1) Tempo or tactics
It was yet another laboured performance in terms of the style of play on show. Jonny Evans twice passed the ball back to David De Gea within the opening 28 minutes, prompting boos from the home fans.
At one point, however, the crowd were encouraged and pleased at the odd occasion of some fast-flowing intricate play, a clear indication of what the Old Trafford faithful want.
Louis van Gaal is a stubborn man, and will refuse to budge. He has even admitted that results are more important than the style this term, something most United fans can agree on.
But with the greatest of respect to Sunderland, this game represented a chance for United to put on a show, to quicken the tempo of the play and bang in a few goals. Instead, it took a penalty and a tap in to score the only goals of the game. Fair enough, we will take what we can get, and it is still three valuable points in the quest for the top four, but after the Black Cats were reduced to 10 men, it was a chance for United to step on the accelerator, and romp home to victory.
Many claim that the players are receiving far too many instructions, information and tactics from the manager, resulting in depleted performances. With less emphasis on the tactics, the quality of our players would ordinarily shine through onto the pitch, with a much more entertaining style of play on offer.
It is time to decide whether the game plan is more tactical, or one that will release the players off their leash, allowing them to express themselves and show more freedom in their play.
2) Dismal Di Maria
Our record signing had an afternoon to forget, and his afternoon lasted just 45 minutes. Hauled off at half-time, the Argentine looked a shadow of his former self.
United enjoyed a bright start, but Sunderland almost opened the scoring, after Di Maria was dispossessed, leading to Connor Wickham’s effort on goal.
The positive start from United was almost undone in an instant and it gave the visitors a confidence boost that they would have needed coming to Old Trafford. Everybody makes mistakes, but for a player of his calibre, it shouldn’t be happening so often and he hasn’t looked himself since returning from injury at Yeovil back in January. We have seen a few glimpses, but nothing like what we know he can produce.
Nothing came off for him, his confidence looks at rock bottom and his final ball of the half summed up his contribution, or lack of, and was rightly withdrawn at half-time in place of Adnan Januzaj.
It also shows the manager’s ruthless nature, not being afraid to substitute our record signing and best player on his day and it paid off, with Januzaj’s contribution having a huge impact on the outcome of the game.
3) Wicked wingers
Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young both played the full 90 minutes, whilst Januzaj and Di Maria played a half apiece. All bar the latter shone brightly, putting in performances that can revitalise the faith in wingers.
Albeit playing at right-back, Valencia offered a threat going forward. Let us rewind the clock back to our last home league win with a clean sheet, 3-0 against Liverpool back in mid-December. The opening goal came courtesy of Valencia beating his man and laying off Rooney to finish off. Similarly against Sunderland, the Ecuadorian looked more like the player who won our Player of the Year back in 2012 and his low cross in stoppage time led to Ander Herrera finding the back of the net, only for the assistant referee to correctly rule it out for offside. But that is what we want to see from Valencia, getting forward with pace and producing top draw deliveries into the penalty area.
A difficult first half for the team didn’t reflect Young’s performance before the break. He was head and shoulders above the rest, going close on a couple of occasions. The manager has got Young to perform creditably at both left-back and left wing-back, and now in his more natural position. His fine form continued against Sunderland, where he cut inside on numerous occasions, whipped in several teasing crosses and unleashed a few testing shots towards goal.
Finally, what an impact Januzaj had on proceedings. He gave United the added impetus to go on and secure the victory. It was his shot that was parried to lead to the second goal being finished off by Rooney. The Belgian youngster had his best performance in a United shirt this season.
It was his brace away at Sunderland last season that prompted his rise to fame, with a hat-trick for the U21s against the same opponent earlier this season and the occasion seemed tailor made for him to come on and push United over the line.
Januzaj was sparsely used during the first half of the campaign and his outing at wingback against Stoke City on New Year’s day a real low point, but since then, he has seen more game time in unfamiliar positions, with mixed results.
But Van Gaal showed great faith in the 20-year-old, bringing him on in place of a £60m player and it worked a treat.
Performances like this will not go unnoticed and it is up to Januzaj to grasp it with both hands, as you feel more opportunities will be given if he continues to excel like he did after his introduction into the game.
4) Captain Fantastic
We have been blessed with many great captains over the years. Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Gary Neville to name but a few.
Our current captain was appointed in the summer and Rooney has seemed to revel in the role.
He hasn’t moaned at being utilised in midfield, he is a leader both on the pitch and in the dressing room and the goals are starting to come again. A barren run saw him go from Boxing Day until early February without a goal, but three in three since has given his confidence a huge boost.
After the disappointing defeat down in South Wales last week, it was Rooney who came out and urged his teammates to bounce back the following week. That is what you want to hear from your captain and how fitting that it was him to score the brace that won the game.
Robin van Persie will miss the next month through injury, but a potential blessing in disguise as it allows Rooney to lead the line from the front, with a raw James Wilson and ineffective Falcao his only competition for this role.
Rooney plays with his heart on his sleeve and he acknowledged the Stretford End with applause as he trudged off down the tunnel at the end of the game with a smile on his face, just a few minutes after he received a standing ovation from the crowd after being withdrawn for Juan Mata in the 87th minute.
An expertly placed penalty from the skipper, followed by a true predators finish for the second, Rooney became the first player in Premier League history to score 10+ goals in 11 successive seasons.
Rooney will be keen to build on his scoring run, and keep United in that Champions League hunt.
Discuss Rooney’s performance against Sunderland on SEA’s forum – Wayne Rooney | Match Discussion thread 2014/15.