After struggling to meet the lofty expectations set by departed manager Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United produced a 2-0 victory over Cardiff City in Juan Mata's debut for the club. While David Moyes still could do with a few new signings in their Champions League push, here are five things we learned from Tuesday's match.
1. Injuries are Key
Manchester United sorely missed the potent strike duo of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.
After missing 11 matches due to a hamstring injury in a Champions League clash with Shakhtar Donetsk, the Dutchman was back into form, heading in the first after a fine bit of play from Ashley Young.
Rooney also appeared as a late substitute, looking lively in his ball distribution and movement. David Moyes will need both key men to be healthy for the late season run Man U must put together to secure European competition.
2. There are Still Questions in Defence
While Patrice Evra continues to wreak havoc down the left flank, the rest of the back-line continues to show weakness. Chris Smalling, Johnny Evans, and Rafael are very inconsistent, and the lack of chemistry is evident.
Rio Ferdinand is ageing, and Nemanja Vidic has been plagued by injury. Without reinforcement, it will be a tall order for these defenders to match up against their top four rivals. Look for Moyes to be active in the late hours of the transfer window for a centre-back, with the likes of Kurt Zouma being linked to the club.
3. Phil Jones is a defensive midfielder
Having played nearly every position in the defensive half of the pitch, Phil Jones seems to finally be comfortable as a holding midfielder, a spot made popular in the Premier League by former Chelsea man Claude Makelele.
Confident on the ball with direct passing and good tempo control, Jones fits the part, allowing the ageless Ryan Giggs to support the attacking midfleid trio. If he can continue his development, he may just save United millions of pounds in the transfer window in procuring another midfielder.
4. David Marshall won't e at Cardiff next year
Although the Welsh outfit currently sit bottom of the league on 18 points from 23 matches, the one true bright spot this season has been the play of 28-year-old Scottish keeper David Marshall.
With 91 saves and 5 clean sheets, he has been the heart of a Cardiff defence that has struggled mightily. Producing a stellar reaction save on Van Persie's first header showed his quality, something that Cardiff City may not be able to afford if a bigger club comes calling. He undoubtedly has the skill to produce for a larger club, and may get the chance to do so if his team gets relegated.
5. The "Baby-Faced Assassin" may not be able to save Cardiff
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's return to Old Trafford after a stellar playing career was marred by the 2-0 defeat at the hands of his former club. While the crowd was still singing his praises in the opening minutes, a Robin van Persie goal quickly changed the dynamic of the match, one that lead to heartbreak for the Norwegian.
Struggles at nearly every level of his squad have given Solskjaer a poor hand with which to play, and although he will be hoping for resurgence, his season may end in the way this match ended: defeat.
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