After a convincing win over the reigning champions Manchester City in the derby on Sunday, Manchester United looks like a team filled with confidence and a firm hold on one of the top four spots in the English Premier League. They are starting to look like the United we got used to see under former manager Sir Alex Ferguson. It looks like they got their swagger back.
United went through some big changes after last season’s fiasco that ended with the team finishing in 7th place and missing out on playing in either of the European cup competitions. David Moyes was sacked before the end of the season and club legend Ryan Giggs took over for the last four games. During the summer the club hired the decorated Dutch manager Louis van Gaal and brought in a number of highly-skilled and pricey players such as Angel Di Maria, Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera. In all, United spent over $200 million on new players before the season started, including a load deal for Colombian striker Radamel Falcao.
The start of the season was pretty unconvincing, and it pretty much looked the same as it had under Moyes where the team were unable to dominate games and suffered several disappointing results. After the 10 first games in the league, United only had three wins and 13 points, four points less than they had at the same period under Moyes.
United fans are used to success after the Sir Alex era, and there were rumblings that van Gaal didn’t play the right type of system and that the team should have spent more effort on bringing in some elite-level defensemen instead of splurging the cash on Di Maria and Falcao.
But after some tinkering with the lineup, and a few tweaks in the system, van Gaal has seemed to have gotten the players to buy into his philosophy and the team is 8-1-1 in the last 10 league games. The impressive victory was the ultimate statement that United are back in the top to stay and that last season was just a bump in the road.
The way United dispatched City was extremely impressive, and despite going down early after City top scorer Sergio Aguero scored his 18th of the season in the 8th minute, they never panicked and just kept pushing forward. Ashley Young had a great game with a goal and two assists. His equalizer in the 14th minute was the beginning of the turnaround and there was no doubt that United would win this after Marouane Fellaini made it 2-1 in the 27th minute with a header from close range after a cross by Young from the left side.
Juan Mata and Chris Smalling scored in the second half to out United up 4-1 before Aguero scored his second of the night right before the end of the game. The atmosphere at Old Trafford was electric and you could see how much this win meant to the players and the fans. It was a stellar performance that reminded us just how good United can be when everything is clicking and that Old Trafford is a place where United is suppose to win every single game no matter the opposition.
United became know for a free-flowing style of very attacking-minded soccer during Sir Alex and Moyes was unable to follow that mold, but van Gaal comes from the Dutch school of “total soccer” which is very attacking-minded and high pressure on the opposing team when they have the ball. That style of soccer fits United very well and the players have grown more and more comfortable throughout the season and that has culminated in the recent run of positive results.
With six games remaining, United is in third place, one points behind second-placed Arsenal. They still have a game at home against Arsenal left in Gameweek 37, so they have a chance to jump over them. But they can’t look too far ahead as they travel to London on Saturday to square off against league-leading Chelsea.
Playing Antonio Valencia as a right back is one of several gambles that has paid of for van Gaal, along with playing with a diamond with Michael Carrick as the holding midfielder with Herrera and Fellaini in front of him. Wayne Rooney has played better and better and is back to his normal striker position after being played in midfield earlier in the season. It just seems like things has fallen into place and with a couple of additions in the summer, this team can once again be a powerhouse in the Premier League and in the Champions League.
The game against Chelsea will be a good measuring stick of just how good this United team is, as Chelsea has been head and shoulders above everyone else this season and leads the league by seven points with a game in hand on Arsenal. United fans are riding high on the recent success and a derby win against City is always special. It’s now up to van Gaal to keep this going and prove that United are back for real.