Inside the Premier League
Just by looking at the table you would think that the season was going pretty well for Manchester United. The Reds are third in the league, and have a great chance of grabbing one of the Champions League spots. But, the team is struggling on the field and have been less than convincing for long stretches. It took a red card and a stellar performance by Wayne Rooney in order for United to beat Sunderland 2-0 at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Rooney had been in a goal scoring slump of late as he has been played in midfield instead of his favored striker position. With the injury to Robin van Persie, it meant that coach van Gaal had to put Rooney back up top together with Falcao. Rooney had a great game against Sunderland, and after Falcao got brought down in the penalty area after 65 minutes and Wes Brown got a red card, it was Rooney that stepped up and put home the penalty kick with a nice low strike. He later added a second goal in the 84th minute when he headed in a rebound off a Adnan Januzaj shot.
Januzaj came in at halftime, replacing Argentinian star Angel Di Maria. The $92 million man had an abysmal performance in the first half, and it was no surprise that he got subbed. But that highlights the bigger problem at Old Trafford. Januzaj is a very promising player, and the 20-year old Belgian international was a breath of fresh air as he came on and started to cause trouble for the Sunderland defense down the flank.
It’s obvious that van Gaal is having trouble to find a lineup that can perform week in week out, and he has rotated a lot in his selections. Some of it is the result of injuries, but a manager must be able to get the team together and get a ground game in place that the players can fall back in. On several occasions, passes would be put into a space where no one showed up, and that’s because a lack of communication and unfamiliarity of the players.
Soccer comes down to results, so it hard to sit here and criticize the team too much since they are in third right now after the game against Sunderland, but it’s clear that this side would have a difficult time to make any noise in the Champions League with the current squad. United spent a boatload of cash during the summer bringing new players in, but most of the money was spent on offensive talent, and it’s clear that they need some personnel changes in defense and in midfield.
The mood at Old Trafford seemed a bit tense until the first goal, and it’s a bit surprising that United had such a difficult time to break down a Sunderland side that is fighting at the bottom of the standings. The fans are always behind the team, but they have certain expectations about how a United side should play.
The transition after Sir Alex Ferguson left has been rocky at best, first with David Moyes coming in and failing miserably. At least van Gaal is getting results and as long as United end up in the top four and qualify for the Champions League, it should be seen as a successful season. The worry is that with a tough schedule to close out the season, the team won’t be able to keep getting the favorable results. The next two league games for United are Tottenham at home and Liverpool away, and before that they play Arsenal in the FA Cup quarterfinal.
Wayne Rooney is the heart and soul of this team, and he will have to keep scoring if United are going to see this through and get that top four spot in the league. Hopefully, van Gaal has realized now that Rooney should be played as a striker and although he does a solid job in midfield he’s more valuable up front in attack.
Expect to see a rather big overhaul of the team during the summer, especially if they qualify for the Champions League as that makes it a lot easier to attract top-level talent. But first they have to finish the rest of the Premier League season. Hold on United fans, you’re in for nail biter these last 11 league games.