Wayne Rooney, Memphis Depay and Juan Mata all score in United’s 3-0 over Sunderland
Manchester United return to the top of the table for the first time in over two years following a 3-0 victory over lowly Sunderland. United were in rampant mood, following the news that Manchester City lost 4-1 away to Tottenham Hotspur.
Memphis Depay opened the scoring following a beautifully weighted ball from Daley Blind, which was perfectly cushioned into the path of United’s winger by Juan Mata. United’s second came just seconds into the second half when Anthony Matrial, who was again superb, fired in a low drive across the face of the goal – which was bulldozed in off of Wayne Rooney’s right knee.
Juan Mata rounded off the scoring in the final minute of the match after latched into Ashley Young’s left sided cross. The score reflected United’s dominance against a Sunderland side devoid of quality and confidence. David De Gea was called into action a few times, but made a number of routine saves with his feet.
- Manchester United are top of the league for the first time in two years.
- Wayne Rooney scored his first goal in the Premier League since the 3-1 victory over Aston Villa last season
- It was Louis van Gaal’s his first win in nine games against a side managed by Advocaat
Do United really need another centre half?
One of the on going topics for discussion between United fans is the need for a world class centre half. United fans have witnessed the likes of Jaap Stam, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic commanding the back line over the years and when the latter two departed the club in the summer of 2014, it was expected that United would buy big to replace two players that amassed 755 appearances for the club between them. Fast forward a year and the club has spent over £300 million on talent, with limited focus on strengthening defensively through the middle.
Luke Shaw was brought in for big money as replacement for Patrice Evra and, once recovered from his broken leg, will go on to be a fine player for the club. Marcos Rojo was brought in from Sporting Lisbon, but the Argentine is seen more as a squad rotation player whilst Daley Blind, who had a fine World Cup under the guidance of Louis van Gaal, was brought into fill a gap in midfield, left back and centre half. The likes of Mats Hummels, Sergio Ramos and Nicolás Otamendi, who later joined Manchester City, were all targets but remained with their respected clubs.
Last summer, United were left with a defence consisting of Rafael/Valencia at right full back, a choice between Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo at centre half whilst the Argentine could fill in at left back to cover for an “unfit” Luke Shaw. With the exception of the now injured Shaw, who started the season excellently, the fortunes have changed for United’s back line.
Matteo Darmian, who is slowly becoming a fan favourite, has slotted in superbly since his move from Torino and can slot in on either side – reminiscent of a certain Denis Irwin. Chris Smalling looks a different player from the one that would give the ball away far too often and would make a number of rash decisions. Daley Blind has slotted in exceptionally well alongside Smalling and has looked calm and composed when his pace, height and power have come into question. United’s left hand side would have been occupied by Shaw, but due to this injury, Louis van Gaal is now forced into shifting some players around – with Antonio Valencia slotting in at right back. United now have six clean sheets in eleven games so far this season – with the back line surprising everyone with a tactically astute approach.
It of course helps to have a world class goalkeeper behind and the enhanced protection van Gaal has reinforced in front – with the purchase of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger – but are United now settled at the back without then need to sign another centre half? The pursuit of Sergio Ramos was real from United’s perspective, even if the Madrid centre half used United for a contract extension – a trend emerging from the bowels of the Bernabeu. So if a top class defender became available, then United would surely be in contention – but with the form of Blind and Smalling, if the club indeed miss out again, United fans are far more confident with the current crop.
Due to Daley Blind’s versatility, he is seen as hatchet man – a player who fills a gap on a temporary basis. His ball yesterday for United’s opener was of pure class. Allowed to venture into the Sunderland half, Blind’s perfectly weighted pass ensured Juan Mata could easily place the ball into the path of Memphis Depay. The Ducthman has often been labelled as the potential weak link at the back for an opposing target man to capitalise on. He has faced Graziano Pelle, Bafetimbi Gomis and Christian Benteke. All three have scored against United – but Blind didn’t look to be struggling at all. Against Benkete – Blind used his intelligence and marshalled the Belgian superbly, whilst also using his body to out muscle the striker in a totally lopsided contest.
For Blind’s positioning and technical ability – you have the athleticism, strength and leadership of Chris Smalling. United’s centre half, who has now played over 150 games for the club, has shown great composure when on the ball and in a side where ball retention is key, one may have felt that Smalling could struggle. However, in a style reminiscent of Rio Ferdinand, United’s number 12 now looks confident to step into midfield and run with the ball. United still have Phil Jones to come back in and fight for a place at the centre of defence – but Smalling, who was subject to a £12million bid from Arsenal in summer, is looking like a top class defender.
The good times are back?
So many times, fans get too excited and go over the top following a routine win. United have simply brushed a side a Sunderland team, who wouldn’t look out of place in your Sunday league. The Black Cats are so devoid of confidence they look a fallen side – a far cry from the side that won 1-0 at Old Trafford in 2013/14. Its another three points in the domestic campaign and with Arsenal, Everton and Manchester City on the horizon – United know the challenges that lie ahead. But so many times in the past two years, United would have huffed and puffed their way through a fixture of this magnitude.
Louis van Gaal has invested big in his current playing squad. Anthony Martial is one exciting player and demonstrated another side of his game yesterday – brushing aside his marker to setup Wayne Rooney or to step away and play in Memphis Depay, who really should have scored in the second half. Many will cite that United should be challenging following the huge invests made by the club, but then others will also cite a side that was on its last legs – being prodded and thrown forward by the genius of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Some of United’s football can be too slow at times, which comes with a possession based game. But against Sunderland there were glimpses of the swashbuckling attitude of Ferguson teams from yesteryear. Juan Mata, despite not being in the Andrei Kanchelskis speed mode, is becoming a big player for United and his drifting inside helps the likes of Antonio Valencia to bomb on into the vacant space left by the Spaniard. The United boss now has a strong central spine and with the signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger – United have a true midfield general with bags of experience.
Talk of a title charge is far too early and premature. United fans should be happy with the current form of the side, even with the fact that Chelsea and City are struggling to recapture last season’s displays. Then next three games will highlight how far United have come from last season.