Underwhelming is one way to describe Manchester United’s start to the new Barclays Premier League season. Seven points after four games and three ahead of last season’s champions all looks good on paper, but the reality is something altogether different.
Whilst the new signings have slotted into the team — Matteo Darmian and Morgan Schnederlin in particular have plugged gaping holes at right back and central midfield — the sense remains that United are still missing the vital components to be successful this season. The opening performance against Spurs left much to be desired, although the team did emerge victorious with a rather fortuitous own goal from the Tottenham defender Kyle Walker. However, of particular concern in that game was the lack of chances created, and critically the form of Wayne Rooney.
Rooney is a curious case. He was headed for the exit under Sir Alex Ferguson, but upon the manager’s retirement there has a transformation at the club that has seen Rooney emerge with the armband and wielding questionable amounts of influence. Furthermore, as the critical component in the attacking system United deploy, Rooney’s performances have been abysmal, and his failure to grasp his opportunity after turning Ashley Williams during the defeat to Swansea sums up his season: pathetic.
However, Rooney isn’t the only issue plaguing United. The defense with Sergio Romero and Daley Blind as two key players is sub-standard and has been finally exposed against a clinical and creative Swansea side. Romero, in particular, has been a disaster. With the collapse of the David de Gea transfer to Real Madrid, United fans everywhere will be hoping it is the last they see of the Argentinian in goal! Blind has also been susceptible to errors during the opening period, his lack of pace and height make him an easy target for the opposition and he was cruelly exposed during the defeat against Swansea. For a side professing to have lofty ambitions, removing these two players from the starting XI is crucial.
The issue of Louis van Gaal’s management style is also crucial to how United’s games have unfolded. The emphasis is on possession football at a pedestrian pace, but in the Premier League, this will not suffice. A more progressive approach utilizing speed and directness would serve United better, but LVG does not appear to favor such an approach.
This brings me to Juan Mata, a wonderfully creative player, but one whose best position is behind the striker not on the right wing. Whilst he has an assist and a well-taken goal to his name, he slows down the tempo too much on the wing and therefore needs to be re-positioned or moved to the substitute’s bench.
Whilst the season has been underwhelming so far, that does not say it will continue in this vain. With Luke Shaw and Memphis Depay forging an exciting partnership on the left, United should become more penetrative as the season evolves. The acquisition of Bastian Schweinsteiger should provide the midfield with the stardust it has long craved, whilst the return from suspension of Marouane Fellaini will provide more options going forward.
Anthony Martial could be the joker in the pack. Still a novice, his pace and finishing prowess could enlighten this United team and evoke a style of football that has been missing since the end of the Ferguson era. Perhaps this is unrealistic, but by all accounts. this young man is something special. Where better to showcase this ability than the theatre of dreams?
As starts go, United’s has been pedestrian, but we’re only four games into the season. United’s start to the 1998-99 treble winning season was equally underwhelming; likewise to the 2007-08 Champions League winning season. Whilst there are reasons for concern, United fans should be patient and trust the philosophy of LVG.
Whether it ends in triumph or complete disaster, what is not in doubt is that it will be enthralling viewing.
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