5 Things We Learned: Manchester United 3-0 Cambridge United

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By Ashley Turner

1) The boss is taking this competition seriously

Before the game, Louis van Gaal was asked whether the FA Cup is the priority this season. He replied by saying it is now, hinting at a title push being out of reach despite 15 league games left to play for.

This attitude has been reflected in his team selections, and once again he named a strong starting line-up and strong substitutes bench.

With no European football to look forward to and the Premier League title seemingly out of reach this season, an FA Cup victory, for the first time since 2004, would go a long way for Van Gaal to rubber stamp his authority on English football and add someone silverware to his glittering CV, as well as our prestigious trophy cabinet.

The lack of games for Manchester United this season could help the club’s quest to win the FA Cup, and so long as the manager continues to name a healthy line-up, the chance is there for United to give this competition a good crack.

2) Paddy Power

Paddy McNair started at right-back against Cambridge, just like he did against Liverpool in the U21 fixture last week.

Against Liverpool, he was superb, preventing the likes of Sheyi Ojo, Jordan Ibe and Jerome Sinclair using their pace and guile to attack down the left hand side.

Not only was he good defensively, he got forward at every opportunity, whilst scoring what turned out to be the winning goal with an expert finish, showcasing why he used to be a no.10.

He bombed forward at every opportunity against Cambridge too. Linking up nicely with Wayne Rooney; whipping up some delightful crosses when appropriate and almost scoring a cracking volley midway through the first half.

With question marks over Rafael and Antonio Valencia in the right-back position, McNair did himself no harm at staking a claim at being the number one choice in the right hand side of the defence.

3) Magic Mata

Michael Carrick recently heralded our number eight a “little magician” due to his superb ability on the ball.

After being left out of the starting line-up against Leicester on Saturday, and in the reverse fixture against Cambridge a week last Friday, Mata was restored to the team and revelled in his favoured no.10 role.

He found the pockets of space that opened up around the pitch, spreading the ball out wide, linking the defence and attack, and bagged himself the opening goal, in which he also played a part in the build-up with a great ball to Angel Di Maria.

Rooney, Di Maria, Ander Herrera and Adnan Januzaj can all play in the attacking midfield role, but on his day, it is fair to say that Mata is our best player for this coveted position.

His attitude speaks volumes both on and off the pitch. He has a great personality, interacts with the fans via his weekly blog, never lets his head drop and spoke beforehand in his aforementioned blog, about the importance of not underestimating our opponents. Actions speaker louder than words and he took this mentality onto the pitch, and played a pivotal part in what turned out to be a comfortable win.

More performances like this, and our Spanish star can look forward to many more outings in the free-roaming midfield role.

4) Roo on the right is wrong

Captain Rooney playing on the right-hand side of midfield simply does not work. It was Marouane Fellaini in the first game and now Rooney in the second.

Many question whether Rooney should be playing as a normal central midfielder, like he has done in recent games, so playing on the right seems even stranger.

There’s a reason why our captain is closing in on becoming our all-time top goalscorer – for England too – and that is from playing as an out-and-out striker.

He linked up well with McNair but wasn’t really in the game apart from that and squandered a glorious chance with a horrible volley that went well wide from Di Maria’s cross towards the end of the first half, showcasing his lack of confidence in front of goal, which all strikers suffer when on a goal drought.

With Radamel Falcao an unused sub and James Wilson sat on the bench until midway through the second half, it was a surprise to see Rooney not partner Robin van Persie up front, with van Gaal opting for Fellaini as a makeshift centre forward instead.

This is now seven games without a goal for our usual talisman, but playing in a deeper role has certainly hindered his goals outlet.

Let’s hope we see him restored to front-lining our attack, sooner rather than later.

5) The Professionals

A routine win for the Red Devils in what was a professional job well done. Bar the opening minute chance for the visitors when Elliott hit the post, United, as expected really, controlled the whole game.

This could have been a huge banana skin, and potentially the biggest shock ever. And after the 0-0 from the first game and shock exits for some big teams, things could have got messy for the hosts. But it wasn’t to be, as controlled and assured possession, chances aplenty, and three goals sent United into the next round.

This was a confidence-building victory, which was important heading into an important run of games, which includes a couple of midweek fixtures along the way, meaning the games are coming thick and fast.

Back-to-backs wins for the first time since early December, United need to keep the momentum going, and put together a similar run to the one that propelled them into third spot before the turn of the year, starting at West Ham on Sunday.

What are your thoughts? Share in the comments section below.

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