By Nathan Thomas.
Well, not quite the blistering football we’ve been used to so far this season but considering the quality in Chelsea’s team I’d call that a brilliant result.
In the end it was United’s superior finishing that won the day and we even managed to miss a couple of sitters, we can’t complain though, now for Leeds!
Five things we learnt against Chelsea
1. For all the great football this current set-up still possesses the grit and determination of last year’s team
Don’t get me wrong; watching Manchester United get off to a blistering start and tearing up all before them has been a joy to behold. I’ve not seen United look as fluid, as potent and as exciting as this since Cristiano Ronaldo took European football by storm in 2008. However one thing I have wanted to see is United grind out a result, like last season; you can say what you like about last season’s team but one thing you cannot deny is that they knew how to win, in any situation. With Sir Alex bringing in an influx of young players the football has without doubt gone up a step (or five) but with the departures of Scholes, Brown, O’Shea, and Hargreaves I was concerned as to whether this current side would still maintain the ability to win when off your peak. Today showed they can. Ok United will play worse this season but against the toughest test we have had so far United put out a thoroughly professional performance. Some of the football at times was very good however it was not the ninety minute long pulsating intensity witnessed against Arsenal and Bolton and in the second half against Spurs. Chelsea were very good and could have easily notched a few themselves in their first half but as it was United’s superior finishing was the difference. However bearing in mind the difference in experience of both sides United’s young guns matched and often bettered the experienced Blues and although the slick fluidity wasn’t as prevalent as it has been United dug deep produced the goods and achieved a very important win.
2. Valencia would make a decent right back, if he wasn’t such a fantastic winger
We’ve seen it fairly irregularly over the last few months but Sir Alex once again put his trust in Antonio Valencia to occupy the right-back position after Chris Smalling’s departure. Opting for Valencia’s experience over Fabio’s better positional knowledge the Ecuadorian showed arguably the key quality of being a Man United player, versatility. I can’t see Valencia being moulded into a permanent right-back give the other, more defensive, individuals such as Jones, Smalling, Rafael, and even Evans who can occupy that position however when needed Valencia can certainly be called upon to be a rather talented stop-gap. His physique and qualities on the ball make him fairly well moulded for that position, big, strong, pace to burn and with an excellent first touch, with a slight improvement of positional knowledge and his ability in the air and I’d be happy to be a regular fixture in the position, however I can’t see that happening in truth. Ji-Sung Park has operated in a central position in most of his appearances this year which leaves Nani, Valencia and Young as the clubs only wingers so on a personal note, Valencia stays as he is. Having said that given the current situation with defenders with Vidic, Rafael and possibly Smalling out injured for the League Cup game with Leeds the boss may use this as a chance to get Valencia some more minutes on the pitch in the right-back position against the men from Yorkshire, it is a role I am sure he would thrive in!
3. Young defence earn their stripes at the top level
‘Phil Jones was immense today’ have been five words which have accompanied pretty much every game the big Lancastrian has played in for United this season and he continued his stellar start to his United career against Chelsea on Sunday. Jones, is a monster, in the nicest possible way of course, as a footballer he possesses everything, strength, aerial ability, positional sense and a great attacking nous. He brings the ball out of defence like no defender I have ever seen and it is this trait that has triggered comparison with a certain number six from the Busby Babe era, however I’m not of an age to comment on that so I will avoid that particular debate. What I do know is that Jones, along with fellow young compatriots Smalling and Evans coped valiantly as they were constantly put into difficulty by an unusually sloppy midfield. Fletcher is still finding his feet after a lengthy spell out however Anderson was slightly off the boil and was not as effective without Tom Cleverley as a partner however this is Chelsea we were playing, they are no pushovers. However at times the whole team was guilty of giving the ball away but the young defence coped very well, led by the experienced Evra they shackled the Chelsea forwards well and although in the end they were probably lucky to only concede the one they way they coped against a strong Chelsea side can only bode well for the future. However one thing the youthful aforementioned trio must learn is that at United you have to be switched on for ninety minutes, in the past two home games United have conceded goals at silly times, (against Arsenal just before half time and against Chelsea just after) key times where concentration is paramount but the only way they will learn is through playing and the manager clearly has faith in them, they will surely only get better.
4. Nani is becoming the player we always hoped he would be
He was never going to be the new Ronaldo, there’s only one Ronaldo after all (well there’s two actually but that’s another story). Nani has had it tough at United, constantly compared his fellow countrymen people expected Nani to simply ‘be Ronaldo’ after United’s number seven left for pastures new in 2009. This was completely unfair and it was silly for fans to burden him with this pressure, parallels can be drawn with Paul Scholes’ retirement and the emergence of Tom Cleverley who has been dubbed by some as the ‘new Paul Scholes. Tom’s a top player no doubt however he is entirely different to Paul Scholes and if he is like anyone of that era I would say he bares more parallels with David Beckham but what we want is a not a new Paul Scholes or a new David Beckham we want a new Tom Cleverley and a new Nani. Great players are remembered for being themselves and not by being similar but not quite as good as a predecessor in their position; thankfully Nani is now paving his own path into to possible United greatness. Nani is an out and out winger unlike Ronaldo and to be honest the idea that he was a winger was a bit of a myth, he could play out wide of course but he thrived through the middle, Nani, like Valencia and Young are blistering out and out wingers. They create and score goals, a simple formula that will have him uttered in the same breath as Kanchelskis, Coppell, and Sharpe et al if he continues to thrive. At only twenty-four Nani is some way off his peak and he clearly possesses the same application that his good friend Ronaldo once showcased on the training fields of Carrington which will serve him in good stead and it may see him gain the proper recognition he deserves amongst the United faithful.
5. The forgotten men now have their chance to shine
Many of my close United supporting friends have questioned how the likes of Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen would contribute to the United set-up this year. Their claims aren’t completely unfounded after all with the good form of first Welbeck and then Hernandez relegating the experienced pair to the bench or worse. However it is important to remember that United might be sitting pretty at the moment but it’s where you finish in May and not in September that really matters and United will need to utilise their deep depths of their squad throughout this season and Owen and Berbatov will get their chance and it is likely to come as early as Leeds on Tuesday. Albeit only a third-round Carling Cup tie the fact that it is against a certain cross-Pennine neighbour adds a nice bit of spice to the tie and one that Owen and Berbatov will relish. Also with Javier Hernandez facing time on the sidelines after a horrible tackle by Ashley Cole the two forgotten men may find themselves scrapping for a place in the starting XI against Stoke given that Danny Welbeck will only resume training on Monday. When everybody is fit being fourth or fifth choice striker seems a long way off the making the first eleven however it only takes one or two injuries and the reserve choices will be needed, and let’s face it having last season’s top goal scorer to call upon as back-up isn’t half bad is it!