The much-anticipated Adidas kit launch video featured a well-written poem strategically placed in that ad spot to incite fervor amongst the red devil faithful. These words so bold and intimidating, with the requisite phlogiston enough to thaw even the most frigid of hearts – “We are Manchester United, forged a three-pronged weapon, Attack! Attack! Attack…a trident to break expectations”.
The swell of anticipation about the possibilities of the heights that could be attained by this new look United squad was somewhat dulled in the league opener against Tottenham at Old Trafford. It was a better start from the first Van Gaal campaign mind you, as the devils fell at home against a peppy Swansea side. But the 1-0 win, via a Kyle Walker own goal, felt like a shot across the bough with dry gunpowder rather than a team with the necessary armament to break expectations.
Memphis and Rooney failed to make the desired impact up front.
Walker fought hard to keep Young in check all game, his own goal coming when Young switched flanks.
At times it felt like Groundhog Day, only with a few new actors. Memphis occupied the hole behind Wayne Rooney, another zany invention brought to you from the Louis van Gaal school of the utterly mysterious. The towering Schneiderlin partnered Carrick in the holding position, with the dynamic Herrera missing out – another puzzling decision from the Dutch trainer-coach.
Thankfully, the solid Italian Darmain was given a starting berth in his natural position at right back, LVG falling back on his preseason threat to continue with Valencia there. It was an opportunity the ex-Torino man seized with iron fists. And for his greatest trick, Van Gaal benched the inattentive De Gea for Romero, who was playing his first league game in 8 months, and had played as first choice keeper only 20 times in the last 2 seasons with Sampdoria. The Argentine gave an excellent account of himself in light of the difficulties surrounding his club career.
Schneiderlin had a good game, adding much needed steel to the middle of the park.
Matteo Darmain was excellent at right back, put in MOTM performance before he left the pitch.
The football produced by United was a mirror image of the torpid displays that dominated the business half of last season. In spite of the massive spending by Van Gaal to give this squad a facelift in his own image, it was pretty much more of the same - a torrent of unenterprising passing, an over emphasis on keeping possession, a scarcity of guile and real incision, and a drought of useful assaults on goal. At half time no one in a United shirt had shot the ball towards Vorm in the Spurs goal.
Rooney was presented with a glorious chance, stemming from a timely Mata interception of a misplaced Bentaleb pass, Young squared a perfectly weighted ball across to Wayne who was not quick with neither feet or thought, as Walker made up enough ground to pick the United front man’s pocket, a situation that would have proved highly embarrassing for Rooney if the ball had not contrived to wickedly trickle in the corner of the Spurs goal.
Van Gaal made it a point to introduce Schweinteiger as early as possible into the game.
Schweinteiger had a rough start but steadied after his early yellow card.
United’s first shot on target came from a Young attempt in the 64th minute, and the devils attack trident was only able to conjure one more shot on target by the end of the match. Wayne Rooney at the tip of that trident did not register a shot on goal; this should be a source of worry for those that have entrusted him to be the main goal getter this season. There should be critical thought about the questionable positioning of Memphis as a central creative force, as it appears that it does not coincide with his natural tendencies.
The new United No 7, seems more capable as a winger with the license to cut inside, while Juan Mata at the right end of the trident looks more suitable in the middle. The miserable attacking stats might corroborate the school of thought that Memphis does not have the vision of a No 10, and ahead of him Rooney does not have the movement to compliment, and perhaps might not be as prolific as he was in his earlier years.
Louis van Gaal has a decision to make here, is the resurgent Young that ingrained in the long term plans to take the risk of alienating yet another United marquee player? Memphis stunned when his number was raised, hesitated to come off the pitch , he made that so apparent it was hard to miss.
United's defensive players stymied Spurs creativity but tottenham had some great chances.
United struggled to create anything while Herrera only made a cameo apperance in the 2nd half.
Spurs came out the blocks energetically pressing, and attacking with pomp and purpose. It is only after United fortuitously took the lead, that United settled into their conservative 4-2-3-1 formation. The bright spot for United was the refreshingly solid defence led by Smalling and the highly competent Darmain, both giving man of the match level performances. Romero behind them started out nervously, especially when he tried to keep faith with Van Gaals possession at all cost strategy, it wasn’t until he started disposing of the ball long that he started to settle in. He proved he could come up with the goods, and produced some timely game saving stops when Spurs cranked up the heat at the end.
Chris Smalling has emerged as a leader at the back and put in a fantastic performance.
Romero got the nod at goal and stood tall for United. The Argentine made crucial contributions after a nervy start.
Daley Blind showed his overall football intelligence as he adapted to his center back role admirably against the likes of Kane. He should not be a mainstay though, rather should compete with Shaw for the left back spot. Shaw has truly shaken off the tepid performances of last season, and looks set to thrive in this new campaign. The only note of bother was when Darmain had to come off due to suspected cramping.
Valencia’s inclusion immediately opened up the defence because of the tendency of the Ecuadorian to take positional risks, tucking in too much and too often. Schweinsteiger came on for Carrick, too early maybe, but the first German ever to grace the club colors acquitted himself well, got booked early but had some encouraging moments. He will have to contend with the pace of the game, which at times might have looked a little out of his comfort zone.
Blind answered some questions about his suitability at CB, but LVG should see Rojo reinstated at some point.
Admittedly the most important thing was that the red devils started positively, especially in light of the misadventures of title rivals Chelsea and Arsenal at home. It was essential for United to start well by obtaining all 3 points available, so job done. They were solid, if not convincing. There might be useful tweaks in the future, for instance an adoption of a true 4-3-3 formation might infuse the team with an attacking and creative impetus. Not registering a meaning through-pass all game suggests that the present system might be too industrial, and perhaps there might be square pegs in round holes in relation to player deployment.
No doubt United might benefit by having two midfielders dedicated to suffocating the game at away grounds, but at Old Trafford against a traditionally open team like Spurs surely one holding player would have sufficed, opening a slot for a more creative player. Louis van Gaal might loosen the leash come future matches at Old Trafford, and make the encounter more pleasurable on the eyes for the faithful as they desire the United way – Attack! Attack! Attack!
Note: All Stats quoted except stated otherwise is sourced from WhoScored.com.