1. West Brom was a must win and we lost it. “Must win” doesn’t really do justice to how important it was to beat Sunderland yesterday. Having gone a goal down so early on, you had to fear that things were about to go from bad to worse for United. Sunderland, the worst performing team in the Premier League this season, were all over us in the first half, massively raising their game, but we were unable to counteract that. Thankfully we came back in the second half and played more like you would expect of the champions. These are nervy times for United fans but we got the result we needed in the end.
2. Having looked one of the most dangerous players on the pitch in his substitute appearances this season, it was great to see Adnan Januzaj rewarded with a start. He plays with a confidence that the likes of Ashley Young can only dream of. He’s always itching for the ball and whenever he gets it is looking for the most direct route the goal, running at defenders and keen to get a shot away whenever he can. He came close to scoring in the first half, after creating a bit of space for himself, and when the 2nd half kicked off looked like the player most likely to score for us. Ten minutes in to the half he played the ball out wide to Patrice Evra who rolled the ball back in to the box for Januzaj to sidefoot in to the net. The accuracy and power, as well as the movement to get in to the area unmarked, was brilliant. But this goal was nothing compared to his second. Nani lifted the ball in to the box and John O’Shea attempted to head clear. The ball fell perfectly to Januzaj who struck it across the face of goal on the volley. The technique required just to get an attempt like that on target is special enough, let alone to score. We’ve got a real player on our hands and you’d hope he is the first name on the teamsheet from now on. Credit has to go to David Moyes for picking him too, as giving a first start to an 18-year-old for an away game on the back of two defeats isn’t an easy decision to make. Januzaj did more than enough to justify Moyes’ faith in him though.
3. Whilst it was Januzaj who won us the game, it was David de Gea who stopped us from losing it, after pulling off a fantastic stop in the first half. Our goalie is flavour of the month at the moment, with Peter Schmeichel claiming this was one of the best saves he’s ever seen in the Premier League. When you compare it to all the stick that Joe Hart is getting at the moment, we’ve seen a complete role reversal, with De Gea finally getting the plaudits he deserves. I also enjoyed his clearance with his feet in mid-air as Sunderland pressed for a late equaliser.
4. Whilst the goalie saved us, our defence yet again did its best to lose us the game. Evra was left for dead in the 5th minute but the resulting cross went straight to Jones. It would be unfair to criticise him, as there wasn’t much else he could do other than kick it away. You would think that the ball falling to Vidic would ensure safety, but he got it stuck under his feet and gave it away to Gardner who took his shot well. Vidic had time to control the ball and deal with it, but he didn’t. These individual mistakes from our defenders are costing us badly. We could have gone 2-0 down in the first half when Jones lost the ball in a dangerous area, but thanks to Gardner’s indecision, Jones was able to get back and make a great challenge. The one thing that you could rely on from Moyes’ Everton was the defensive strength, so it’s bizarre that our defence is the weakest area on the pitch at the moment. With all the quality players we have in this position, it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense, but it has to change quickly.
5. Robin van Persie looks off the boil at the moment which is really the last thing we need when our backs are up against the wall. The player who made such a difference to our season last year is struggling to have the same impact. The moment to sum up his day was when he was clean through on goal, thanks to some good work from Antonio Valencia, but opted to shoot with his left foot instead of his right. It seemed like an obvious goal but somehow he managed to strike wide of the post.
6. One of the criticisms levelled at Moyes over the opening few weeks has been his lack of substitutions, or useful substitutions at least. He got them nailed on yesterday though, bringing on players more capable of tracking back in Valencia and Welbeck, for two players who offer a lot going forward but not so much defensively, in Januzaj and Nani. Rafael was also making a few rash challenges and was on a yellow card, so bringing on Smalling, particularly with his height to aid dealing with the balls Sunderland were lumping in to the box, was the right move.
7. This wasn’t a classic performance and fans are justified in being frustrated but the most important thing right now is getting points on the board. Lots of fans, particularly those on Twitter and commenting on football blogs like this one, seem to have very short memories. United have played fairly badly on a fairly regular occasion for a few years now. We’ve got away with it and won a few titles along the way, but it’s as if people are forgetting the many results United have achieved which have been ground out, or at worst, completely undeserved. We deserved the three points yesterday though and it was vital we went in to the International break on the back of a win. We’re still some way off the top, which lots of people predicted for this stage of the season after the fixtures were announced, but we’re just three points behind City and four behind Chelsea (if they win today), so maybe now is the time to be patient rather than reactionary. Our match going fans supported the manager and team for 90 minutes, and they are certainly setting the example the rest of us should follow, just as Sir Alex Ferguson instructed.