It’s been a rather eventful week for Manchester United fans. Most have spent the few days untwisting knickers after seeing Pedro and Otamendi join Chelsea and Man City respectively (I promise that’ll be the only mention of them in this piece), let’s not forget in amongst all panic, frustration and lambasting hurled towards Ed Woodward, United’s promising start to the season continued.
Victory over Villa last week was swiftly followed by a 3-1 scalp over Club Brugge on Tuesday evening in the first leg of our Champions League qualifier. A last ditch Fellaini strike wrapped up the result and put United in a fairly comfortable position ahead of Wednesday’s return leg.
Attention shifts back again to another Saturday early kick-off, this time as United host Newcastle and attempt to maintain their 100% start to the campaign and reclaim top spot, for the time being at least.
As Louis van Gaal’s side start to build some momentum early on in the season – a drastic difference to this stage last year – here are five keys to a United victory against Newcastle:
In just his second start at Old Trafford and on his Champions League debut for the club, Depay showed exactly what forced Louis van Gaal to splash the cash to PSV for his services during the summer.
United fought off the challenge from Bayern Munich and… ahem, Liverpool to bring the Dutchman to Manchester in a deal close to £30million. The youngster began to repay the faith shown in him by his former national manager almost immediately, scoring two sublime goals to turn the tie around and put United in a commanding position ahead of the second leg.
His first still saw him with plenty of work to do from Michael Carrick’s pace as he flicked the ball passed the defender, remaining calm and composed throughout as he waited for the right opportunity to slot the ball into the corner for the equaliser.
The second came soon after, as Depay – in his favoured wide-left position – drew the full-back before making a darting run inside to latch onto fellow countryman, Daley Blind’s inch perfect through ball, before controlling and bending a measured effort into the far corner.
Much has been expected of the Dutchman following his summer arrival, with his own confidence playing a huge part. Depay asked to take on the number seven shirt following Di Maria’s departure and showed flashes on Tuesday night exactly why he could fill the void perfectly.
If cutting in from the left and displaying a huge threat on the opposition goal while wearing the number seven on his back wasn’t Ronaldo enough in itself, his post-match interview spoke volumes as to how alike the two may be in all aspects. The Dutchman appeared more frustrated with himself for missing the opportunity to secure his hat-trick, than elation at the crucial goals he already had to his name. Tell me Cristiano wouldn’t be the same. That tenacity and ruthlessness is a trait we’ve missed ever since Ronaldo’s sale and prove a huge asset to United in their attacking threat, bringing many more goals from wide positions and relieving some of the pressure from the strikers.
At 21, Depay can’t be expected to turn in performances of that magnitude week-in and week-out, but it’s clear to see we possess a true match winner in our midst. Now that he’s off the mark, let’s hope that the floodgates have well and truly opened.
Rooney getting off the mark
It’s clear to see that Wayne Rooney is suffering at the moment. While the captain might only admit to one bad game this season, many others will disagree. However it comes about, penalty, tap-in, deflection, it matters not, Wayne Rooney needs a goal, and fast.
It’s an awkward situation van Gaal finds himself in, with both van Persie and Falcao departing, only Javier Hernandez and James Wilson are currently left to compete for the role. The Mexican can offer a great deal off the bench, but is unlikely to truly trouble Rooney for the role, while Wilson remains relatively unproven at this level. Throw into the mix that Rooney wears the captain’s armband and his place seems even more secure.
Personal feelings about Rooney and his woeful form aside, the only way for the skipper to get back to any kind of true form is by getting minutes on the field, improving his fitness and being in position to put chances away when given the opportunity to do so.
Twice before Rooney has led the line as a lone striker, twice managing 34 goals in the process and while his advancing years and shoddy displays suggest that a similar return may be a fantasy this season, he can still do a job for the team.
Rooney’s natural tendency to drop off and come deep to find the ball served him fine when playing with a striker partner, but as the team’s main focal point up top needs to remain furthest forward in order to get on the end of chances. With Depay and Mata playing in behind as well as dynamic, creative full-backs in the form of Darmian and Shaw, opportunities will come his way.
With 12 goals in 20 Premier League appearances against the Magpies, Rooney certainly has fond memories of coming up against the Geordies in the past. Him getting out of his current funk could play a huge part taking all three points.
Staying tight at the back
With United fans going into a social media meltdown at the start of the season due to the lack of an experience central defender coming in, most would have been calling for a straight-jacket if you have suggested that with Romero in goal and Smalling and Blind at CB, the only one goal conceded in three games would be from a Michael Carrick O.G.
While an additional central defender would be welcomed with open arms, the defensive crisis isn’t nearly as drastic as people would make out, with the Reds conceding just 23 times in the Premier League since last November, the least of any other team.
With natural full-backs in Darmian and Shaw regularly in the side, the defence already looks much more at ease than last season, while Daley Blind has surprised in how calm and composed he has looked alongside Chris Smalling who seems to grow into that defensive leader role by the game.
While impressing in their attempts at bombing forward and creating chances, both Darmian and Shaw have excelled in their defensive duties, with the Italian looking an extremely astute capture, while Shaw – now edging towards full fitness – is looking to be every inch of the player we laid out £30m for last summer. His extra fitness work seems to have paid dividends as evidenced by a frightening turn of pace against Club Brugge which not only broke down a clear cut chance for the opposition, but sprung a ferocious counter attack which almost saw Depay complete his hat-trick in style after a delightful flick from Rooney after Shaw’s cross.
In the centre, things have looked just as comfortable; a huge relief considering the jury remains out on Sergio Romero. With van Gaal preferring the dynamic of a one right and one left-side centre half, Blind has been given the nod over Jonny Evans and based on recent performances will make it difficult for Rojo to win back his spot. The Dutchman has a superb reading of the game and fits in with the manager’s ideal of a ball-playing centre half. Possession is key to the manager’s philosophy and Blind has looked in now way out of his depth at the back despite initial question marks over how he would perform in the role. His vision enables United to quickly turn attack into defence, which he displayed in his assist for Depay’s second goal midweek.
With the back four looking more settled by the game, performances similar to their last two in the Premier League should be able to cope with the threat of Newcastle on Saturday.
Make Old Trafford a fortress
In Louis van Gaal’s first season at the club, United picked up 44 points at Old Trafford in the Premier League, just one less than City managed at home and five less than Chelsea. A mere 26 points away from home showed just where the main problems lay during the previous campaign, but ensuring we maintain our strong start, particularly at home will lay the foundations for a successful campaign.
Last season began in disastrous fashion, with the Reds losing their opener to Swansea, before subsequent, careless, home defeats later in the season to both Southampton and West Brom as we were unable to create meaningful opportunities.
With two from two already during this campaign at Old Trafford and Liverpool being the next home fixture in three weeks time, the Reds have the opportunity to throw down a marker. A strong showing over the Magpies could see sides fear coming to the Theatre of Dreams once more.
Impact off the bench
With United failing to kill of early in any of their three opening victories, van Gaal has fully utilised his substitutes in each match. Bastian Schweinsteiger has replaced Michael Carrick on three occasions, while the likes of Ander Herrera, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Javier Hernandez and Marouane Fellaini have also been forced to stake their claim in the latter stages.
With a sizeable squad to choose from, the manager’s first choice seems apparent given the first few games, therefore the likes of Herrera will have to earn their chances in the starting line-up by impressing when called upon throughout.
Opportunities will certainly be there for the fringe players, with the manager not afraid to mix things up while the game still lies in the balance. Players like Herrera and Hernandez can certainly make their presence felt from the bench, just as Marouane Fellaini did as he added United’s third, decisive goal against Club Brugge.
The Magpies haven’t got off to an ideal start under new manager Steve McClaren, with just a single point from their opening day their sole return following last week’s defeat to Cardiff.
Wijnaldum will offer the main threat to United in the middle of the park, following his costly summer move from PSV. The presence of Schneiderlin and presumably Schweinsteiger could and should nullify that threat.
The German should get the nod ahead of Michael Carrick for his first Premier League start, with Michael Carrick starting the three opening games of the season. While he may not be deemed up to playing the full 90 minutes by the manager, he could well be in line to get United in shape and organised from the off this time around.
With Depay full of confidence following his midweek triumph, both he and Luke Shaw will be looking to provide the creative spark down the left hand side, which will see the visitors slightly vulnerable given Daryll Janmaat’s dismissal last week.
For the third week running, United have the opportunity to steal a march over their rivals and take hold of top spot once again, before the likes of Manchester City, Leicester and Liverpool take the field later in the weekend. With one of Arsenal and Liverpool at least set to drop points on Monday evening, van Gaal’s side can steal another march both physically and mentally over their rivals by maintaining their perfect start to the season. Three goals against Brugge midweek will hopefully open the door for more to follow in the Premier League. Over to you Wayne… United 2-0.