Date: 16th December 2012 at 12:06am
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Dominant performance

Revenge. Often, sides tend to avoid talking of being on a “revenge mission” in football, merely citing an occasion just any other game, and one that must be won. This time, the circumstances are different, With Sunderland, Manchester United’s final day opponents of last season, celebrating Manchester City’s title success, ’s side have made no secret of their desire to exact revenge for their showing in those final day dramatics. 

At the same time, Sir Alex will have expected his side to go about their business professionally, with City having won earlier on, he would have been keen to restore the 6 point gap at the top of the table. With that in mind, United lined up at Old Trafford, with David De Gea in goal, with Rio Ferdinand and Chris Smalling in front of him. took over from the rest Rafael at right back, with Patrice Evra at left back. In midfield, Tom Cleverley lined up alongside , with Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia on the wings. Up front saw Robin Van Persie partnered with Wayne Rooney.

The game kicked off with the home side looking the brighter. Sir Alex’s men were quickly in the ascendancy, setting up in the Black Cats’ half and pushing forward. The visitors did well to hold back the early pressure, but, with just over quarter of an hour gone, the deadlock was broken, as Ashley Young whipped in a ball that was deflected off O’Shea, with Van Persie controlling and finishing to give his side a 1-0 lead.

3 minutes later, and the lead was doubled, Tom Cleverley finishing brilliantly from the left with a curling effort after good work with Carrick.

Rooney should have made it a third soon after, with Van Persie nodding the ball in the striker’s direction, only for Rooney to hit wide on the volley. He went close again, heading off target from Evra’s cross. The visitors saw a little more possession after, Larsson forcing De Gea into a save, although this was short lived as United regained composure and dominated possession again. With United pushing, one may have wondered when the next goal would come, but as the game entered something of a quiet period in the closing stages of the first half, the sides went in at half time, with United 2-0 up.

The second half began with David De Gea pulling off a double save to deny Gardner and then McLean. United responded, pushing forward with Van Persie going close. However, the visitors started to find their way into the game more, attempting to get back into the game and beginning to show more confidence.

With just under an hour played, though, United put the game further out of reach, with Rooney combing with Van Persie, as the Dutchman cut back for Rooney to fire home and give his side a 3-0 lead.

United continued to look comfortable, and with just over 20 minutes remaining, the fans got a glimpse of the returning captain, replaced Rio Ferdinand as he took the first steps on the way to match fitness.Soon after, began creating problems for the United back line, and it was made to count as he whipped in a cross to meet who headed in at the far post to make it 3-1.

As the game reached it’s conclusion, United were in danger of letting the visitors back in the game, with the Black Cats given a glimmer of hope they searched for some way back. United tried to kill off the game and got forward themselves to try and put the game to rest. However, the pressure was not to be of consequence as United saw the game out 3-1 in what was a comfortable affair overall.

With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.

1) Best performance of the season?

One would certainly have a strong argument to put this forward as one of the best performances of the season so far. United played with pace, players linking up well and without giving Sunderland room to breathe. For much of the first half, United were camped in their half, with the wingers threatening out wide and Cleverley and Carrick running the show in midfield. The strikers received a good supply and were not short of chances all game.

Perhaps the only criticism going forward is that United could have been more clinical. Evra should have done better early on to open the scoring, Rooney had multiple opportunities to add more to the scoreline. That said, the possession was made to count and 3 goals were scored, taking advantage of Sunderland’s defensive lapses. As the game went on, United relaxed more as the visitors attempted a fight back themselves, allowing them a goal back in the process. In all though, a comfortable and impressive afternoon from the hosts.

2) Carrick/Cleverley and Van Persie/Rooney – Winning pairs

There have been some doubts as to whether Van Persie and Rooney could realistically combine to form a formidable partnership up front. Despite the fact Rooney has been short of goals this season, one must acknowledge the way they seem to work together and how one has benefited from the other. A good example of this would be Saturday’s game, with the pair appearing on the same wavelength on more than one occasion, combining often to cause havoc going forward. This paid off when the Dutchman beat two defenders to cut back for Rooney to finish, but Rooney could have had more, notable when Van Persie nodded back for Rooney to volley, putting his effort wide.

On current form, provided they remain fit, this partnership has the potential to fire United to success this season, and along with the other two strikers, fans will be hoping the front line continues to fire on all cylinders as the business end of the season approaches.

Carrick and Cleverley also deserves mention for the way they worked together, most notably for Cleverley’s great finish for the second goal. Both ran the midfield with pace and accurate passing that opened up the visitors under pressure and played a pivotal role in United getting a commanding lead.

Some mention should also be given to Ashley Young, who was a constant threat on the left, involved with plenty as United got forward and got an assist for the first goal. After impressing on this occasion as well as last week’s game against City, one hopes the winger can show greater consistency and prove a real asset as the season goes on.

3) The return of Vidic

Another benefit from Saturday’s game was Sir Alex’s ability to use his defenders to allow them to maintain and regain match fitness. Both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones received game time, with Rafael given the week off, a slight to blame, with the Brazilian likely available for the next game. As well as this, Nemanja Vidic was introduced with the game comfortable at 3-0, providing him 20 minutes of football as he begins to regain match fitness. To have Vidic back is a big boost, providing an authoritative voice to a back line that has looked lost at times this season, looking disorganised and proving leaky, compensated by the abundance of firepower up front.

After the defensive crisis that United began the season with, to have the majority back and available is extremely beneficial at this point of the season.

4) Should Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have switched positions?

One of the main issues for Phil Jones last season was his constant use in areas away from his preference at the heart of the defence. Although impressing at times elsewhere one could argue his form suffered as a result of him playing in unfamiliar positions. Chris Smalling, on the other hand, arguably has more experience at right back, and his pace as well as defensive capabilities have allowed him to impress at this position.

That said, given the way in which the game progressed, it only shows why I am merely commenting on it and not in management myself. Covering at right back, Jones did a very good job, surging forward with pace and getting involved as United looked to get forward, with little worry about exposure at the back for being adventurous.

Of course, this is temporary given Rafael’s emergence as first choice in that position, but the point remains that Jones will hopefully stay in defensive positions this term, and will be limited in performances in midfield, assuming the established midfielders remain fit on the whole.

5) Lack of a clean sheet a disappointment

With such a dominant performance going forward, it is a shame that United could not maintain focus at the back to help keep a clean sheet to accompany the goals scored. In truth, were it not for De Gea, the scoreline could well have been closer, and as Sunderland got a hint that they may have a chance, United suddenly found themselves under greater pressure as the game progressed.

The solitary goal conceded was a soft one, with Campbell easily allowed to head in at the far post from Sessegnon’s cross after some threatening play. This game after a period in which United took their foot off the pedal somewhat, and lapsed at the back to allow the visitors back in. Conceding goals has been an issue this season and, for the sake of the goal difference, Sir Alex’s side would do well to keep out the goals on more occasions and function as a tighter defensive unit to aid their title bid.

Hopefully, with Vidic returning, a greater sense of leadership may be brought to the back four and will help solidify them in keeping out the opposition.