Louis Van Gaal’s impressive home record as Manchester United manager continued as they eased to a 3-0 victory over Hull City at the weekend. The Red Devils are unbeaten at Old Trafford since the opening day defeat to Swansea City and are finally beginning to dominate games that they should be dominating.
Chris Smalling opened the scoring with a scrappy goal in the first half, a goal which needed goal-line technology to confirm it had crossed the line. United doubled their advantage when Wayne Rooney side-footed the ball into the bottom corner from distance before Robin Van Persie sealed an emphatic win with a screamer from just outside the area.
The result saw United cement themselves in the top four positions in the Premier League with a home game against Stoke City looming on Tuesday night. A win in that encounter would make it four straight wins in the league as Van Gaal’s men look to build some momentum ahead of two important fixtures against Southampton and Liverpool.
Here are five key thoughts on United’s comfortable victory over Steve Bruce’s side.
1) A solid win but Hull failed to put United under any pressure
United were allowed to pass their opponents off the park. The Red Devils attempted a total of 807 passes at the weekend, their most in any game this season as Hull failed to put any sustained pressure on Van Gaal’s men in order to win back possession. On the other hand, United were exceptional without the ball, winning it back inside the Tigers’ half on numerous occasions, meaning they were able to completely monopolise possession and run out convincing winners.
There will certainly be tougher tests to come but you can only beat what is in front of you and it was an extremely positive performance from United, who never looked like conceding. It was great to back up the win at Arsenal with another three points here and it is a necessity to continue the winning streak on Tuesday night under the floodlights.
2) Ander Herrera impresses off the bench
The United injury list got longer once more as Angel Di Maria went off with a hamstring injury in the early stages. Fortunately, it didn’t have an effect on the outcome but Van Gaal will be hoping it isn’t too serious. His replacement on the day, Ander Herrera, who hadn’t been seen since being subbed at half time against West Brom, gave his manager something to think about with an energetic display off the bench. The Spaniard showed glimpses of why United splashed almost £30million on him in the summer.
Herrera was tidy in possession but was also able to speed up United’s attacks and showed a great understanding with Juan Mata and Rooney. He was also exceptional without the ball, cutting off passing lanes for Hull high up the pitch, giving them no time to get comfortable in possession. With Di Maria out, expect Herrera to play from the start in midweek and if he maintains this performance level, may start on a regular basis from now on.
3) Van Persie can still produce moments of magic but Falcao’s return means his position is still not secure
Van Persie has come under constant criticism for some lacklustre displays this season but he put in a much improved performance here. He worked harder, saw more of the ball and showed great movement to combine well with Rooney and United’s midfielders in the final third. The Dutchman topped off his performance with a sublime goal, which saw him smash the ball into the top corner when there was seemingly no chance of him scoring.
It was a moment of magic from Van Persie, which we were used to two seasons ago but has gone missing recently. However, despite his return to form, the arrival of Radamel Falcao off the bench gave us a reminder of the competition he faces to retain his position in this team. The Colombian will surely be a shoe-in to start when he is fully match fit, meaning Van Persie’s goal at the weekend may still not save him from being left out in the next few games.
4) United have to keep Carrick fit
Michael Carrick’s return from injury was particularly timely as it came just as his rival for that holding midfield slot, Daley Blind, picked up a knee injury on international duty. This was a game which suited the England international perfectly as he was given time and space on the ball all afternoon to dictate the tempo of the game.
Carrick is Van Gaal’s type of player. He is both versatile and experienced; two attributes which are key when the Dutchman selects his team. Not only that, Carrick gives United’s more adventurous midfielders the perfect platform to get forward and influence the game further up the pitch. They have to keep him fit in Blind’s absence as if he was to pick up a knock, the team would once again lack balance in midfield.
5) Smalling looks determined to make up for his Manchester Derby mistakes
It is safe to say Chris Smalling is not the most cherished figure amongst United fans. Not only has he missed plenty of football since he joined the club but for some, he has not done enough to justify being at the club at all. His antics in the Manchester derby which saw him get sent off for two stupid yellow cards, saw him go down in their estimations even further but since his return from that suspension, Smalling has been fantastic in the heart of the defence.
He looks determined to prove his doubters wrong. Smalling has been able to deal with any danger that comes his way both at the weekend and at the Emirates last week. Although he still has much to prove at Old Trafford, should he maintain his current level of performance, it will be hard to argue against him making one of those centre back positions his own.