Sunderland 1-2 Man United: Januzaj, de Gea and the engine room

Author: Doron

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Billed as relegation battle by some wanting some ‘bantz’, United’s trip to Sunderland provided a chance to head into the upcoming international break with a renewed sense of positivity and a much needed win. Moyes once again made changes from the midweek game as Jones, Nani and Rooney returned whilst Januzaj was handed his full debut. For Sunderland there were just two changes as Celustka and Roberge came into the team allowing Gardner to move into midfield. We welcome comments from both sets of fans.

Adnan Januzaj

Oh my, oh my. Where do you even begin?

Let’s make no mistake about it, selecting Januzaj to start, (as had been rumoured for a good few days), was a brave move by Moyes. For sure, Januzaj had impressed in his cameos off the bench offering more than pretty much every other attack-minded United player but at 18, to start away from home at a time when the team badly needed the win was a ballsy decision. There were much safer options in the squad and no one would have battered an eyelid if Januzaj was a sub option as he has been recently. As with the other 107 substitute minutes so far this season, he repaid the faith the manager has shown in him.

In a dour opening half in which United had been busy but not always creative enough, he’d been the one bright spark. A couple of shots flashed wide as he showed signs of his talent, a quick dummy or body swerve to make space for himself. The second half in fact started badly, he was rightly booked for a dive – a strange occurrence given that it’s not something I can recall him doing before. It’ll hopefully be just a one off though.

Before his legs eventually started to give away around 70 minutes he’d made his mark though. First a fine first timed finish on his weaker foot and then after a quick foot readjustment he arrowed a sumptuous volley into the corner – that he had the confidence to even take it on let alone concentrate enough to execute it speaks volumes for where he’s at right now. United were saved by the 18 year old, he’d produced when we needed it most which is both admirable but also telling that more experienced players were unable to do so.

Rightly and deservedly there’ll be heaps of attention and focus on him now but the club will protect him and continue to let him develop in the right way with both the U21s and the first team. He’s much to still improve upon, notably not holding onto the ball too long and ironically, his finishing. Conspiracy theorists will suggest his fast-tracking into the first team may be contract related but one suspects it’s much simpler than that – he’s having an impact whilst others, no matter their reputations or transfer fees aren’t. He deserved his chance and he took it.

Game saving moments

Having thanked Adnan for his heroics, United may reflect on two moments of note that now appear as important as any. Already a goal down and with no more than ten minutes played, Phil Jones reverted back to 2011/12-type by making an error and then recovering with a wonderfully timed slide tackle. He’d gifted possession to Craig Gardner 40 yards from goal and Sunderland, with Gardner closing in on goal on the angle had a three on one situation in their favour but before Gardner could make up his mind, Jones had steamed back and slid across to win the ball back. In his first season, Jones got a reputation for making big tackles but they were normally because he was having to dig himself out of a self-dug hole. Had he not done so this time, United would have almost certainly been two behind and in serious trouble.

The other unforgettable incident involved de Gea just after the half hour mark. Giaccherini of all people popped up unmarked from an Adam Johnson cross and headed it towards the inside netting of the goal. It wasn’t a header of significant power but was well directed and on the run it seemed to happen incredibly quickly. Somehow, de Gea’s readjusted his balance and flung his body the opposite way whilst tipping wide with an outstretched arm. Far from a routine save, it was one that only a few elite goalkeepers can pull off and prompted Peter Schmeichel to suggest it was one of the Premier League’s all-time great saves. The platform for the win was thanks to those two moments as much as anything else.

Sunderland put pressure on United’s cracks

United have long experienced travelling to teams who suddenly manage to find that extra bit of zip to their play when United are in town. Add to that the fact that Sunderland have a caretaker manager who’s already shown he’s getting a response from his players and that cocktail mix makes for some good adrenaline. Sunderland’s players, buoyed by their early goal thanks to various individual errors (Evra, then Jones, then Vidic), stuck to their game-plan superbly in the first half – forcing United deep by pressing high and giving the centre backs few out-balls resulting in hopeful punts up the field when neither Carrick nor Cleverley were suitable options.

Although United came back into the first half and created good chances, Sunderland were never far away from opening the cracks at the back for United. Doing everything at a hundred miles an hour meant it didn’t always come off for Sunderland but it was enough to rumble a creaky defence. By the time United had gone ahead though, legs started to go and as the adrenaline left their bodies, the Sunderland players started to look weary. Despite a very late second wind, it was game up then with so much energy already spent.

The engine room

United’s midfield has taken an absolute hiding this season already. Fellaini signed, is now injured but hasn’t yet convinced anyone he’s ready for United; Cleverley’s been in and out the side; Anderson’s been so poor that he wasn’t even taken to Donetsk; and Carrick’s failed to live up to the high standard he set himself last season. Both individually and as a unit, the central midfielders needed a big performance and whilst Wednesday night was a start, today was a really gutsy showing up against a three man Sunderland midfield.

Carrick and Cleverley just about held up their end of the bargain in the first half as the defence faltered but it was after half time they really cranked up the pressure. Neither will be making obvious headlines but they did much of the good dirty work that made the win possible. They started to press higher onto Sunderland’s midfield with Cleverley in particular doing what he started in pre-season, closing down midfielders and crucially winning the ball back. It may come as a surprise but he’s both won and attempted more tackles than any other United player in the league so far this season – an excellent refection of the hard work he’s putting in off the ball. In possession he was tidy too with a 95% passing accuracy, showing that the ball was seldom needlessly given away. Januzaj and Nani were good out-balls, always willing to take the ball on and run at Sunderland’s defenders. Plenty bemoan the lack of creativity coming from the middle of the pitch but United have always been lucky enough to have it in abundance out wide.

Partnering Cleverley, Carrick had his best game of the season so far. Despite having consistently good numbers this season, it hasn’t been hard to see that his influence on games has waned and he’s simply not been as good as he was last year or should be. Aided by Cleverley’s energy (such an underrated attribute – see Darren Fletcher), it took some of the defensive burden off Carrick and he could concentrate on doing what he does best, picking the ball off the defence and moving it forwards to the next team-mate up the pitch. He made over 100 passes (64% of them forwards), always retaining possession and keeping the play ticking over. Unlike in recent games, he’d found his range with the cross-field passes as accurate as the short ones. The pairing with Cleverley was good and, with the help of Rooney dropping deeper at times in the second half, for a change we weren’t dominated by an opposition’s midfield three.


United returned to winning ways and the top half of the table (arf!) with a much-needed, morale-boosting win at Sunderland. Two different but equally impressive second half strikers by Januzaj provided the three points after Gardner had scored very early on following a series of individual defensive errors. United were unquestionably better at a lot of things than in recent games – ball retention, ball possession, chances created etc. However, there’s much still to be concerned about and worked on, notably, sorting out the ongoing defensive errors. Vidic’s form in particular seems to be yo-yoing which is a worry but Jones certainly grew into the game in a positive way.

Januzaj’s inclusion was bold and proved correct but it also allowed Nani to play on his more suited right hand side and although he failed to convert a few good chances, it was great to see a winger so willing to take opposition players on and try to add a bit of pace and unpredictability to our play. Defending aside, if there was a concern for United it’s van Persie who looks out of sorts, unfit, rusty and has no semblance of a partnership with Rooney right now. For Sunderland, they remain bottom with just a point but Kevin Ball showed yet again he’s able to get a good reaction from the group of players there and it can’t have done him any harm in his quest for the job permanently. There’s an international break now and then United return for four home games in a row across three competitions, starting with Southampton in the league.

17 Comments on Sunderland 1-2 Man United: Januzaj, de Gea and the engine room

  1. Moyes used the 4-2-1-3 formation for kagawa. He will be in his real position in central as attacking creative midfielder. Trust me this is not a bad idea after using 4-4-2 in first half. When you enter kagawa in second half then used this tactics it will bring another freshness to the team after playing 4-4-2 in first half.

  2. After this match the left wings is book for januzaj only. NO One should take his place as left winger now.

  3. Moyes we got our number 7 januzaj deserve that wat said united fan. Januzaj deserve number 7 shirt or not.

  4. I think Vidic was a lot better in the second half than the 1st. altidore didn’t get a look in on the direct balls down the field or taking on the defense in the second half. he obviously looks less muscular or strong than he used to be before his injury. that may be sorted as the season progresses. what concerns me is the fact that our forwards didn’t get to have a away at all in the game. they had to drop really deep to make something happen. if not for Adnan the best result we would have got was a draw, and that’s me being highly optimistic. Kagawa needs a good run with the 4-3-1-2 formation. I don’t think Moyes has a memory to be proud of because if he did he’d remember that the player in question was 2 time bundesliga footballer of the year ahead of Ribery, özil, goetze and a host of other fantastic players. the guy deserves a run of games, to show moyes and the world that he is infact the same player that SAF said would have a bigger impact on United this season when he gets a proper run of games. this team has the potential tto play some rambunctious football if Moyes can get the selection right. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that we have an absolute gem on our hands and that we won the game. but I’m used to seeing us absolutely tear into the opposition, attack like Tsunamis where the opposition has to deal with breathtaking counters or just super fast attacks. we are capable of that and maybe this is just the dip in form most teams go through in a season, who knows for sure. but I know one thing. and that is that if United are to make it under moyes or vice versa even, moyes needs to give each and every player the opportunity to express himself in the best possible condition and he cannot do that by omitting some players for good while giving some opportunities time and time again.
    P.S. He’d do well to sell Ashley Young.

  5. “The pairing with Cleverley was good and, with the help of Rooney dropping deeper at times in the second half, for a change we weren’t dominated by an opposition’s midfield three.”

    Yeah – “Rooney dropping deeper”. The guy should be played as MC16’s partner for the good of the team. There’s no “i” in T-E-A-M, WayneBoy.

    Playing Rooney together with Carrick is the obvious solution to the marginalization of talented attacking players like KagawaBunga and Chicharito. Getting AdnanJ and Nani into the mix ahead of AshleyBloodyYoung and AV25 is a step in the right direction, too.

    Having Rio play means that the defensive line is too deep. Jones adds some athleticism to the back line but he’s nowhere near the defender that Jonny Evans is – nor is he better than Chris Smalling (when he’s “allowed” to play as a center back rather than being wasted as a back-up for LittleRedRafa).

    Other looming issues for UTD fans is the recurrence of costly mistakes from CaptainVidic and, the decline in performance from RVP who missed an absolute sitter that could have/should have given TheLads a two goal cushion for the last phase of the match. Thankfully, NinjaEvra and MC16 are still producing at their expected level.

  6. To all those Kagawa fans: I am afraid Kagawa will be forced to leave Man Utd as he wants more playing time to prepare him for the World Cup. My bet he will be asking for a transfer in the January window while his stocks remain high. The longer he sits on the bench and not have any game time, his value as well as his confidence gets shot! By the time he comes on he will not be at his best and be “rusty”. The main reason for his downfall – Rooney! As long as he is at 10 and is in the team, not only Kagawa will be impacted but you will see the form and play of RVP being affected as well. As long as Rooney is playing – and I hope he continues to play well for the sake of the team – the team line-up will have to be modified to suit him. Kagawa will not be on the left wing as that’s best reserved for a true winger like Januzaj. So, I am afraid there is no room for Kagawa in this team line-up. The best Kagawa can hope for is bit part player off the bench. With that he can never shine. BTW: Watch what happens to Chicha too! Poor guy, he will be on the way as well as long as RVP/Rooney are on the field! So it will also be Adios to Chicha too!

  7. I think PJ does not play as a good center back… which is his best position..(In theory) He is actually a better CDM / RB then a CB.. (Makes too many errors…)

    Anyhow.. I am a developer making a android app.. need testers.. !! If you are willing to help.. please try it.. !! 🙂

    It is a fantastic project.. need help from the fellow red devils 🙂 #GGMU 🙂

  8. Kagawa is a player that easily adapt in a tactics 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-1-3. He is a creative attacking midfielder moyes should used this in second half after kagawa come in as sub.

  9. moyes we fans always comment kagawa is a central midfielder. Don’t play him as left winger play him in central you will see that he will perform better than he does as left winger. Kagawa creativety in central will bring more goal and help our striker rooney,van persie to score. And on both wings januzaj,nani,valencia,zaha also will help used score more goals and make them strong.

  10. Can’t believe that at 1-0 down, moyes was about to make the game loosing decision and bring on welbeck and valencia, leavin the game changers kagz n chicha on the bench. Thankfully Adnan didnt just save united but moyes as well. Against an ultra defensive sunderland, welbeck and valencia would have done absolutely nothing and its annoying hw talented and passionate players like kagz and chicha have to take this. Play 4 3 3, kagawa in centre AM along with clev and carrick and rooney at left forward, adnan right forward. Thats the lineup to bring the best out of this team, but i guess rooney wont have that, so lets all see where 4 4 2 is gona take us this year. Anderson, Young, Welbeck Out!

  11. Are the same fans that said a few years back Kiko Macheda is our new striker,the ones calling for Januzaj to be given the #7? Let’s not rush anything here. he is a bright young talent, that will need some time.

  12. Yes ! moyes is doing great job now but we must work hard on our passes too many mistake united does in passing that cost us goal early. Kagawa is the solution moyes used him in 4-2-1-3 as creative attacking midfielder.
    Line-up like that

    This line up must used in second half after you began with your as usual 4-4-2

  13. Great move by Moyes to play Januzaj, so now find the courage to play Kagawa and Zaha. You might scare a few defences that way. I watched a reply of the MANU v Aust A League All Starts match and watching Januzaj, Zaha and Lindgard tear up the defence was a joy to watch. Even fir the last 20 minutes at least if you still cant make up your mind.

  14. @Doron your previous article was about how Adnan’s not ready for the first team and now you’re writing about how him being in the line-up vs sunderland made us play better! We commented and said, he was a better player than tony v & young, u mr know all called us plastic fans…. Now Doron, i’ve followed u closely, anytime u talk about utd and someone suggests other-wise u disagree as if u’re united’s manager or coach. But thankfully like every united fan around the world DORON, You Are Just An Ordinary Fan.

  15. Thanks for your comment. There’s no point making things up though. In the piece you refer to – – not one person was called a “plastic fan”. The piece was about why Januzaj wasn’t in the Champions League squad and why, quite reasonably, it was worth preaching caution about throwing him in against Europe’s best teams. As you rightly point out, I am just a fan. I’m also entitled to an opinion and by no means feel that my opinion is any more correct than anyone else’s. However, when it comes to the younger players, having spent a lot of time watching them closely at U18 and U21 level, I feel that I’m sometimes in a position to offer a bit more insight. I’ve no problem with being wrong and being proven wrong. I didn’t think Januzaj was ready to do what he did in that Sunderland game and I’m chuffed that he was. However, even now I still maintain patience is key – he’s an 18 year old and part of a big squad. He won’t start every game and he won’t have the same impact in every game. Young and Valencia will still get plenty of minutes this season and at times their experience will be as important as Januzaj’s youthful talents.

    I can take you disagreeing but please don’t make things up about what I may or may not have said.

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