Manchester United are in a rich vein of form right now and have started to beat its competitors like the United of old. Many factors have contributed to this and a look at 5 talking points from the comprehensive 3-1 win against Aston Villa.
1. Captain Wayne is all smiles again
Following Louis Van Gaal’s appointment, there was plenty of furore over the captaincy at Manchester United. There were fears that Van Gaal would alienate Rooney by appointing his compatriot Robin van Persie as captain. An easy escape route was taken away from Van Gaal when neutral choice Carrick suffered a long term injury at the start of the season. When it came to a choice between Rooney and Van Persie, Van Gaal went with Rooney and it has proved to be the right choice. While Rooney has scored only 12 premier league goals so far (a comparitively low total considering his record over the years) , he has proved quite inspirational and his sublime piece of finishing against Villa to put United two goals to the good was one of a man in the top of his game. He may not have matured into the levels of Ronaldo or Messi as he was expected to but Wayne Rooney is still quite an inspirational player.
2. Mata and Herrera are developing into a deadly duo
Between November and February, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata hardly figured in Louis Van Gaal’s plans. Van Gaal had United fans clamouring for the Spanish duo to be included in the line up. Finally, following Di Maria’s suspension, Juan Mata started as an inside forward against Tottenham Hotspur and the rest, as they say, is history. Mata and Herrera have been the heart throb of United’s new found attacking verve. Their combinational play has resulted in several great goals. Herrera laid Mata’s first goal at Anfield in a platter and Mata returned the favour for Herrera’s sumptuous finish against Villa. The combination of the Spanish duo in the right side of Manchester United’s midfield is beginning to dominate the Premier League.
3. Ashley Young – what a change a year makes
Last season, if you had asked a Manchester United fan as to which player they wanted out of the club, Ashley Young would probably have figured on the top of everyone’s list. However, he has grown into one of the key players of Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United. Whether it is as a wing back in the manager’s now infamous 3-5-2 or as the left winger in the current formation, Young has looked a completely different player to the predictable winger that he looked under Moyes. Having torn Kyle Walker to pieces a couple of weeks back, Young terrorised Villa’s right back Alan Hutton before being replaced by Di Maria. That he is keeping the 60 million Di Maria in the fringes of the first team tells a lot about Young’s form of late. In what looks to be a difficult run in, Van Gaal will hope that Young can keep up his impressive form.
4. A case for the defence
By popular consensus, Manchester United’s defence has been terrible this season. However, a look at the league table shows that only Chelsea and Southampton have coceded fewer goals than Manchester United. Especially at Old Trafford, they have conceded only 11 goals from 13 games. Lately, United have been pretty miserly in defence. The defence look settled with a combination of Smalling and Jones starting at the heart of the defence and flanked by two unnatural full back combination of Antonio Valencia and Daley Blind. Though Smalling was unavailable due to injury, Rojo slotted in seamlessly into central defence and United looked impregnable at times. It is hard to imagine that this is the same season where Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett were starting week in week out. With injuries easing out, Manchester United’s defence may not be so vulnerable as once thought of, after all.
5. United’s return to the big time all but sealed
This was the weekend where the chasing pack of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton absolutely needed to win to keep the pressure up on the top four. However, Liverpool were humbled by Arsenal, Southampton edged out by Everton and Spurs were frustrated by a resilient Burnley and all this was good news for Manchester United. With United’s routine win, they now move an astounding eight points clear of Liverpool and even above Manchester City, who on Monday night lost at Crystal Palace. There are only seven weeks to go and United need fifteen points from their remianing seven games to ensure their return to the Champions League. While the run in includes tough games against Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Everton, United’s record in the bigger games has been immense under Louis Van Gaal. They have beaten Arsenal and Everton already this season. They grabbed a last gasp draw against Chelsea and were desperately unlucky to lose against Manchester City.
If recent form is any indicator, the Champions League anthem will be blaring at Old Trafford under floodlights next season.