1. Everywhere you go, always take De Gea with you!
He was named as player of the season by the players and fans last season, pretty much by default, with no other contenders vying for the awards after a poor season for the club. De Gea is on course to pick up both awards at the end of this season too but this time he has challengers. He has probably been the difference between no points and 9 points (give or take) so far this season. 2 fantastic stops tonight ensured the 3 points tonight. Ashley Young provided some excellent assistance to De Gea too with a goal line block late on. Contracts don’t necessarily mean a lot these days but a new long term contract will hopefully be sorted soon.
2. Rojo and Smalling excellent at the back
When we signed Rojo in the summer, I was a bit underwhelmed; I didn’t think much of him during the World Cup playing at left back but was intrigued when I learnt that his natural position was at CB. There were mixed reports on how good a centre back he was though with some saying he was undisciplined and not good while others noted that he had improved in his last season at Sporting. He made his debut as a left back and linked well with Di Maria but his next game was not so good. I’ve been very impressed with him since he’s moved to centre back though. It’s not been an easy start to his United career, he’s not had a settled partner at the back, he knew very little English, dislocated his shoulder and has mostly been paired with the inexperienced McNair (although he has been excellent, thanks maybe to Rojo’s guidance). Rojo looks composed at the back and his distribution has improved since his injury. His organisation skills are what I’ve been most impressed with though and it may be this that has helped bring the best out of Smalling recently. Smalling has bounced back from his sending off at City, a game where it seemed like he’d blown his last chance with 2 yellow cards for pure idiocy but he has returned a much better player. He needs to maintain this level now, hopefully we can keep the pair fit as they look good together and we can get some stability at the back as there has been far too much chopping and changing so far this season.
3. Fellaini: From zero to hero
Full of confidence and is currently a key player, it’s hard to believe watching him now to think of him as the laughing stock he became during last season. We watched on as he made 20 yard sprints with the ball straight into touch, out jumped by smaller players for headers and he was simply out of his depth. He looked likely to be moved on in the summer until an injury saved his United career until January at least. His first appearance after injury wasn’t exactly any different to last season either as he looked way off the pace when he came on as a sub against Everton, which was to be expected in his first game back after injury. Opinions of him have really changed since he scored his first goal for the club in the 2-2 draw at West Brom, his confidence has grown after every game since, another goal tonight will not have dented that confidence either. It’s like watching a different player and it’s funny that Van Gaal is getting more out of him than someone who managed him for 5 years did last season.
4. Tough night for young James Wilson
It was a tough night for young James Wilson, making his first start of the season, he was bullied by the Stoke defenders for most of the game, he wasn’t allowed any time on the ball during the first half. When he did get time and space he looked a threat, making very good runs. He perhaps made the wrong decision when he chose to go it alone instead of playing the ball to van Persie to finish it. It does show the belief and confidence he has though, regular viewers of U18 and U21s football will have been surprised to see him miss, a very rare occasion. He is a special talent but we must be patient.
5. Carrick’s return has brought 4 wins in a row
Carrick’s first appearance of the season came at centre back as a sub after Smalling got sent off for 2 offences, since then he’s started 4 games in midfield and we’ve won all 4. The first time we have gone on such a run in about a year. Having been named player of the year the season before last, he, like many others, had a very poor season. But he looks back on form so far this season and is perhaps our most important player. It was clear that when he got injured during pre-season that Van Gaal was very disappointed, he sees him as a key player and handed him the captain’s armband last night ahead of Van Persie. We are a much better team when Carrick is in it and his experience will be key in our quest for a top 3 finish.