By Nathan Thomas.
1. Consistent back four a big plus for United
Manchester United seem to finally have assembled a steady consistent back four, with Vidic’s return to fitness being swiftly followed by Ferdinand; United’s back four are beginning to establish a confident understanding between one another that was so lacking in the early stages of the season. This of course has only helped David De Gea find is feet, the Spaniard now looks an assured presence and still carries the impressive mantle of most saves made this season, added to that United have also kept the most clean sheets in the league. Unfortunately though the fact that the defence’s solid performances have been the stand-out factor of recent weeks says a lot about how out of sorts United are in attack however we will come to that later. Back to the positives though; Phil Jones continued his excellent recent form and looks a better and better prospect each game and was unlucky not to notch his first United goal as his customary surge forward was followed up by a drilled shot across goal which unfortunately struck the outside of the post. Evra seems to be edging back to the form we know he can produce after a tricky start to the season although he does seem a little wild when dealing with different scenarios and is still being caught out of position a little too often for most fans liking, however, you would have to be the most pessimistic of fans not to acknowledge that the passionate Frenchmen is slowly shaking his early season slump of form. Vidic has been a monster of a presence since his return and Ferdinand has responded to claims that he has had his day with some assured performance. Man United won the title in 2008/09 largely down to defensive consistency and solidarity, but United will need more than that to claim a twentieth crown and the attacking contingent must respond to the defences recent good form.
2. Time to jump on the band-wagon
For months, even years now, all and sundry have been crying out for a new face in the United midfield. Some say attacking, some say destructive, whatever their preference they are united in their cause, I have up until now resisted temptation to blame indifferent performances upon the absence of this messiah portrayed figure that is a ‘new midfielder’ however I think you would have to be pretty ignorant of the game not to realise that United are lacking something big time in the middle of the park. United’s 1-0 win at Swansea was an assured workmen-like performance however one couldn’t help but feeling that if it had been Manchester City and not Manchester United we’d have been looking at another rout. Swansea never seriously offered anything in attack, spurred on by their magnificent crowd they huffed and puffed but never really looked like breaking through the United rear-guard. In my eyes the Swans were there for the taking, they looked shaky in defence, indeed it was a defensive mishap that put Ryan Giggs in to set up Hernandez for the winning goal. OK United almost bagged another couple at the end but by all accounts Swansea had begun to tire after a character filled, solid effort, but I wanted so much more from the Reds. Call me greedy and you may have a point, the Reds have recovered from the mauling of Old Trafford with five straight wins and United have now won the same amount of away games in the league as they did last season so in that perspective there has been an improvement. However, I am sure I am not the only one who feels United could and should have put Swansea to the sword, the excellent Wayne Rooney who worked tirelessly to try and create a breakthrough but the rest of the team just couldn’t reach his high standards. United were missing a spark, where this spark may come from I am as yet unsure, will a fully fit Tom Cleverley make the difference or will, as many would have you believe a new midfielder into the squad finally solve what appears to be a drastic lack of creativity. We will probably gather a better conclusion over the next month of two.
3. Rooney excellent but wasted
Although formation diagrams prior to the game appeared to show Wayne Rooney restored to his customary ‘number 10’ role in behind the forward the reality appeared to be very different. Yes Rooney played much higher up the pitch today than he did against the likes of Sunderland and Gelati however it was prevalent that Rooney was still dropping deeper than he would usually have done in order to try and influence proceedings, with little joy. On a few occasions Rooney aired his displeasure at his team-mates lack of movement with emphatic shrugs of the shoulders and you couldn’t help but agree with him. Rooney was far and away the best player on the pitch today however we could have gotten so much more out of him had we just moved him a little further up the pitch, United certainly lose his goal threat when he operates in a position similar today. Although Rooney was the standout I was impressed with the returning Michael Carrick, often the scapegoat the Englishman was extremely assured today mopping up loose balls and breaking up attacks, he was also, probably United’s most consistent passer from low lying midfield position. For those who claim Carrick only ‘passes sideways and backwards’ take a look again at his performance today. However the fact remains on a creative frontier, United need more, some would argue a lot more.
4. Giggs’ return of key importance
Okay he may not have been at his vintage best today with a few misplaced passing marring what in general a good performance from the veteran playing his first game in Wales for United. It could be argued that the fact that United still miss Giggs’ presence even as he draws closer to his thirty-eighth year says a lot about the current United side but I prefer to look at the positives. Giggs’ brilliance is without underlined by how influential he can be on as good a side as Manchester United even at the age of thirty-seven, I struggle to think of any players in his position that will still be playing as well as he is when they reach their late thirties. As one of my followers on twitter put it, his like will never be seen again and you would find few who disagree with that. His return will also be a huge bonus for the Reds as they aim to pick up maximum points over Christmas and keep tabs, if not overhaul our noisy neighbours at the top of the table. For all City’s flair players and excellent forwards they do not have the experience of being in the run in, something Giggs laps up, his return to the fray can only be a good thing in my eyes.
5. Remain positive, wins breed confidence
I am a big believer that wins will eventually lead to performances that are more sycophantic of Manchester United, whether this coincides with a new face on the squad or the return of Tom Cleverley is anyone’s guess. At this stage of the season United are winning and that is the main thing, of course we would all like to see United playing, dare I say it, a little more like City but as well all know this season is a marathon not a sprint and as Sir Alex always says as long as United are within the touching distance of the leaders we will have a great chance. United have a list of very winnable fixtures in the run up to the festive period with the exception of say Newcastle although the Reds should dispose of the (before today) unbeaten Geordies. A 6-1 defeat at the hands of your nearest and not so dearest rivals would shake in the very best and most experienced of football teams but United have responded in the best way possible, by winning. The more United keep rattling off the wins, the quicker our flowing football will return.