The spine of a Manchester United team is emerging from the wreckage of the season’s first fifteen games. In Sunday’s 3-0 victory at Villa Park, David Moyes quietly found a solution to United’s central dilemma; How to disguise United’s lack of midfield bite. The solution was not a surprise.
The win over a flailing Aston Villa side was constructed around the performances of Rafael and Valencia on the right flank. The two have played together enough now to have an excellent understanding of how and when to overlap. United’s first two goals came from this axis, a cross from each, and finished the game as a contest. At half time the Villa fans were fervently discussing how to ‘take Valencia out of the game’.
The reason these two enjoyed so much success at the weekend was because they weren’t chasing back into the middle of the park in search of the ball and constantly pursuing play. It is hard to count how many times this season Valencia has been deployed as a right back when his natural instinct is to attack the corner flag and deliver crosses.
The reason Rafael and Valencia were afforded more freedom was because United were able to exert a modicum of control in the middle of the pitch. This control came about because of the presence of Wayne Rooney.
Whilst Giggs and Cleverly were the midfielders in name, Rooney played at their front and provided options for those winning back the ball before spreading play out wide. It was a remarkably similar position to the one that caused so much consternation to the striker last season. He happens to be darn good at playing there.
Behind the midfield trident of Rooney, Cleverley and Giggs, Phil Jones added real authority to United’s defence. Whilst he has performed admirably as a midfielder recently, his partnership with Johnny Evans must be the future for the defence. Although the opposition was modest, Jones and Evans were solid and impressive.
Up front Danny Welbeck provided the trickery and speed that he is supposed to. Robin van Persie can expect to reclaim his position at the head of the team when he returns and, all of a sudden, United look like they have strength in depth.
De Gea is one of United’s most reliable players nowadays and with a team containing Jones in front of him, then Carrick when he returns and Rooney linking the play to van Persie, the champions look strong again. Backbone emerges when Rooney is able to drop back and play deeper. Sir Alex may have been onto something after all.
Manchester United have drawn Olympiakos in the Champions’ League and the fans have rejoiced. It could certainly have been worse. Essentially this means that United have a stronger chance of reaching the quarter-finals than they otherwise might have done. The likelihood of them winning it remains slim.
Presently, United’s objectives are closer to home. With David Moyes gradually finding a way to make the team work, United hope to put their winter of discontent behind them.