United’s three goalscorers against Liverpool show each other some love.
What a difference a season makes. Earlier this year, the good folk here at Stretford End summed up Manchester United’s performance against the visiting scousers with this: “…humbled at home by a rampant Liverpool who won for the first time at Old Trafford in five years… looked rigid and flat in comparison to their rivals… chasing shadows for most of the game and found it difficult to defend against the counter attacking play of Liverpool.”
These are post-Moyesian times though. Where United still looked a little out of sorts, the tide has turned a full 180 degrees and it is the Mancunians who enjoyed a rampant display against a team who couldn’t handle being caught out on the break. The games against Liverpool are often the most explosive and important matches on our calendar and revenge for last year’s three-goal massacre was served ice cold with a 3-0 victory thanks to Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie.
No room for individuals in front of goal
Every team needs at least one prolific goal scorer: Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa, even Christian Benteke. The only way to get by without one is if you have a few and United certainly have themselves covered. Every goal came from a different part of the attacking impetus and every goal came from an act of selflessness or brilliance, built up by the team to break down Liverpool’s crumbling defence.
Take the first goal, instigated by a signature David de Gea block which led Antonio Valencia to wind the clock back to 2011 and beat two men in his wake, pulling his cross back towards Rooney who hammered the ball into the net with needle-through-a-thread precision. Even the Mata header (where he stood so far offside that he almost headed the ball into the Albert Dock) was spawned from a brilliant Ashley Young cross that brushed across van Persie’s silver locks.
The third and final goal summed up the team effort. Whilst the passing on display from both teams verged on making the Dog and Duck look like Real Madrid, Mata drew his opposition towards him and then neatly slotted the pass to the open Dutchman who rolled the ball into an empty net. All three did what was right for the team and made 50% of their shots on target count where it mattered most.
Who needs a prolific goal scorer when you can have three?
Give De Gea a blank contract, but don’t forget Carrick
It’s becoming a predictable section of many of these talking point articles, but give a hand to David de Gea. Once again, the Spaniard saved United’s blushes with a scintillating performance between the sticks. In the first half, Raheem Sterling fluffed multiple opportunities to put his side in the mix. After the break, it was Mario Balotelli who failed to pass the long legs of De Gea.
Many will make note of how strong the number one’s position currently is, to the point that The Guardian are already submitting imaginary bids from Real Madrid for him. It is worth noting, however, that De Gea is due a new contract and could by all rights be courted by teams currently in better standing than the reds. My advice to Ed Woodward is the same as it has always been: hand Big Dave a blank contract and just sign whatever he returns to your desk.
For all the deserved praise for De Gea, it’s worth mentioning that Phil Jones and Jonny Evans put on a fair display in defence, shaky moments aside, but were outshone by their new centre back partner. Step forward, Michael Carrick. The veteran midfielder has taken to his new three man responsibilities as silently as he has been successful, nothing new for the man who consistently goes unnoticed whilst simultaneously dictating entire games. His ability to clean up and keep things ticking from the back has contributed to United’s recent run of form. Don’t believe me? Since Carrick’s return, the team have won every game they’ve played. Coincidence? Probably. But I’d prefer to believe it’s all on him and the results are hard to argue.
Six in six… how long can it go on?
The stats no longer discredit Louis van Gaal or his men. Six wins in six games move United up to third spot, three points ahead of West Ham and five behind Manchester City. The Christmas run could throw some surprises but United have lady luck in their back pocket and now is the time to grind out some comfortable results to add space between them and the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham.
As I alluded to a few weeks ago, United are not ‘in form’. The ease with which Sterling cut open United’s backline was troublesome and Fellaini could easily have been mistaken for a Liverpool player given how many times he gave the ball away in the early going. The offside goal was a key decision – where Van Gaal’s army would have been penalised inappropriately under David Moyes, United now enjoy the decisions that can often change games and keep momentum rolling.
Excluding Spurs, United’s next big league game will be the return leg against Liverpool in March. That leaves the next thirteen games as winnable necessities to not only keep the Champions League hope alive, but also to knock on the doors of City and Chelsea before the league is written off entirely. Form suggests we are susceptible to being taken down a peg but you’d fancy few teams to achieve it. Not until March, anyway.
The memories of last season are still raw and painful but victories such as this will go a long way to erasing what’s left of the Moyes regime. Whether Liverpool were unlucky not to put away their chances or not, United were ruthless in front of goal and deserved all three points. It was not unlike Sir Alex Ferguson to drag three points, kicking and screaming, out of games and it seems like Van Gaal will do the same thing now. It’s risky and it’s not always pretty but it’s a damn sight better than what we had last time.
Manchester United travel to Aston Villa next Saturday.