On week seven of the EPL Manchester United eased to comfortable 3-0 home victory over Sunderland at Old Trafford, a result that takes them to the summit of the EPL table for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. Goals scored by Memphis Depay, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata secured a third win in a row, and a solid defense recorded its fourth clean sheet in seven games, reported the BBC.
As is becoming the norm under manager Van Gaal, Manchester United dominated control of the ball, owning 66 percent possession, leaving Sunderland with a paltry 34 percent to feed off. The opening goal from Depay came just minutes before half time and glossed over an unremarkable 45 minutes. Manchester United’s second half display was improved as the team played with more conviction, and this sense of purpose was rewarded with a second goal from Wayne Rooney, a strike which ended his 12-game long goal drought in the league. The scoring was complete in 90 minutes, when after providing two assists, Juan Mata added to his goal tally by firing in from close range.
Overall, the performance was efficient without being outstanding, but it was the type of performance that, if produced on a consistent basis, can go a long way toward helping a team win the league title. Three points, three goals and a clean sheet, albeit against a struggling Sunderland side sitting at the lower reaches of the Premier League table, will remind Manchester United fans of the glory days when opponents were comfortably dispatched without their team having to get out of fourth gear.
Now back at the top of the League after a two-year absence, the question is can they stay there? Could this be the year when Manchester United reassert themselves, and win back the crown of being the best side in the land?
The club was synonymous with success over the last 25 years, winning countless domestic and European trophies during a halcyon period of perpetual glory, which must have made it all the more painful for fans to see bitter rivals Manchester City and then Chelsea occupying top spot for the last two seasons.
David Moyes’ reign as manager was a disaster by Manchester United’s high standards, and it has required time and patience for the club to recover its winning habits and identity. Moyes’ teams were hardworking and diligent but never displayed the level of tactical sophistication necessary to compete at the very highest level.
The Manchester United we see today is a world away from the turgid and unimaginative Moyes side that could only muster an seventh-placed finish in 2013-14. It has taken some time for Van Gaal to instill his footballing philosophy into the players, but even last season a big difference was discernible in terms of both style and results. This team looks confident, competent and well drilled,with Van Gaal’s expectations now ingrained in his players’ routines and muscle memory.
The squad bolstered by huge spending in the transfer market is now incredibly strong, full of exceptional midfielders – Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Carrick, Morgan Schneiderlin, Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata – who can control the ball with consummate ease and seamlessly interchange. This would help to explain an 85 per cent passing success rate so far this season and 75 per cent of their goals coming from open play and passing moves, rather than penalties or free kicks, as recorded by Who Scored.
Juan Mata’s goal that came at the end of a forty-five pass move was a piece of play that proved Van Gaal’s philosophy has now been crystallized in the instincts and habits of his players.
The doubt still lingering over this Manchester United team is the lack of striking power, with Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial the only recognized forwards in the squad. This may in the end turn out to be a decisive weakness when it comes to reclaiming the Premier League trophy next May, but there are clear indications that Manchester United are definitely back again as a force that can realistically compete for the EPL crown.
[Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images]