’t think he spoke to Di Maria? Why is Pedro having second thoughts about joining United? Nobody wants to play for VG, unless they have no other options. And his tactics are pathetic. Constantly changing his mind about formations, and starting roles, to the point the players never know what to expect and never playing with any confidence –just observe their body language: nobody seems to be enjoying playing for MU anymore; even Giggs looks miserable on the bench, even when we are winning. We played the first two games with two defensive MFs! Against Spurs and Villa, not Barca away. We managed 3 shots on target combined! (City had as many goals vs Chelsea). People are happy with the clean sheets, but when a side is set up not to lose vs mediocre opponents and manage 3 shots combined, they better keep clean sheets. And vs. Brugge tomorrow, we better not be content with another 1-0 win; that would make the away match much more dangerous. I hate to say it, but Stoichkov may be right

    • Very true!!! We had enough players last year to win the league but statistics show that QPR had created more chances than us. A great coach makes the sum of the players better. Van gaal makes us worse. Can you imagine teams like Southampton, Everton, Spurs having players like Di Maria, Falcao, Van Persie, Rooney, Mata, Kagawa in their attacks, how they would destroy teams.

  3. In Rooney’s defence Van Gaal’s formation is not really set up to make strikers look good. Rather it uses them as a foil for the players around them. For example in the world cup it gave Robben rather than Van persie the starring role and similarly last season we saw Fellaini and Mata and Herrera shine and score goals. Any striker suffers completely starved of any meaningful service and isolated for large stretches of the game. Benteke would have been a great fit for the formation and I also thought we should have gone for him.

    What I would like to see is a return to a 4-3-3 similar to the formation we played in 2008. With a strong midfield three we would be able to give the three forwards a lot of freedom and I think Depay or Januzaj, Rooney and Pedro as the front three would score a lot of goals between them while it would be great to see Herrera in midfield on a regular basis and his legs and energy would allow us to see more of Schweisteneger.

    The man management issues also bother me. Van Gaal has done a good job at organizing us as a team which we badly needed after the Moyes era but he’s alienated a lot of senior players and is blocking the development of players like Herrera and Januzaj. If Pedro does not join us this summer we are screwed and it will be because he’s probably had a word with Di Maria and Valdes and decided he didn’t fancy working with Van Gaal.

    But in general Van Gaal has not done a bad job. Despite a huge number of new additions he has created a good team that is well organized, defensively solid, does not give the ball away easily and is pretty difficult to beat. While we lack the swagger of Ferguson’s best teams we are efficient and profesional, a huge step forward from the shambles we were under Moyes, and we have a lot of upside as new signings continue to improve and bed in and when you consider how poorly we started last season, if we continue to proceed where we left off from the second half of last season that is already a ten points or so improvement on our total last season.

    While we may not win anything under Van Gaal the team he leaves behind will be in very good shape and if we land someone like Guardiola or Simeone or Conte it will just take a few choice signings and a more attacking philosophy to dominate Europe. Remember it took Ferguson almost ten years to win his second Champions League?

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