Tuesday’s win over Stoke City proved that Manchester United don’t have to be boring and defensive after all.
A solid 3-0 win thanks to goals from Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney against a Stoke side who thumped us on Boxing Day showed signs of promise from Louis van Gaal’s team.
They played with a fluidity and excitement that fans haven’t seen since the 4-2 win over Manchester City last season, while it was the first time that Manchester United scored in the first half at Old Trafford since Memphis Depay’s goal against Sunderland in September 2015, a run stretching back 11 games.
On top of the excellent attacking display, United were solid at the back. David De Gea didn’t have a save to make throughout the game while Daley Blind, Michael Carrick and Chris Smalling were first to win everything. Marouane Fellaini proved his worth in a red shirt by covering ground well, passing the ball efficiently and breaking up play while both full-backs had impressive games.
While it’s probably not a coincidence that Stoke actually came to win the game rather than sit back and *hopefully* nick a goal on the counter, United’s play was exciting for once.
The ball was moved at speed, with movement across the pitch and one touch passing that had a purpose. The focal point of all of that was Anthony Martial.
The young Frenchman has taken the Premier League by storm and has quickly become a key member of Louis van Gaal’s squad, with the Dutch manager saying recently that he believed Martial would be “a great player for Manchester United for a very long time.”
When he gets one on one with a defender there seems to be only one outcome at the moment and despite many believing that his best position is through the middle as a striker, he’s made the left wing spot his own at the expense of Memphis Depay.
While one game is nothing to get too carried away about, the game had a feel similar to that of when it suddenly clicked for Manchester United against Tottenham Hotspur last season. A 3-0 win at Old Trafford with a display of fast-flowing football, with Michael Carrick at the heart of the midfield pulling the strings.
It will be interesting to see just how Van Gaal decides to line-up at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Will he continue with Marouane Fellaini alongside Michael Carrick or will he re-introduce Morgan Schneiderlin against a more potent attack than Stoke’s? The front-four will likely stay the same following such a fantastic performance, as will the back-four (more because of the fact there are so little options in that position right now).
Players like Memphis Depay, Adnan Januzaj and Andreas Pereira are all waiting in the wings for their shot to impress and while Januzaj wasn’t even on the bench against Stoke, he’s been impressive for the Under 21’s.
Pereira will be disappointed that he only got 6 minutes of playing time yesterday despite the comfortable result, while fans weren’t too happy about it either. But if Louis van Gaal has one exceptional thing on his CV it’s his ability to develop young players so fans and the player himself must trust the Dutch coach for now as he prepares the Belgian-born-Brazilian youth international for the realities of senior football.
The game against Chelsea on Sunday will be much more of a measuring stick for the season but with Arsenal currently going through their annual crumble and Man City, Spurs and Leicester currently occupying the other two Champions League spots, Manchester United could put together a winning run similar to last season’s they could sneak their way back into contention.