Jack Rodwell scores the equaliser for Sunderland in the 1-1 draw with Manchester United
Louis van Gaal picked up his first point as Manchester United manager, following a 1-1 draw away at Sunderland. Juan Mata had given the visitors the lead after a very nervous start before former United target, Jack Rodwell, scored a header to equalise from a corner. United were disappointing once again and lack confidence all over the pitch when in possession of the football. The second half performance was an improvement, however the home side looked dangerous when counter attacking and pressed United all afternoon, which resulted in the away side relinquishing possession. Ashley Young dived to try and win a penalty and was rightfully booked, whilst Darren Fletcher and Tom Cleverley were out muscled, and outplayed, by Lee Cattermole and Jack Rodwell.
Here we discuss the talking points from the game and welcome comments from both sets of fans.
United crying out for a creative outlet
The name on the lips of every United fan pre (and post) kick off was that of the Argentine Angel Di Maria, who looks set to join the club from Real Madrid for £64 million – an English transfer record. Di Maria, who for many was the man of the match in Lisbon in the European Cup final back in May, would be a much-welcomed addition to a squad crying out for a creative outlet from a central position. Having started his career in Europe for Benfica, United were once linked to the player in exchange for Luis Nani – who has now departed to Sporting Lisbon on loan.
The player eventually moved to Real Madrid and has been a hugely important player for them over the past few seasons. Many have speculated as to where he will play when he arrives at Old Trafford. For Argentina in the summer, Di Maria operated on the left hand side of a three man midfield, but he can of course play on either flank if required. His dribbling skills are exceptional and can take the ball from one end of the pitch to the other with ease, a quality not seen at United since the days of Cristiano Ronaldo. United are crying out for a player with those attributes as the current style of play is slow, pedestrian and all too predictable. With 17 assists to his name last season, the Argentine led Europe’s five biggest leagues in terms of goal creation. He will be an essential signing if United are to compete for the top four, yet more quality – a central midfielder and a defender – is still needed.
Slow passing and defensive woes continue
Just before half time, Chris Smalling limped off with a hamstring injury – around half an hour after he had originally signalled to the bench that he was suffering. An odd decision considering that a player should receive treatment immediately if there is a pull or even worse, a tear. Smalling continued until just before the break, but struggled to impose himself on the game, especially considering he was given the most time on the ball by Sunderland throughout the game.
Sunderland were impressive, especially in the first half, at putting pressure on United – who were sloppy in possession. Even when there was little pressure, United were guilty of gifting the ball back. In the first five minutes, Ashley Young checked and played a pass to Chris Smalling, but was about ten yards off with his direction – an occurrence that was commonplace through the match.
Darren Fletcher, who has so remarkably battled back into contention for a first team place, was poor alongside his much-criticised midfield partner Tom Cleverley – who was more content in passing the ball side to side, with Sunderland getting ten men behind the ball. When either ventured into the attacking third to support the attacking trio of Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, they looked uncomfortable on the ball, with Cleverley under-hitting passes out to Ashley Young on the wing, and Fletcher’s second touch often being a tackle. This is of course a far cry from the quality and class United fans have witnessed over the years with Bryan Robson, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Seba Veron and Paul Scholes dominating games.
Post match, the manager poked fun at Geoff Shreeves, the Sky Sports interviewer, who was pushing him for an update on the arrival of Angel Di Maria. He suggested that he likes the current Real Madrid man, but also that he likes “Messi” and “Vidal”. Perhaps the Dutchman was hinting at something to the board following the ridiculous suggestion that the Argentina captain would be following his countryman to Old Trafford before the summer transfer window shuts.
United gain a point but lacked cutting edge and looked vulnerable all game
With a team consisting of Juan Mata, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney – you would expect an abundance of chances to be created and converted. Sadly for United, it all looked too predictable as Cattermole and Rodwell helped to protect the back four, and United lacked runners in behind to stretch the Sunderland backline. Rooney and van Persie both like to drop deep and pick up the ball further away from the opponent’s goal, but this of course narrows the space as the centre half pushes up to ensure the forward cannot turn.
Neither van Persie, Rooney or even Mata from deep made runs in behind. The introduction of Danny Welbeck, who could well leave the club before the September 1st deadline, did make a difference as United’s number 19 did give a injection of some much-needed pace. Javier Hernandez also can run in behind, but his poor showing against Swansea City last weekend didn’t help his case much as remained on the bench throughout. If United had a Michael Carrick operating from deep, who has the ability to pick out runners – then perhaps the attacking trio would have made more runs, but it was all too easy for Sunderland to defend against. United’s captain was extremely quiet all game and never even looked like scoring past Vito Mannone.
United did give a league debut to Michael Keane, who replaced the injured Chris Smalling on the stroke of half time. The youngster slotted in alongside the now elder statesman Phil Jones and Tyler Blackett, who was making his second league appearance for United. This is of course a far cry from the experience and quality of Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister, or Jaap Stam and Ronny Johnsen, or of course Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. If a player is good enough, he is old enough – that isn’t in question. But you have to ask yourself why United didn’t strengthen in that department, following the former captain’s announcement that he would be leaving for Inter. Keane, who put in a decent display despite a mistake early in the second half, and Blackett have potential, but need to play with experienced players to develop their game further. Phil Jones is still learning himself.
The 1-1 draw was a fair result in a game of limited chances. United’s opener was against the run of play and Antonio Valencia should be praised for his great work down the right flank. However, the Ecuadorian was at fault for the equaliser when he got caught under the ball and Jack Rodwell, who did leap impressively, had a free header to guide past the helpless David De Gea. Sunderland pressed all game and made it extremely difficult for United to build any momentum. The introduction of Adnan Januzaj, the hero in the 2-1 victory last season, was a welcome change that signalled attacking intent with a player who is a joy to watch when in full flow running at defenders. The Belgian youngster rarely got the chance to show his attacking prowess and was guilty of gifting the home side the ball following a poor pass from Blackett.
There is a still a vast amount of work to be done at Manchester United for Louis van Gaal, but he has a the class, character and belief to instil a winning mentality at the club again. Throughout his Manchester United career as boss, he will always be reminded of the name of the man that build an empire, plastered across the North Stand when he takes his seat in the dugout of home match. His predecessor looked petrified of the task at hand, however – the present coach does still look like he is working toward something.
Manchester United now travel to MK Dons on Tuesday night and then to Burnley on Saturday for the lunchtime kickoff.