A lone Kyle Walker own goal sealed all three points for Louis van Gaal’s men, as both teams failed to make the best of any of their chances. Despite dominating large spells of the game Tottenham’s lack of experience disabled them from opening the game and creating sustained pressure.
Louis van Gaal’s 64th birthday was marked with a 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford. United’s league campaign began in the same fashion with which their pre season ended- lots of bangs, ending in a whimper. In what was largely an unconvincing display, it was United’s defence that shined brightest for the Red Devils, as they kept the charges of the youthful Tottenham side, firmly at bay. Mauricio Pochettino’s men have much to look positively towards, while Louis van Gaal might have to answer a few pressing questions.
Whilst the first league game is not a harbinger of future success or failure, the match did pit two top Premier League sides against each other. With decisive action in the final third lacking for both sides, quality was undeniably on display. In the midst of all the commotion and clamour that associates the opening fixtures of the Premier League, here are three things we learned.
1. Pochettino has the insight, but not the necessary means to implement
Daniel Levy’s vision for Tottenham began to take real shape around 2009. The club had an uncanny ability to produce real talent, either from youth prospects or purchases of many diamonds-in-the-rough. With the debacle that was the 90 million splurge, following the sale of Gareth Bale, Pochettino has implemented a successful policy of blooding in youth players, with the likes of Mason, Dier, and prodigy Harry Kane all central to Tottenham’s movement forward.
Whilst their efforts last season, especially in the Capital One Cup, were admirable, Tottenham are going to need experience and consistency to mount any sort of offence on the top four. Tottenham have shed plenty of their unwanted players a YounA?s Kaboul, Vlad Chiriches, Etienne Capoue, Benjamin Stambouli, Paulinho, Lewis Holtby, however they have not brought in any other talents, notably one’s with experience and talent to lead this new look Tottenham side, to greater things.
The inability of such an otherwise freely attacking team, to penetrate through United’s makeshift centre-back pairing and new goalkeeper, is something that might worry Pochettino. Kane and Eriksen, Tottenham’s most lethal attacking players last team, were rendered peripheral against United. An older, but still able striker, or centre forward would do well to organise Tottenham’s attack, and tune it’s talent to achieve the best it possibly can.
2. United have bigger problems in attack, than they do in defence
United’s defensive failings were at the eye of the storm, that was Louis van Gaal’s debut campaign. Though criticism was warranted, United’s defense has brought back a modicum of respect, making up for their fledging attack on more than one occasion. Keeping Harry Kane, a peripheral figure throughout the game, was just a testament to how far Chris Smalling has come under van Gaal. The former Fulham man made a series of timely interceptions and blocks to ensure that new goalkeeper, Sergio Romero, had confidence in the defence in front of him. While Daley Blind’s usually pin-point accuracy failed him, he put up another slightly above average performance, possibly keeping the seat warm for when Marcos Rojo is declared match-fit. New shot stopper Sergio Romero, fluffed off the initial uncertainty that accompanies a new ‘keeper at Old Trafford, to produce a match winning saves while exuding composure and decisiveness that many would not have predicted from him.
Louis van Gaal chose to name the same front three that were involved in the 3-0 in the corresponding fixture last season. The key difference here, was that Memphis Depay operated in the no. 10 position, instead of Ander Herrera. When the Spaniard made forays into the attacking third, both Mata and he were adept at switching places and cutting in, causing more than a few headaches for the best defences. Against Spurs, Mata’s propensity to shift centrally was not replaced by Depay’s foray onto the wing, a position that he’s more comfortable with. Ashley Young became more predictable as the game wore on, as Kyle Walker was able to get the best of the 30 year-old for large exchanges in the second half. The lack of service to Rooney as well as the inability of the attacker to charge and beat defenders head-on greatly hindered his performance. Though directly involved in the goal, Rooney did little of note throughout the span of the game.
3. United need to be perfectly balanced to whether their upcoming storm
United will play 5 games in 16 days from the 14th of August. Crucial Champions League qualification ties against Belgian side, Club Brugge, coupled with tricky fixtures against Newcastle and Swansea will really test whether van Gaal’s new formula is up to grade. The entry of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ander Herrera unsurprisingly injected both attacking movement and defensive steel into United’s attack. Like against PSG, Herrera showed why he is United’s most consistent midfielder, and why his consistent relegation to the bench is a sign of great worry. Throwing him on around the 75th minute, will not give him enough time to influence proceedings in the manner he’s used to, and the manner he thrives in.
While Louis van Gaal is sure to use him in rotation, there is no reason as to why Herrera, in his current state of fitness and form should be plied in his preferred position, over a youngster who’s made his name through being a winger.
While only a couple of bad performances or losses would suffice to change van Gaal’s mind, he should be mindful of throwing Memphis to the Premier League wolves this early on in his United tenure.
a Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 8, 2015
Matteo Darmian was however the highlight of an otherwise drab encounter. His forays into the attacking third, as well as his quick switch back to defence, was as admirable as it was refreshing to see. Playing with a characteristic Italian flair and discipline, Darmian offers far more than his understudy Valencia, whose work alone was keeping him at the Right Back spot.
Tottenham can take a lot of positives from this encounter, While van Gaal, despite being on the winning side, will have far more questions raised with respect to the calibre of his newly reconstructed side.