This way for the most comprehensive match reaction to Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur. A Kyle Walker own goal in the 22nd minute gave the Reds the perfect start to the season.
Our key points, match stats, player ratings and Danny Higginbotham’s man of the match to follow.
United’s soft underbelly
Sergio Romero isn’t United’s first choice goalkeeper. Daley Blind isn’t a first choice centre half and given Van Gaal’s chase for Sergio Ramos, Chris Smalling can’t feel totally secure in his position.
If you have an unfamiliar defence that doesn’t have leaders and you’re playing against a combination that has a strong season behind them, you are at risk of having an uncomfortable afternoon. Harry Kane made it so in the first quarter of the game.
It took United’s front line to provide the confidence which the team could build upon. For the rest of the game you could forgive Blind’s moments of nervousness but at least Smalling grew into it with a couple of strong interceptions and challenges. The best player on the day, he at least gave the impression that his strong end of the season last time around is continued now.
Romero is solid
We winced at the errors we saw in some Youtube videos but Romero was solid on his United debut – he won’t be the Reds’ first choice moving forward and one performance may not be enough to convince everyone (there was that weak wristed push away at the end) but it should at least be commended that he did not seem over-awed by the physical challenges of the league. Remember, De Gea and Valdes didn’t have the most convincing of debuts.
So is Matteo Darmian
A right back fit for purpose. That might be harsh on Rafael who many still don’t feel did much wrong but he wasn’t fancied by Van Gaal. To the frustration of many, Antonio Valencia has been, with his hesitancy going forward and unnnatural defensive positioning. How refreshing then to see Darmian, a player who is naturally good at defending and confident in his duties as a right back.
And, oh, he doesn’t take foul throws. How nice!
A new engine room
It seems that Michael Carrick will not be relied upon as heavily – with Morgan Schneiderlin trusted to play that deeper role. And he did it comfortably. It was unspectacular, but then, that is not the purpose of this midfield. Schweinsteiger and Herrera’s own cameos offered promise. If there are two available spots in United’s midfield and at least four players competing for them, it will be interesting to see who becomes first choice.
Strong in position and confident with his movement, there was a twenty minute spell in the first half where the young Dutch forward gave very exciting glimpses of what is to come. And what might have been if he had not allowed Mata to exert seniority over a first half free kick. But it was from Depay’s smartly timed cross – showing great awareness and smarter decision making than some wingers in United’s recent past – that the Reds got their win. One game, one assist. And didn’t he look bloody thrilled by it.
A new Plan A…
…But what exactly that is, depends on whether Van Gaal’s idea is to continue the season with the formation that started or finished the game. It is not a game of black and whites so the truth probably lies somewhere between that 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. United were given a stern test by Spurs and were not as spectacular as they were in March; but as long as that Plan ‘B’ (or even, accounting for the change in formation in this game, a Plan C) remains a viable option.
Darmian 7 (Valencia 6)
Smalling 8* (Danny Higginbotham’s Man of the Match)
Carrick 7 (Schweinsteiger 6)
Depay 7 (Herrera 6)
United – Total shots 9, 1 on target
82% pass completion
Number of passes – Daley Blind 56, Chris Smalling 55, Morgan Scheiderlin 50
Pass completion – Carrick (96.8%) , Depay (86.2%), Darmian (86.1%)
Key Passes – Wayne Rooney 2
Tackles- Schneiderlin 5, Smalling 4
Interceptions – Carrick, Mata 4, Schneiderlin 3
Clearances – Smalling 7, Shaw, Darmian 5
Dribbles – 1 – Rooney, Herrera
Shots – 3 – Mata, Depay
Assists – 1 Depay