Manchester United exacted revenge on bottom of the table Leicester City with a comfortable 3-1 victory at Old Trafford. The Foxes, who had beaten United 5-3 in the reverse fixture, were on the receiving end of a flurry of first half goals. Robin Van Persie opened the scoring before Radamel Falcao bundled in a second and Wes Morgan diverted the ball into his own net. Marcin Wasilewski scored a consolation for the visitors but it was all too late.
It was a very controlled display from United, who were missing Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, Ashley Young and Michael Carrick through injury. The victory means the Red Devils moved up to third place in the table, with Southampton still to play this weekend and was the perfect comeback from the disappointing result against Cambridge in the FA Cup.
Here are five things we learnt from United’s win on Saturday.
1) United won’t miss Carrick if Blind continues in that sort of form
Daley Blind was voted the man of the match on Saturday after a calm and composed display at the base of United’s midfield. He was moved back into his preferred midfield role after it was announced Carrick had picked up a muscle injury in training. Although it is a huge blow, the Dutchman showed that United will not miss the 33-year-old’s influence if he continues to control games in this fashion.
Blind knew exactly when to merely recycle the ball and when to play the penetrative pass through the lines. His speed in possession in particular was superior to Carrick’s in recent weeks. Blind is such a smart footballer who performed superbly in arguably the most important role in United’s side, his positioning and tactical awareness was key to the dominant team performance.
2) Januzaj was very tactically aware but his end product can still be improved upon
Another player who was excellent tactically was Adnan Januzaj. The Belgian was making his first league start since November and played on the left-hand side of the diamond. He often reverted to a more natural role on the wing to give the Red Devils added width and forged a good understanding with Luke Shaw. He also knew when to tuck inside and give United added balance in the central area.
However, a player of Januzaj’s ability should be doing more when he is in dangerous areas of the pitch. He showed glimpses of what he is capable of but he needs to show more quality in the final third. Despite that negative, Januzaj has certainly done enough to warrant a place in the side and will need game-time to reach his undoubted potential. Based on his performance against Leicester, he could grow into a top class midfielder and his directness is needed in this United side.
3) The diamond formation worked well and is very flexible
Louis Van Gaal once again chose to use the diamond formation with Blind at the base and Wayne Rooney, Angel Di Maria and Januzaj ahead of him. In a very attacking line-up, the system worked as United raced into a three-goal lead in the first half. The home side look much more dangerous when they use this formation instead of the 3-4-1-2 and are able to create numerous chances on goal.
Despite it being a 4-4-2 diamond on paper, there was plenty of flexibility in the system, which will please Van Gaal. Antonio Valencia and Januzaj regularly became orthodox wingers and gave United the required width even if they lacked a quality final ball. Leicester were unable to cope with the pitch being stretched and this gave Di Maria, Van Persie and Falcao plenty of room to impress and get involved in the game.
4) As a central midfielder, Rooney should not be keeping Herrera out of the team
Rooney is not a natural central midfielder, he is a striker who has been converted into a central midfielder and it showed on Saturday. With Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata looking on, Rooney had arguably his worst game of the season in the centre of the park. He regularly misplaced passes and too often chose to attempt a risky pass when a more simple option was on. He was outshone by the composed Blind and the lively Di Maria on the day.
Herrera’s omission from the side has been a hotly debated topic in the United fan-base and most agree that he should be playing many more minutes than he has been getting. The Spaniard has not started a league game since the win over Stoke at the start of December and should definitely not continue to be kept out of the side by Rooney. The captain should either be used in the no. 10 role or as a striker.
5) It’s simple – give Falcao and Van Persie good service and they will score goals
Both Van Persie and Falcao have received plenty of criticism this season for their below average goal-scoring records but it is my belief that if they were both restricted by the 3-4-1-2 formation that Van Gaal has use for the majority of the campaign. They are strikers who rely on the service they get and are at their best in the penalty area but United have failed to get them into enough goal-scoring situations this season.
The Leicester match was the first time that both players have scored in the same game since Falcao moved to the club in the summer. United need to get more crosses drilled into the box and attempt more through balls as both strikers are at their best when facing the goal, not when they receive a ball into feet. They are top class strikers and the midfield need to play to their strengths because if they do, they could score a ridiculous amount of goals together.