1. Manchester United’s best performance of the season
This was by far United’s best performance of the season and given that it came against a team lying second in the Bundesliga behind Bayern Munich it makes it all the more impressive. Yes you could say that Leverkusen weren’t at the races, certainly they gave possession away far too easily and were uncharacteristically sloppy for a German side, but United took advantage of this in a way that they have failed to do in previous games. United had seven attempts on target, scoring five and this type of return had a visibly delightful effect on David Moyes. In both fixtures against Sociedad, United were criticised for not putting away their chances; the home fixture was settled by an own goal and the goalless away return ensured United could not afford to lose here if they were to avoid a nervy encounter in their remaining fixture. No doubt they still want to go and win the group against Shakhtar at Old Trafford but this result takes the pressure off and also gives the manager a chance to experiment again in his attacking formation. The performance in Leverkusen means United now go in to Sunday’s trip to White Hart Lane in confident mood, regardless of the outcome in Spurs’ Europa League game against an inferior opposition. It will give Moyes great hope that he can compete in the tough games without three of his first-choice players. Vidic, Carrick and Van Persie all missed the game and if Moyes can keep the same mindset among his players then they should take advantage of a Spurs side who are struggling at the minute. Moyes hasn’t lost in the Champions League as yet and the best has been saved for this competition, but it is time to start re-producing the quality we saw here in the league, starting at Spurs this weekend.
2. Evans’ Excellence and Ferdinand’s Frailties
The turning point in the game was Jonny Evans’ last-ditch tackle on Stefan Kiessling as the striker was bearing in on goal. The importance of this was that United counter-attacked from the resulting corner and opened the scoring which set them on their way. What was worrying about this incident though was how Kiessling breezed past Rio Ferdinand who needed the help of his young partner to come to his rescue. Ferdinand’s role in this was reminiscent of how West Brom scored their first goal at Old Trafford in September which was ultimately costly and contributed to United’s dire early-season form. Ferdinand also misplaced a lobbed pass out of defence and one could be forgiven for thinking of Craig Bellamy’s goal in the Manchester derby a few seasons back. Thankfully on this occasion Leverkusen could not capitalize but it is obvious to see there are still weaknesses in Ferdinand’s game. Had United not had a midfield shortage with Carrick injured and Fellaini suspended, Phil Jones would have surely started in central defence alongside Evans where they have both excelled when they have been paired together. Against Arsenal, Jones was superb when he dropped back to defence in place of Vidic and you would have to say that United’s best centre-back pairing consists of a two from Vidic, Evans, Jones and Smalling.
3. Kagawa finally starting in the No 10 role
Shinji Kagawa finally got the opportunity to play in his favourite position, the number 10 role behind the striker. In previous games Kagawa has started out on the left and drifted inside to take part in the game. Even though he has impressed in this position, linking up well with Patrice Evra instead of assuming the role of a conventional winger, the Japanese international looked so comfortable and assured when starting centrally. There was an extra spring in his step as he charged forward, particularly for the first goal and he seemed to be actually enjoying himself as opposed to dutifully filling a position that he was asked to fill. With Robin van Persie missing against Cardiff on Sunday, Moyes started with Javier Hernandez up top with Wayne Rooney. The former struggled to make a huge impact in that game and fielding Kagawa in this position in Germany was surely a no-brainer. With one of the main strikers out, Kagawa’s inclusion here was more than just filling a gap and you wonder if he continues to flourish in this role just how bad Moyes’ selection headache will get.
4. Ryan Giggs is 40?
A lot had been said in the build-up to the game about Ryan Giggs turning 40 on Friday and still being able to play such an influential role. After the game the talk remained much the same, the only difference was witnessing yet another performance that only enhances his reputation even more. Giggs doesn’t play every game but Moyes knows when to use him in the right games. For example, he hasn’t started a league game since Liverpool on September 1st, whereas he has started the last three games in Europe including last night’s match. This owes much to the higher intensity of the Premier League in the middle of the park and the effect the opposition midfield has in pressing their United counterparts. Giggs would have expected to have had a much tougher game here than he did in both his appearances against Sociedad but he made it look so easy against the Germans. His passing and link-up play with Kagawa and Rooney was immense and overall a joy to watch. His pass for the final goal was exquisite for Nani, who took it around the keeper to round off a fine team performance. He had a chance at the end to get on the scoresheet himself from a free-kick which disappointingly hit the wall but it was his overall performance and the example that he shows that has earned him the plaudits once again.
5. Rooney the assist machine
Wayne Rooney has been scoring for fun of late but even though he didn’t score here he had a hand in four of United’s goals. The first was a counter-attacking move in which he dinked the ball to the far corner for the on-rushing Valencia to score. The second was a free-kick that was hit with so much pace that it was difficult to defend against. All it needed was a slight touch and in this case came off Emir Spahic for an own goal. The third was the least prettiest as Jonny Evans bundled home from close range and the fourth showed once again the intricate link-up between Kagawa and Rooney as Chris Smalling finished off what they had started. Knowing Rooney’s attitude he was probably disappointed not to score but his effort and quality can’t be underestimated. To class Rooney as just a centre-forward does him an injustice as he linked up magnificently with Giggs and Kagawa and the first goal was a case in point. With Robin van Persie out injured it gives United fans a huge amount of confidence to see Rooney playing the way he is and long may it continue.
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