1. We can still keep clean-sheets
So that’s what a clean sheet feels like. Twenty-eight goals conceded and just four clean-sheets in twenty games isn’t exactly Championship winning form, is it? Or is it? The table doesn’t lie! The ‘you score three, we’ll score four‘ mentality seems to be a winning one – if the first-half of this season is anything to go by. But it’ll be footballing suicide if we adopt that mentality in Europe.
After the drama on Boxing Day, the game against WBA was always likely to be a dull affair – not that we’re complaining! There’s nothing United fans wanted more than a comfortable win and a clean sheet – even if it wasn’t as comfortable as we’d have liked. WBA were a threat for periods in the second half but our defence, led by returning captain, Vidic, and the ever-present Evans stood firm and nullified Albion’s attacks very well.
2. Our first-choice centre-half pairing
If there’s one thing we did learn from Saturday’s game, it’s who our first-choice centre-half pairing is. It’s well documented how much we’ve struggled defensively this season, outlined by the aforementioned clean-sheet and goals against statistics. Getting Vidic back is a huge plus and is vital if we’re to regain the Premier League title. With our captain back, rest assured we’ll concede a hell of a lot less in the second half of the season. Who’s best suited to play alongside the Serbian, though? For me, it’s Jonny Evans. The Northern Ireland international has been our best defender in Vidic’s absence and rightfully deserves his place at the heart of our defence.
Evans, like Ferdinand, compliments Vidic perfectly as he reads the game brilliantly. Smalling is a different kettle of fish. He’s very similar to Vidic, in the way that he’ll stick his head on anything and will win the majority of his aerial duels. Eventually, in years to come, I think we’ll see an Evans-Smalling partnership, but for the foreseeable future I can’t see past an Evans-Vidic one.
3. Kagawa could play a vital role
Shinji Kagawa returned to action yesterday and gave us a glimpse of what he’s capable of. The Japanese midfielder boasted a 97% pass completion rate and created two chances for his team-mates, before being substituted in the 66th minute. He really is a joy to watch, and I for one, am looking forward to watching him settle in and eventually dictate – which I’m sure he will. It’s rare you see a player so naturally gifted on the ball and he can make and receive passes with both feet. If you told me he was left-footed I’d probably believe you.
It‘ll be interesting to see where the former Dortmund man will feature once Wayne Rooney returns to action. With Rooney enjoying a deeper role this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kagawa deployed on the left side of midfield, whether that’s in a diamond formation away from home, or wider in a flat four at home remains to be seen. To get the best out of Kagawa, you need to play through him and get him on the ball inbetween the lines. Unfortunately for Kagawa, that also describes how best to utilise Rooney, giving the boss a headache he’ll almost certainly not need a paracetamol for.
If we can get the best out of Kagawa in a wider position, great. If not, I’d like to see him in his desired position, pushing Rooney further forward. I have the upmost confidence in him lighting up the Premier League just like he lit up the Bundesliga.
4. Valencia’s dip in form continues
Mr Consistency last season, Mr Frustration this, where has it all gone wrong for Antonio Valencia? Now I don’t want to unnecessarily criticise players and there are people out there – United fans especially – that won’t have a bad word said about the Ecuadorian. He always gives 100% and will always be as capable going back as he is going forward – that’s a given. The frustrating thing, though, is his lack of drive when up against the opposition’s full-back. Take yesterday, the winger completed just two of his ten attempted crosses and only managed to take-on one player. Granted, he had Smalling playing behind him, so the onus to attack was certainly on, and only on, him. In his favour, he didn’t have either Rafael or Jones supporting from the full-back position.
I have every bit of faith in Valencia recapturing form. Maybe a returning Nani can spark him back into life?
5. Welbeck needs time
It’s been a tough first-half of the season for Danny Welbeck. He has been given minutes, albeit on the left-wing as opposed to through the middle – where he’d prefer. But with Rooney, Van Persie and Hernandez in front of him in the pecking order, it’s easy to understand why Ferguson has had to move him out wide to get him game-time. What is worrying though, is how likely it is for him to force himself nearer to the front of the striking queue. He isn’t as prolific as Van Persie, nor as alert as Hernandez and his all-round game is nowhere near that of Rooney’s. While Van Persie and Rooney are both in the squad, it’s unlikely Welbeck will ever be first-choice, but there’s no reason why he can’t develop and grow to be a top, top striker. He’s at the best club to do so and has time on his side, so let’s give it him.
It’s hard for a striker to score every time he plays, especially if replacing the likes of Robin van Persie. What we don’t want to happen is his confidence to suffer – I hear a lot of fans bemoaning his efforts on a weekly basis. Only the stupid would want rid of him. Yes, he’s nowhere near the finished article…yet, but to write him off completely would be a crime against everything the club believes in.
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