After dropping points in the curtain raiser to the new season, Manchester United made their first appearance at Old Trafford this season, in the 3 o’clock kick off, playing host to Fulham on Saturday afternoon.
Thoughts were on whether Sir Alex Ferguson’s side would get up and running in the league and how they might go about doing it. Prior to kick off, news filtered through that Wayne Rooney was to start on the bench and Nani had been dropped from the side completely, two players who had come in for criticism after the defeat to Everton. So, as game time approached the team to face the West London club was known, with David De Gea in goal, Carrick and Vidic continuing to partner centrally with Evra and Rafael Da Silva on either side of them. In midfield, Cleverley and Anderson paired up with Valencia, Kagawa and Young ahead of them. Finally, up front as a lone striker was Robin Van Persie.
The game saw action early on, with the home crowd stunned into silence as a well played free kick out left found it’s way to Damien Duff, who finished smartly low into the corner to give his side a quick 0-1 lead. However, this did not go without response and by the 10 minute mark, it was 1-1 and in spectacular fashion. Patrice Evra played a cross into the box taking a bounce as it made it’s way to Van Persie with a couple of yards of space. United’s new signing directed the ball with the side of his foot towards goal, floating into the top right corner, and sending fans into raptures. An incredible way to open his scoring account.
From there, the home side began to pick up the pace, looking creative going forward, and by 35 minutes, it was 2-1. This time, one of United’s other Summer signings made his mark on his home debut. The impressive Kagawa got on the end of a Cleverley shot that was parried by Schwarzer into the path of an onside Kagawa to easily finish. There was also time for another, as Rafael, having had a goal disallowed for offside earlier in the half, got the goal he was looking for as Ashley Young played a well placed cross to the far post, to meet Da Silva to head home. 3-1 at half time and United in control.
The second half started with United looking more casual as Fulham searched for a way back into the game and with over an hour played, they were gifted it, as a cross was poorly dealt with, De Gea missing the punch and the ball rolling off the back of Vidic for an own goal. Calamity and nervousness ensue. As the clock wound down, Young, Kagawa and Anderson made way for Giggs, Welbeck and Rooney as tensions reached breaking point. De Gea redeemed himself for his error with a couple of good saves to prevent an equaliser. There was time for yet more drama as Rooney sustained a deep cut to his thigh in an unfortunate accident that may rule him out for the next 4 weeks.
After a dramatic 90 minutes of football, in what was an open game, the final whistle went as United saw out the game 3-2 to gain their first points of the season. With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Robin Van Persie – A Great Start
With United going behind very quickly on Saturday, the need for a response was clear for all and it was provided spectacular fashion. The way Van Persie swept Evra’s cross into the net was pleasing to the eye and a great way to open his account for United. In a game where Kagawa also scored on his home debut, fans will have been glad to see the new signings make an impact in such a way, in a game where they had influences throughout, linking up well and contributing strongly to the attack.
2) Did Rooney being on the bench mean anything?
Looking at the rather obvious omission of Rooney from the starting line up, one cannot help but try to find some sort of interpretation or meaning to the decision. One may look at it as a message that his place within the side is no longer a guarantee if he is not playing well, and that Ferguson now has the strength in depth up front to compensate for it. Given the standard of play from both Rooney and Nani on Monday, and their subsequent drops may lead one to take this line of thinking. Another way of looking at it, is that early in the season, Ferguson may be trying to vary the sdes he plays in search of his favoured formation, giving Van Persie the chance to play the lone striker with someone behind him in the form of Kagawa.
Regardless of the true intentions, it is probably true that Rooney’s place in the starting line up is not quite as settled as it once was. The benefit of course is he remains fitter for longer with less of a game load and less reliance on one player for attacking inspiration. It may even spur him on to improve further in light of recent additions. The same applies for Nani, who is reportedly trying for a new contract, in needing to show more consistency to hold a regular place in the side, with the idea that there are others vying for his spot should he fail to do so.
3) The strengths and the weakness of David De Gea
One thing that nobody can deny of De Gea is his ability as a shot stopper. On Monday and again on Saturday he displayed fantastic saves that kept United in the game, and against Fulham helped maintain their lead. One issue that was not strictly tested against Everton but was shown up at home was his command of his area and his physicality in dealing with crosses.
It is not entirely clear what happened with the own goal, whether there was a lack of communication between Vidic and De Gea, for example, but in my view, it was a ball De Gea did not need to go for, and in doing so left the goal open when he did not reach it as it rolled of Vidic to gift the visitors a goal. Having spent so long injured Vidic still looks a little rusty, as a back line hampered by injury continues to struggle, particularly given the attacking preference of Da Silva and Evra, but Fulham’s second was certainly an avoidable affair.
Again, though, there was praise-worthy moments, with some truly world class saves to deny the away side more goals and his contribution to the victory should not be discounted.
4) Dembele ran the midfield
To complain about the midfield when United looked impressive going forward and showed good creativity may seem a little cynical, but one must acknowledge that Fulham were able to control the midfield with much greater effect than the home side. Dembele in particular held a strong influence, winning the ball and getting forward to cause United problems. This helped produce an open game that looked as if it could go either way at times, and allowed the West London club to threaten on more than one occasion. Luckily for the Old Trafford faithful that was not to be the case. However, it could be said that United need someone more commanding in midfield, the kind that Darren Fletcher provided, or that Carrick may provide in his own way once he moves back into midfield.
That said, Anderson and Cleverley combined well in the centre of the park and Kagawa looked extremely impressive, linking up with Van Persie and making great plays, scoring the second goal and hitting the post on another occasion. United could have been guilty of getting too complacent after taking the lead, a complaint that cropped up on more than one occasion last season. Certainly, putting the game to bed is an aspect that could be worked on, and one hopes that games are able to be seen out with a little more finesse as the season goes on.
5) Strength in depth up front
With Rooney supposedly facing 4 weeks out with what was a deep cut to his leg on Saturday, it occurred to me that this was, of course, bad news but not the huge blow that it could have been last season. Given the starts of the new signings, and the type of players signed, it is clear that there is a greater depth to the attack than there has been, and with Rooney injured, other capable players should get their chance within the side, fans may even find Berbatov making an appearance, assuming he is not sold on before the transfer window closes.