By Piers Barber
1. Januzaj’s a bit special
Manchester United have always admirably championed youth, and on Sunday, with the exception of Antonio Valencia and Patrice Evra, each of United’s starting XI had been brought to the club before their 21st birthday. Adnan Janujaz, one of the team’s brightest young stars, had another excellent game, proving there is far more to his game than just the mazy dribbling and incisive passing he has become associated with to date. The header which hit the post in the lead up to Danny Welbeck’s first goal, for example, was a magnificent effort which came as a result of a huge leap reminiscent of Cristiano Ronaldo. Elsewhere, the 18 year-old also demonstrated remarkable body strength, repeatedly fighting off robust Villa challenges whilst holding the ball up for his team in advanced areas. Now guaranteed regular starts for the first team, Januzaj looks set to go from strength to strength in the coming months.
2. United’s player of the season shines in different role
Wayne Rooney has experienced an exhilarating start to the season, turning in performances which have made him the shining star in a United team filled with many blunt disappointments. Rooney, rumoured to currently be in lucrative contract negotiations at the club, didn’t make the score sheet against Villa, but played a deeper role than in recent games, filling in alongside Ryan Giggs and Tom Cleverley to give United numerical superiority in the centre of midfield. At times his passing was reminiscent of the great Paul Scholes, with some of his long crossfield balls absolutely stunning in their pinpoint accuracy. There is an argument that Rooney should perhaps be deployed in this deeper position until United have the opportunity to bolster their squad in January. Either way, keeping Rooney fit and happy will be integral to saving the club’s season.
3. Welbeck looks set to remain a fan favourite for a long time to come…
Welbeck’s scoring record has rightly come under criticism throughout his United career, so it was refreshing to see the striker snatch his two goals in such clinical fashion. His questionable finishing skills have often seen him shifted away from his favoured striker role to the left wing, but here Danny demonstrated that he may yet add the poaching instinct which could transform him into a key player for both United and England. Away from goal he was full of running, feisty in the tackle and exquisite with some of his flick-ons and link-up play. If there are any positives to come from Robin van Persie’s current injury layoff, it’s that we’ll be seeing a lot more Welbeck in his favourite position over the Christmas season.
4. …and so does Darren Fletcher
Make no mistake, Fletcher is a limited player who, even at his best, could hardly be expected to solve United’s severe midfield difficulties, yet the sheer time and effort he has put in to recovering from yet another long term injury is undeniably impressive and praiseworthy. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play for Manchester United and wasn’t going to give that up lightly,” Fletcher said after the game, comments which will endear him even further to the United fans which cheered his every touch with gusto Sunday. It is unrealistic to expect Fletcher to now go on to put together a series of starts, let alone turn in the dominating, combative displays he has exhibited for both club and country in the past. This does not mean, however, that United fans won’t be desperately hoping he can.
5. Tougher tests to come
Villa were dreadful in this game, and now have just 43 points from their last 45 matches at home. Antonio Luna had a particularly dire match against a rampant Antonio Valencia, who has repeatedly looked decidedly average this season, but on Sunday he and the excellent Rafael formed a dominant partnership . The Villa midfield was non-existent, and United fans should be wary about heralding a return to form for Tom Cleverley by baring in mind the inadequate standard of the opposition. Sterner tests await, but with an relatively simple run of games to come between now and the new year, this is a great opportunity for United to put together a run which could yet turn their season around.
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