Manchester United are officially top of the table thanks to a 3-0 dispatching of Sunderland.
Louis van Gaal’s side began the match in pedestrian fashion before an opening goal from Memphis Depay, followed by strikes from Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata.
United, bar the first half, were utterly dominant with Van Gaal’s “philosophy” on full display. Here are three key observations from the match.
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Rooney not in decline
In the midst of Rooney’s longest Premier League goal drought yet, many fans and pundits alike began to wonder whether England’s greatest ever goalscorer had gone off the boil.
Thankfully, Rooney once again proved his detractors wrong with a strong performance against Sunderland.
While it may be his goal that steals the headlines, it wasn’t Rooney’s pedigree inside the opposition penalty box that caught the eye. Instead, it was his creative play from deep. The forward was deployed in a number ten position, just off teenager Anthony Martial on Saturday.
The Englishman, like the rest of his team, began the match laboriously, devoid of any enthusiasm. However, Rooney soon ignited his and Manchester United’s game with an intelligent turn away from a defender, which sent him bursting away.
Soon after, Rooney began exerting control on the match; dropping into pockets of space, Rooney looked to play the killer pass rather than the safe one, resulting in a flurry of sumptuous, perfectly timed long balls in behind Sunderland’s backline.
There were also moments when the ex-Everton player drove at defences, reminiscent of his younger days.
It was not a perfect performance though as Rooney did concede possession a few more times than he would have liked.
Nevertheless, the Manchester United and England captain got his goal and will most likely be the man to take up the number ten position for the rest of the campaign.
Daley Blind is pivotal for success, for now
In the aftermath of United’s shambolic 2-1 loss to Swansea City, many fans, myself included, called for Daley Blind to be dropped.
At the time, this action looked to be the right one when considering the Netherland international’s lack of physicality.
Fast forward a few weeks and Blind has now forged a defensive partnership with Chris Smalling that is one of the best in the Premier League.
While Smalling provides the grit and bite, Blind provides unwavering technicality and poise on the ball.
With Blind in the heart of the defence, United move the ball across the backline with ease. Players positioned further forward also have new found confidence in their defensive unit as they have no problem with laying the ball back.
But just like most people in this world, Blind is not perfect. In fact, against teams with stronger, more physical forwards, the smaller midfielder might find it harder to dominate games so easily.
Apart from Bafetimbi Gomis, whom he struggled against, Blind has not faced the most athletic and skilled strikers in the Premier League.
It remains to be seen as to whether the 25-year-old’s technical ability and intelligence is enough against the likes of Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa, and Alexis Sanchez.
‘Philosophy’ in full flow
Saturday’s match against Sunderland marked the first time Manchester United fans witnessed the complete Van Gaal-philosophy.
At first, things did not look this way, with United starting sluggishly. Soon after Depay’s goal, the complexion of the match morphed completely.
The Red Devil’s back line was as solid as ever, a midfield of Carrick and Schneiderlin helped dominate possession and blocked any trace of Sunderland progress.
Rooney seamlessly dropped between the lines, rediscovering his inch-perfect passing touch, and Anthony Martial worked tirelessly, stretching the opposition backline while simultaneously creating space for others.
But what was most encouraging had to be the perfect balance in United’s play. Gone was the slow, lethargic and excruciatingly safe, possession football.
Instead, a new brand of high-tempo, free form football was in its place. The groans of boredom from the crowd were replaced by cheers of appreciation and interest.
Before this match, so many had questioned the validity of Van Gaal’s so called ‘philosophy’. Perhaps now Manchester United fans may have just witnessed how their reinvented side will operate for years to come.
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