1) Happy hunting ground
So the six game winning streak went out the window with Saturday’s 1-1 draw, but it’s now seven games unbeaten for Louis van Gaal’s red and white army.
United might not be playing scintillating football, but I’m sure most United fans will agree it’s refreshing that we’re winning ugly again, a famous trait of the Sir Alex Ferguson sides of a depressingly long time ago.
The draw also kept our fabulous record at Villa Park ticking over. United have not lost at Villa in their last 19 Premier League visits.
The last time we did lose there, it produced one of the most famous and beloved quotes in United fans’ memories, Alan Hansen’s “you can’t win anything with kids” line.
That was the first game of the 1995 season, after the summer departures of Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis, when Fergie made the bold decision to promote from within, with Phillip and Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and David Beckham all playing, while John O’Kane came off the bench.
Since then, it’s been a home away from home for the Reds, so at the very least, that run was extended at the weekend.
2) Resurgent Young/Valencia
Two of the players who have received arguably more criticism than any other United players in the last two seasons are showing Louis van Gaal that they can still be tremendously useful to the Dutchman. OK, so the Ecuadorian and English widemen are not excelling, or being given a chance to excel, in their normal positions, but it says something about the duo that they are thriving in unorthodox roles. Footballers these days have such power and high opinions of themselves, that it would be almost a sin for a manager to ask them to fulfil an unfamiliar role, but both Young and Valencia are doing a sterling job.
Their recent form is impressive for very different reasons. Young has never played full-back before, let alone left full-back, but he has hardly put a foot wrong since being asked to step in for the injured Luke Shaw. He’s shown himself to be disciplined in tracking the run, while as a forward thinking player, he’s also provided a threat going forward, providing assists for Falcao at his former club on Saturday and for Juan Mata in the 3-0 Old Trafford win over Liverpool.
In Valencia’s case, he has played right-back on many occasions, but he’s never really excelled there. His pace and stamina have been assets but he’s shown, on more than one occasion, that he’s not got the tactical nous to play in defence. However, he’s also shown marked signs of improvement in the absence of Chris Smalling and Rafael, and seems to have rediscovered his penchant for beating defenders going forward.
3) Falcao soars
He’s received a lot of criticism in recent weeks for his failure to light up the Premier League like his mouth-watering deadline day transfer promised.
Having said that, you can’t score goals when you’re not selected. The Columbian has also had to handle criticism over reports doubting the strength of his injured knee, while a home grown teenager has been chosen ahead of him in recent weeks.
Yet, the former Porto and Atletico Madrid hot shot cast all that aside with a fantastic header at Villa Park to draw United level.
The cross from Ashley Young was great but the ability to leap and power a header past Brad Guzan despite the fact the ball was slightly behind him, represented a pretty typical goal for the South American.
He is a top class striker and the cream always rises to the top. He has had a shaky start to life in England, but form is temporary and class is permanent. If Falcao can start to find the net on a regular basis, alongside a resurgent Robin van Persie and an in-form Wayne Rooney, United could have a supremely promising second half of the season ahead of them.
4) Jonny Evans
It really doesn’t look as if it’s ever going to work out at Old Trafford for Jonny Evans. With all their persistent , niggling injury concerns, time is of the essence for the defensive trio of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Evans, but at 26 (27 on January 3), time is pretty much up for the Northern Irishman. This is far from harsh, as I’ve been one of his most ardent fans, but in an 18 month period when we’ve lost three defensive stalwarts in Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, and needed a young buck to step up to the plate and become a dominant force in out back line, Evans has been the biggest culprit to shun the responsibility. Yes, he has been unlucky with injuries, but after a certain point that becomes a concern and grounds for cutting the cord in its own right. Against Villa, Evans initially lost the flight of the cross into the box from which Christian Benteke scored. Then, he was bamboozled by the movement of the Belgian striker as he shimmied right before curling a delicious shot with his unfancied left foot into David de Gea’s top corner.
5) Red card
Gabriel Agbonlahor shouldn’t have been sent off, but the vitriol aimed at Ashley Young in the aftermath of the Villa forward’s red card was needless, if inevitable. Not only was Young returning to his former stomping ground, but his reputation for theatrics preceeds him, fairly. It may not have been a dismissal but it was full blooded, and Agbonlahor certainly caught the United full-back, and looked like he’d gone into the tackle to catch him. As it turned out, Villa’s fans must have felt vindicated when United, despite pouring forward, were unable to break down a resolute home defence, with American stopper Guzan refusing to be beaten a second time. As previously stated, it was disappointing to not extend the winning run to seven games, but we remain unbeaten, and the superb Villa Park run goes on.