5 Things We Learned: Manchester United 1-0 Real Sociedad

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By Shane Connaughton.

1. Shinji Kagawa

Shinji Kagawa’s performance really stood out and it was great to see him get the full 90 minutes. He started the game as he has done the others, playing wide but particularly in the second half he drifted in to those central positions that he craves, where he has flourished for Dortmund in the past. With Patrice Evra’s willingness to get forward and offer support on the left, this allowed Kagawa to drift infield and use Evra on the left as required. When Ashley Young came on he took up this position allowing Kagawa to stay centrally. Kagawa was subbed in every game he’s played this season and it was fair to say he had little impact in those games. The reason he didn’t set those games alight could well be due to his fitness and in fairness to David Moyes he highlighted this as to why he was not featuring regularly. Sometimes fans can get frustrated when a quality player isn’t playing, as on paper a fit and proper Kagawa in a starting 11 is a must. But the manager is the best placed to assess the fitness of any player and perhaps it has taken this time for Kagawa to get in to the mould. You would hope that he starts more regularly as a player can only get real consistency by playing every game, and the fact he has experienced a difficult first season he needs that confidence and reassurance from the manager. He had two decent chances; he hesitated and took a touch from Valencia’s low cross and probably should have taken an extra touch and composed himself when the same player’s effort came off the post. Perhaps a more confident Kagawa would have put these away on another day but a decent run in the side should ensure he gets his reward in front of goal. He offers something that United have been lacking this season; their attacks looking all too predictable and their crosses getting easily cut out by opposition defenders. His skill and cleverness on the ball can hopefully unlock those opportunities that we’ve failed to carve out this season.

2. Wayne Rooney

Last season if it was announced that Robin van Persie wasn’t in the United squad for a game then you would think United’s chances of a win would be greatly hindered by his omission. As every game goes by, it is Wayne Rooney who is providing this feeling amongst United supporters. He was United’s best player against the Basque side, linking up well with Giggs and Kagawa and having a couple of shots at goal as well. He was unlucky not to score the goal in which Inigo Martinez subsequently turned in to his own net after a delightful twist and turn in the box came off the inside of the post.

Rooney looks a completely different player to last season; fitter, stronger and hungrier. When asked about his future in pre-season, David Moyes seemed to keep dodging the question by alluding to the effort he was putting in in training. Whatever has come out this week about Sir Alex’s book, he clearly wants this to be in the past and he looks genuinely happy to play under Moyes. This was reinforced in his post-match interview; there was no nervous scratching the side of his head to indicate he was uncomfortable talking about working under Moyes. However, when the conversation changed to Ferguson and his comments, Rooney’s body language and demeanour danced awkwardly to this tune. It’s clear he feels the shackles have been lifted somewhat and Moyes knows that given his desire to play in his favourite position, he will offer him exactly that and he is certainly performing. He also seemed to be affected by the arrival of Van Persie last season. He infamously craved for star signings a few seasons ago, and when one came along, they weren’t meant to eclipse him as the star player. With Van Persie struggling to hit the heights of last season (his season mildly disrupted by injury), in Rooney United thankfully have someone who can run with the baton. They did impress at times last season and it should only be a matter of time before Van Persie finds the net regularly again. Add this to Rooney’s current form and we could see another fantastic partnership.

3. Squad rotation

David Moyes made four changes to the side that drew against Southampton, keeping the back 5 intact and reshuffling the midfield and attack. A lot of people expected Adnan Januzaj to start after his recent impressive displays, however he seemed to tire in the closing stages on Saturday and there was no harm in resting him here and keeping him fresh for Stoke this Saturday. Nani was also an unused substitute and these amendments to the first 11 allowed Moyes to bring in Kagawa to offer a different threat and also use Antonio Valencia. His substitutions were at least more orthodox this time, replacing Rafael with Smalling due to concerns that another tackle could see the Brazilian heading for an early bath, and Young for Hernandez which allowed Kagawa to play centrally with Rooney up top. Should they beat Norwich in the Carling Cup on Tuesday, United will only have two free midweek periods from now until Christmas (not to mention the Christmas schedule itself), which suggests that Moyes will need to use his squad wisely if they want to prevail in all competitions. It is difficult to predict the starting 11 these days but with games every three or four days it comes down to who is in the best shape at that moment and who can have a greater effect against specific teams. For example, Ryan Giggs started last night and was allowed time to pass and move as teams from La Liga don’t tend to play with as much intensity as teams in the Premier League. When Giggs has started games in the league he can somewhat feel the strain; namely against Liverpool this season and Spurs last season where United were 2-0 down at half time and Giggs did not re-appear for the second half. Given his age he would be more effective coming on for the last half hour or 20 minutes to add experience and craft in the centre of the park. As every game progresses Moyes is getting to know more about his players and with these games coming thick and fast he’ll need to strike the right balance every time.

4. Defence

Two players who were unavailable through injury were Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. However Phil Jones and Jonny Evans coped well in their absence. I think the latter has looked the more assured of the two, and given Ferdinand’s exploits against West Brom a few weeks ago, he has to be considered one of the first-choice centre-halves. Whether Jones can join him there is down to him to prove his consistency. Vidic is more experienced but he too has appeared a shaky at times; he and Jones made a right mess of Sunderland’s opener a few weeks back but I’d expect a player like Vidic to cut these types of errors out of his game quickly. The centre-half position and the back-four is not something one likes to see tinkered with regularly and it will be interesting to see when Moyes has a fully-fit pool of defenders who he decides will be his first-choice. On the face of the games this season Evans has looked the most impressive by far.

5. More Ruthfulness Required

United made a bright start and were extremely grateful for that good fortune with the goal but you wonder had Inigo Martinez not made such a howler, how long would United have gone on without scoring. What was more positive from United was that they created more chances and should have been further ahead but for wasteful finishing. Sociedad did settle down after 30 minutes or so and could have drawn level had Antoine Griezmann’s sumptuous free-kick crept in instead of hitting the woodwork. They started the second half brightly as well and there was a feeling of deja-vu that they would draw level. However, United seemed to find their rhythm again and finished the game strongly but you feel with all those missed chances that they still got away with one here. They certainly need to be more ruthless and try to put games to bed earlier. Entering the final phase of the game only one goal to the good is a nail-biting experience and unless they start to kill games off, more teams will be joining Southampton in snatching a point (or more) at the death.

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