5 Things We Learned: Manchester United 3-0 Sunderland

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1) Smalling can lead from the back

Chris Smalling played like a natural leader of the United defence on Saturday. Having been given the captain’s armband on a few occasions already, the 25-year-old was a force at centre back, leading by example with towering headers and clever defending. Even when United’s play went stale and lacked urgency and direction, he would drive forward with the ball from the back, akin to Rio Ferdinand or, for older fans, Gordon McQueen. The rash and raw Chris Smalling of a couple of seasons a go has seemingly disappeared and fans are now enjoying a more measured type of central defender.

2) Blind at Centre Back Pays Dividends

Daley Blind’s ball to Juan Mata in the build up to the first goal was nothing short of sublime. The surgeon-like precision of Blind’s left foot ball over the defence was more befitting of a midfield playmaker than a centre back. Questions have been raised over the Dutchman’s physical stature and ability at dealing with the more heavily built centre forwards. But with Chris Smalling playing alongside, Blind is relatively free from aerial duty and able to engage his more cultured footballing ability. His reading of the game is second to none which complements the newly reserved Smalling to make a decent pairing.

3) Darmian Can Do it at Left Back

With the untimely injury of Luke Shaw truncating the teenager’s best form for United, and Marcos Rojo out with a hamstring injury, the left back berth has become a void in the side. Step forward Matteo Darmian. The Italian already has a reputation as a scrupulous and shrewd full back who is more than useful in attack down the right flank. He showed on Saturday he is equally adept playing at left back. His tireless work rate and running on the left hand side was proof of his impressive versatility, which will be needed over the course of the season.

4) Martial Can Be As Good As He Wants To Be

The 19-year-old Frenchman has already displayed lethal finishing skills since his arrival, dispelling doubters of his record breaking £36million price tag with four goals in as many games. However, it was clear on Saturday that there is much more to the teenager’s game than finding the net. Whenever he was in possession it was as if you could sense the panic of the Sunderland defence. This panic became apparent in their attempts to harshly stop him, which resulted in three free kicks in the first 20 minutes. His unselfish use of the ball set up Rooney’s goal after the restart and provided Memphis Depay with a glorious chance the Dutchman should have taken. Although he did not score, the United number 9 showed intelligence on the pitch that belies his youth. Is it too soon to believe in the Henry comparisons? Not on this showing.

5) United Are Top of the League

With City’s 4-1 defeat at White Hart Lane, United’s win lifted them to top of the league for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. It could be too early to get carried away, but let’s enjoy it, it hasn’t come around for a while.

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