Robin van Persie scores for Manchester United against West Ham United
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Writing these reviews can be a pain in the ass. In the good old days, a simple template would suffice; something along the lines of “Manchester United defeated [Insert Team] in a thrilling game thanks to a goal from [Insert Player] and Sir Alex Ferguson shouting at [Insert Player/Official/Inanimate Object].”
But times have changed and predicting a United result is like trying to guess which ex-footballer Joey Barton will start blithering on about on Twitter. Who the hell knows any more? Coming off the back of an epic 5-3 capitulation against Leicester City last week, all bets were off. Thankfully, things went according to the great Dutch plan. Well, almost.
A win is a win is a win
Football journalists often revel in reminding us that beating ‘lesser’ teams is as applaudable as having sex with a mop bucket. Anyone can pull a mop bucket (although Danny Welbeck may still find some difficulty in sealing the deal. Sorry, Danny). The real test will come when Jose Mourinho comes knocking with his invincible Chelsea side in a few week’s time.
Don’t feel ashamed to celebrate, though. Any game can trip a big side up, proven only last week as Liverpool folded against a fired up West Ham United. No result is guaranteed in the Premier League any more, making all victories just a little bit sweeter even against weaker opposition. Sam Allardyce may not have led Real Madrid out today, but his players are no shrinking violets and United could be considered lucky to have secured the three points at all.
Maybe I’m guilty of lowering my standards below what the reds should expect of themselves. All I know is, I watched that game against Swansea. And Leicester. And Burnley. And pretty much all of last season. Every game seems to provide a brand new challenge and I, for one, will not be turning down any kind of victory this season. In fact, I’d happily kick you in the leg for it.
But who would ever be so petulant as to kick someone in frustration? Oh, right…
Sit down, captain. You’ve lost the plot.
Most of us can recall the days of Roy Keane, happily skipping across the field like a big ball of unadulterated happiness. His infectious positivity reflected his role as captain of the team, uplifting the players around him until people took off the rose-tinted glasses and saw a hard-working maniac savagely run through an opposition midfielder with a tackle worthy of the main event at Wrestlemania.
Of course, Keane was also an intense leader who commanded respect and often put in one-man performances that could win games through sheer presence alone. But you can always count on Wayne Rooney to misappropriate the values of the armband and just go for the jugular.
Criticised last week for using his playing time to scream at his teammates for not preventing his own costly mistake, Rooney one-upped himself this week by wrecklessly kicking Stewart Downing in the leg out of sheer frustration for a previous decision. The referee made no hesitation in sending him straight off the pitch, costing him up to three games that may include the aforementioned visit from Chelsea. What a way to begin his captaincy.
Yet, does anyone truly see this as a bad thing? Perhaps Wayne was doing us all a favour. After all, it’s widely accepted that Juan Mata is a better number 10 that Rooney is. Would releasing Mata into his favoured role start paying dividends for Falcao? What about Adnan Januzaj, somewhat lost in the shuffle of the riches atop the United attack? There are numerous possibilities that no longer will facilitate the need to work around Rooney. Finally, perhaps long overdue, United will be forced to snap their self-imposed shackles and free themselves up a little. An absence of Rooney, no matter how short, may just be the best gift Van Gaal could have asked for.
Curse of the Player of the Year award
A lot has been made of the red’s defence. Mince-meat, mostly. For all intents and purposes, the display against West Ham wasn’t actually all that bad. Luke Shaw and Paddy McNair made strong debuts for the club, particularly and more surprisingly the latter, whilst Rafael continued his excellent run of form down the right. Of greater importance is that, even when down to ten men, United held strong against the attack and came out of the game with a win.
The one blotch on the score sheet was the fault of David de Gea. De Gea, you may remember, was voted the player’s player of the year for 2013/14 after an exceptional run of form that saved the team from deeper embarrassments than already sought. For most, such an achievement would reflect positively on a player’s talents. In this case, the curse of the award strikes again.
Take the previous winners of the award. Antonio Valencia: a cracking season, a clean sweep of trophies at the annual club awards ceremony, now struggling to even make the first team. Michael Carrick: an unsung hero who dictated play for a whole year, took home the award and subsequently became a liability whose place is far from guaranteed once his injury has cleared up.
Now we have our top goalkeeper, once considered a stone’s throw away from being considered one of the best in the world and already under criticism for his movement and communication in the box. The shotstopping capabilities are far from diminished but the honeymoon looks to be over. A better defensive line would surely help, but Big Dave still looks unsure of himself as a commanding figure in the box. The goal conceded today could have been avoided, were the Spaniard not flailing all over the place as Diafra Sakho headed into a near-empty net.
The last thing our team needs is a keeper who make things more difficult for himself; we already have a defence that can do that on its own.
Onwards and upwards
All in all, United can’t be too disappointed with the result. A win was a necessity, one claimed with hard work, impressive goals and a little hint of luck that seems so sorely missed post-Ferguson. No result seems to reflect the following game’s performance, so anything can and should be expected of the fixture against Everton next week. The only thing that matters is that United now sit in 7th place, a position better than at least thirteen alternatives.
One hurdle has been jumped and that’s the most we could have asked for. Just 32 more to go.