By Thomas Doyle
1. Evra is slipping further and further
Despite playing well for the second half of the 3-2 defeat against Tottenham, Patrice Evra is fast becoming a liability for Manchester United. The left back was once again caught badly out of position by United’s opponents, and his inability to track Sougou on the right led directly to Kapetanos’ opener for the Romanians. It seems as though opponents are directly targeting the Frenchman as a main weakness in Ferguson’s back line, despite ironically being the only defender not to have suffered from any long-term injuries of late.
Alexander Buttner may have been described as ‘raw’ by Ferguson after his impressive debut, but unless Evra can arrest his alarming slide in form, the Dutchman may well be getting more minutes on the pitch this season than first thought.
2. Van Persie is the main man…
Cometh the man, cometh the hour – and Robin van Persie has certainly been the man for United so far this season. Another two goals ensured victory against tricky opponents on Tuesday, and got United out of a tricky situation. While the first goal had more than a stroke of luck after looping over the Cluj keeper off of a combination of van Persie’s head and shoulder, the second was world class. The Dutchman’s darting run and sumptuous volley from Wayne Rooney’s clever through ball was a goal that few strikers in the world can score, and Ferguson will be delighted that he has such a striker in his ranks while the team is struggling in defence.
3. …but Rooney can flourish away from the spotlight
The season hasn’t started exactly as Wayne Rooney may have imagined in pre-season. So used to being United’s talisman, the arrival of van Persie and the Englishman’s subsequent injury have seen all the talk shift away from Rooney to the Dutchman – but this could be a blessing in disguise. It is no secret that Rooney does well when left to his own devices – his poor form for England in competitions when under the media glare is testament to that – but his two assists for van Persie suggest the start of a fruitful partnership. Van Persie has the age and temperament to shoulder the responsibilities of a side – just ask Arsene Wenger – and it may suit Rooney, for a while at least, to get his head down and work hard to rediscover his form and fitness away from the primary scrutiny of the press.
4. De Gea is a shot-stopper, and don’t forget it
While Anders Lindegaard may have supplanted David de Gea as first choice keeper so far this season, the Spaniard gave everybody a timely reminder of why he cannot be discounted this season. Although he could do nothing for the early goal, he made two late interventions to deny Cluj a memorably equaliser. The first was a relatively routine punch over his bar from a headed corner, yet his one-handed stop in the 90th minute to deny Bastos a close-range header was a save of the highest order. There are valid question marks over his aerial ability, yet few can argue that on his day, De Gea is arguably one of the world’s best shot-stoppers. It still remains the case that De Gea will cost United some points, but he can also potentially save United more than the sturdier, yet less remarkable Dane currently in between the sticks.
5. Three points is three points is three points
Ferguson’s men started slowly against Cuj, and the first 20 minutes were nothing short of an embarrassment for a club of United’s pedigree, despite the Romanians’ impressive start to the group stages. However, the side buckled down, reorganised, and got the goals necessary in order to make sure they have secured maximum points from the opening two group games. After the shock of exiting at the group stages last season – and a financial loss the club made as a result – Ferguson and the Glazers would certainly take a few dour wins at this point of the season in exchange for a place in the knock-out stages. Last season’s group may have been exciting, but the lackadaisical approach to defending cost United dearly. The performances will come in time, but for now, points make prizes – and it’s prizes that Ferguson wants.
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