5 Things We Learned: Aston Villa 0-1 Manchester United


1) Rooney’s struggles

How long do we tow the usual early season line that the Englishman is a traditionally sluggish starter every season? The captain was woeful at Villa Park, lacking sharpness, poise, spark, and resembling generally anything other than a footballer who should be arcing towards peak condition.

With his body type, he’s always needed a little longer than the more refined athlete to reach the optimum performance level. Perhaps with his advancing years (Rooney turns 30 in two months), it is getting harder for him to adhere to conditioning.

I’m actually one of the fans of the opinion that we don’t need to splurge on a striker, as a fully firing Wayne Rooney is all we need and more.

I wince at the transfer rumours talking up our chances of forking out £40m on Harry Kane or even more on Edinson Cavani.

Overloading our striking department didn’t work last season, and with room to breathe, Rooney should flourish.

But, with two weeks of the transfer window open and his main man misfiring badly, Louis van Gaal must be thinking of bringing in another goalscorer.

Let’s not get too carried away. It is still only two games into the season, but Rooney looks woefully short of match sharpness.

2) Grim when you’re winning

Two 1-0 wins to start your season doesn’t exactly scream sexy, and victories over Spurs and Villa have certainly been more of a slog, but would United fans take anything else right now?

It’s interesting to know that this is our best start to a season in four years. That stat surprised me, being a United fan, as I’m used to winning a lot in August.

Then I gave it a bit of thought and realised that slow starts have been indicative of the new United that we’ve morphed into in recent years.

We’re no longer the all-conquering juggernaut we once were. We were a side on the slide and in need of re-investment even when Sir Alex Ferguson was still at the helm, then our misgivings and some of Fergie’s failings were laid brutally bare the season after he retired.

It’s a re-building process and the last few years have taught me that nothing is a given anymore.

We’ve got six points from two games and that has got to be a good start in anyone’s book.

Take a look at last season. It took us six games to get to the six point mark. Those first games included trips to Sunderland (1-1 draw), Burnley (0-0 draw) and Leicester (5-3 loss) and home games against Swansea (2-1 loss), QPR (4-0) win and West Ham (2-1) win – hardly a difficult opening period.

At the risk of becoming the new, old Arsenal, 1-0’s will suffice for the time being.

3) Hope for Januzaj

It’s not quite a famous turnaround, but for a player who was rumoured to be unsettled and on his way out of Old Trafford, Adnan Januzaj’s watch-winning strike on Friday night was timely for both himself and his team.

The Belgium international was one of the few bright sparks of the wretched David Moyes era in the 2013/14 season, making 27 appearances and scoring four goals in the Premier League under the sacked Scotsman.

He looked like the real deal and United fans waited with baited breath for the expected surge in appearances and form that would manifest itself under Louis van Gaal.

They were kept waiting, all season in fact, as the teenager floated into obscurity. He made only 18 appearances, starting just seven league games, failing to find the net once.

Despite his obvious talent, rumours abounded that his attitude was poor and during the summer, loan moves to Sunderland and Everton were suggested.

As a fan of emerging youngsters and Januzaj in-particular, I was delighted to see him start the game on Friday and practically giddy when his goal arrived.

He’s looked bright in pre-season, looks as if he’s been in the gym and let’s hope the Villa game gives him and United the kick-start they both need.

There’s no doubting Januzaj’s talent, only his temperament and end product. United is a club that prides itself on developing its own but, at the same time, it is going to take something special to break into the senior set-up at one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Januzaj definitely has that something special. Let’s just see what follows for the rest of the season and if he can back that talent up with performances.

4) Pretty football will come

I’m amazed at the superlatives used to describe teams and players and how some pundits and analysts are attempting to protract a Premier League winner after only the first two games of the season.

Every season they actually seem to get worse. I’ve even heard some ‘experts’ suggest that Manchester City are already running away with the title after their comprehensive 3-0 win against Chelsea.

United’s two 1-0 wins have coincided with some pretty uninspiring football but I’d rather be winning ugly than losing beautifully.

Clearly we’re not blowing the opposition away at the moment but you tell that the ingredients are all there. Some of the link up play against Villa was beautiful, with Juan Mata pulling the strings.

Memphis Depay is the very embodiment of an eager new recruit, getting to grips with his new surroundings and trying too hard to impress, but he’s finding his feet and has shown flashes of promise.

Also, what the score-line against Villa doesn’t show is that it was actually a rather comfortable triumph. Villa buzzed and bothered but created few problems.

With their summer additions, United are stronger and better than last season, without question.

For now I’m just happy that we’re starting to see a semblance of a team form, with Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw starting the season strongly in the full-back positions.

Chris Smalling is finally starting to resemble the United regular Sir Alex spoke of and our midfield is now a plethora of options rather than a rag-tag bunch of has-beens, wannabes and never was’s.

With Mata’s creativity, the possible arrival of Pedro, Depay’s anticipated growth, the re-emergence of Januzaj and surely Rooney’s eventual return to match sharpness, the intricate and flowing football will come sooner rather than later.

5) Resolute in defence

Despite lacking a centre back of note, United’s back line was relatively untroubled at Villa Park. Unlike the opening day, Daley Blind looked solid at centre-back, while Smalling is the one man at the heart of defence really putting his hand up for being first choice.

He came on leaps and bounds last season and was imperious in the Midlands against a lively home side.

Over the course of the last two seasons, United have relied solely on David De Gea to rescue them on the numerous occasions the defence has let them down, so with his future in Manchester beyond August in doubt, it’s at least refreshing to know we’ve kept two clean sheets so far without him and to see the form of Smalling.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Blind is not the long-term solution at centre-back and I’d still like us to bring in a veteran as cover or a player of some stature before the end of the window.

Smalling, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Paddy McNair, Tyler Blackett and Jonny Evans doesn’t fill me with complete confidence as a group but I’d still be satisfied should the window close without an addition to that corps, so long as Van Gaal settles on a pairing.

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