By Alan Brennan
In this edition of SEA View: Alan shares his thoughts on the players that have had an impressive start to the season and the players who have not.
It has been a bizarre start to the season to say the least. Going forward we have been fantastic to watch and the pace of our moves from defence to attack has been reminiscent of the kind of showings we were used to when we possessed Ronaldo, Tevez and a younger Wayne Rooney. We have a similarly stellar attack now, however the difference is Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney had Vidic and Ferdinand behind them. Now it’s a very different story. When discussing underwhelming performances this season it is impossible not to focus on the defence.
We simply haven’t been good enough but injuries have clearly played a huge part. Of our 4 senior centre half’s only Maros Rojo has managed to play more than 4 of our 9 league games, and he to me looks far from the finished article defensively so this is a big problem. Outside of that we’ve been relying on youth players, who to their credit have done very well, but are not the short term answer and in my view aren’t the long term answer either. You would hope that 2 of Jones, Rojo, Smalling and Evans will really emerge as a solid pairing by the end of the season, but given the injury proneness of 3 of that 4 you would highly doubt that outcome. No prizes for guessing what will be top of our shopping list in January.
It’s unfair to point the finger solely at the defence when discussing underwhelming performances. A couple of our more ‘stellar’ attackers, who I referred to earlier, have been below par also. Robin van Persie has had a very sluggish start to the season despite being given every chance from van Gaal to find his gear. To his credit he showed signs of improvement against Chelsea, however had Radamel Falcao been fit, van Persie may not have even started. Juan Mata has also had a very slow start to the season having had a similar amount of opportunities. ‘Slow’ may be the key word as to why both have struggled, with a big emphasis on speed and movement under van Gaal – two elements both van Persie and Mata tend to struggle with. You sense that if both can’t get up to speed with van Gaals system soon then their opportunities will diminish given the level of competition.
As I discuss the players who have impressed it will become evident how important the summer transfer window has been, as 3 of the 4 players I’m about to mention have arrived in the last few months – Daley Blind, Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria. Blind has been a pleasant surprise in an area we were seriously short. He lacks pace, but it’s his speed of thought that has impressed. His positional sense is very good and he has a knack for picking the right pass. He has almost become the heartbeat of the team with the majority of our attacks starting with him and he offers a proper link from defence to attack. For £14 million he looks a great bit of business.
The second player, Herrera, has also become a key cog. His energy and link-up play has added another dimension to our play. He also has a strong personality, a quality we seriously lack in our squad. Last but not least on our signings is Angel Di Maria. Simply put we have the best player in the league. He seems to be thriving being the key man after emerging from the shadows of Ronaldo and company at Madrid. His performances have been outstanding. Like Herrera, he’s a very hard worker and his energy has made a huge difference to our play.
The final player I’d like to mention in a positive light is Rafael. After his early promise at 18/ 19 he now finally looks like he’s ready to realise that potential and really emerge as a key player. With a big emphasis on fullbacks getting forward under this new system, Rafael has thrived. You can still sense his head may get in the way of him, but it doesn’t seem half as much of a problem as before.
On balance there have probably been more underwhelming performances than we’d have liked so far this season, but the hope would be the more the squad gut used to the system and the more players we get back from injury, the less underwhelming performances we’ll come to see.