1) What does Herrera have to do to start?
Our Spanish gem has started just two games since his Man-of-the-Match display against Hull City at Old Trafford on November 29.
Granted, he wouldn’t be used to playing in conditions like the ones experienced on Friday night, and the aerial threat and direct route of Cambridge could have played a factor.
But his display in the aforementioned game against Hull looked like being the catalyst for his United career, but that hasn’t been the case. Herrera’s second start since the Hull game came in the last round, where a wonder goal from the Spaniard helped United on their way to a 2-0 victory at Yeovil Town. Yet he has still been overlooked since.
With Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney rested, many also tipped Michael Carrick to be rested given his age and importance to the side with big league games coming up. This game could have been ideal for Herrera to start, as his energy and creativity gives us something different, whilst adding that goal threat from the midfield.
Other summer signings Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind all started, they too wouldn’t be used to the conditions faced on Friday night, so Herrera’s omission, given his hefty price tag too, was a surprise.
He came on midway through the second half, but failed to make an impact, but so did the majority of players in a white shirt, and even so, Herrera looked tidy in possession, and had a buzz about his game.
A fan favourite of the United faithful, many want to see Herrera start more games, and rightly so.
2) Keep Di Maria in midfield
Angel Di Maria as a striker worked well away at Arsenal way back in November, but not since.
Although we didn’t score, against Cambridge he was given the freedom to float across the midfield, just behind the two strikers. This allowed him to pick up the ball from the likes of Michael Carrick, turn, run into space, then feed the strikers, or have a pop at goal, or spread it out wide. The Argentine looks a lot more comfortable in the middle of the park than he does up top.
Last weekend in the second half against QPR, he dropped deeper, and United, as we know, went on to win 0-2.
Our record signing needs to be deployed as a midfielder, where he was superb for Real Madrid last season, earning him a place in the team of the year that was announced last week.
3) Rojo impressive, Jones not so much
Following on from his excellent return from injury last weekend, Marcos Rojo made his presence known to the Cambridge front line, winning headers and tackles, whilst looking calm and composed on the ball when bringing it out from the back. His no nonsense approach when necessary was also pleasing on the eye.
His partner, Phil Jones, however, looked shaky and nervous. With Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans out, this was the ideal chance for Jones to establish his credentials as Louis van Gaal’s first choice centre-back alongside Rojo. But the former Blackburn man was sloppy in possession, gave away needless fouls, was reckless, got his positioning all wrong and was bullied and dominated by Cambridge’s attack, who seemed to target Jones when it came to attack.
It is well-documented that our defence needs improvement, and whilst Rojo looked assured, Jones has much work to do.
4) Lacklustre style
United are traditionally used to playing with width, with the wingers running at the opposition, taking them on and getting service into the penalty area. Nowadays, no wingers can be seen, with too many sideways and backward passes frustrating on the eye. Possession can be key, patience is required, but there is no penetration to our attack. BBC’s coverage of the game referenced Ryan Giggs’ famous semi-final goal v Arsenal back in 1999 – a perfect example of an out-and-out winger running at a defence and having a go at goal when the chance came, and we all know how that ended.
The diamond formation works much better than three at the back, but with the likes of Antonio Valencia, Di Maria and Adnan Januzaj in the ranks, with Ashley Young to return from injury, wingers could be utilised to give a different dimension to the style of play we have seen so far this season.
The only two good chances came after Carrick’s forward, defence-splitting pass to Falcao which forced a good save, and then Di Maria’s ball to Robin van Persie in which the Dutch striker should’ve hit the target at least. This was clear proof that positive, forward-thinking play can reap the benefits. Had this been the way all game, many more goalscoring chances would have come along, with at least one sure to find the net at some point during the evening.
There is no risk-taking in the play which is a real shame given the quality of players we have at our disposal, especially in the attacking third.
The defence has improved, with just seven goals conceded in 14 games, but it seems as though the attacking prowess has suffered as a result, with just five goals scored in the last six games.
5) A loan for Januzaj?
Many media reports claim that Januzaj has been put up for loan. I personally believe that this would be a good move for the youngster. With everybody fit, and playing just once a week until the end of the season, chances will be few and far between. His cameo against Stoke on New Year’s Day was poor, he was an unused substitute against Yeovil in the last round which would’ve been a kick in the teeth for him and against Cambridge – in a rare start – he showed glimpses of last season’s form, which prompted his rise to the first team.
Januzaj is clearly lacking confidence and he subsequently dwelled in possession during the first half, but as the match wore on his decision making was quicker and natural. He recycled possession in difficult conditions and was one of the few players who tried to create an opening.
In Adnan’s defence, he hasn’t been given many opportunities, but when he has he’s generally failed to impress and maybe now is the right time to go out on loan, play regular football, and come back stronger for next season. With a little over a week left in the transfer window, we shall watch with intent to see whether or not Januzaj is sent out on loan, or whether he is kept with the first team squad for the remainder of the season.