After the disappointing FA Cup exit to arch rivals Arsenal many were sceptical about Manchester United’s chances against a rejuvenated Tottenham. United’s run in is arguably the toughest of the top four contenders and such poor recent performances have seen their top four credentials come in for some serious scrutiny. Slow, laboured, pedestrian and unimaginative have all been adjectives constantly labelled with United’s football this season. The jury has been out for Van Gaal’s possession based philosophy since he began his tenure at Old Trafford. Few had predicted United to stroll past Tottenham and that is an indication of how far United have fallen from grace and how many unconvincing performances have been produced this season. Van Gaal’s men swept past Tottenham and produced a performance which fans were so accustomed to seeing under Sir Alex Ferguson. United played with confidence, energy and hunger all of which were too much for a sloppy Spurs side. United’s overwhelming improvement in performance baffled many, Van Gaal will hope that his side can carry that performance with them for the remainder of the season starting with the mouth-watering clash with arch rivals Liverpool this forthcoming Sunday. Here are some key points to take from the clash at Old Trafford:
Returning Mata had a major influence
The constant exclusion of Juan Mata has mystified many in recent weeks, Van Gaal has been extremely reluctant to unleash the former Chelsea man. United have become increasingly easy to play against and have lacked Mata’s creativity. With Rooney returning to his favoured striker role many felt that move would pave the way for Mata to excel in his preferred No 10 role. Van Gaal has overlooked Mata and stuck by the more robust Marouane Fellaini in a bid to utilise the Belgians physical attributes. With Angel Di Maria ruled out due to suspension, Van Gaal presented Mata with an opportunity to impress. It doesn’t come as a surprise that United’s most dominant display of the season came with Juan Mata in the side. Mata was deployed on the right for Manchester United, a role that Mata is not entirely comfortable with however after having to look on from the sidelines for numerous weeks Mata’s attribution to the wide berth was both admirable and impressive. United have missed Mata’s positivity in possession and willingness to look forward, Mata added some much needed zest to United’s play and throughout the match was looking to dictate the tempo. Mata went off to an arousing reception from the Old Trafford faithful, Mata will hope he has done enough to convince Van Gaal of a starting berth in the incoming clash against Liverpool. With the return of Di Maria from suspension and Mata’s impressive display against Tottenham it will be interesting to see how Van Gaal sets up his side in the eagerly anticipated clash against Liverpool.
Carrick’s presence brings calmness
There is no denying that without Michael Carrick, Manchester United have lacked calmness and composure in possession. The return of Carrick to the starting line-up was a timely boost for Louis Van Gaal and the decision to recall Carrick to the starting eleven reaped its rewards. Carrick and Ander Herrera dominated the midfield and ensured that United were on the front foot for the majority of the match. Having Carrick back fit and firing is pivotal for United’s top four aspirations, in recent games without Carrick, United have lacked bite and confidence whilst in possession. Carrick’s quick thinking was fundamental in United taking the lead, Carrick’s forward thinking nature allowed Fellaini to race free and take the lead. Goalscoring isn’t a forte which is associated with Michael Carrick but the midfielders accurate header arrowed into the corner and doubled Manchester United’s lead. With big games on the horizon, Manchester United fans will pray that Michael Carrick stays fit and continues to have a major influence in dictating United’s attacking play. Manchester United’s squad has had a major upheaval in recent years and Carrick’s role in the dressing room will be crucial as a relatively inexperienced Manchester United squad enters the make or break part of their season.
Blind impressive at Left Back
Luke Shaw’s frustrating start to life at Manchester United may have continue due to Daley Blind’s impressive display at left back on Sunday against Tottenham Hostspur. Blind’s versatility has been crucial for Louis Van Gaal this season, due to injury problems and various different systems being played, Blind has had to fulfil many different positions in his first season at Old Trafford. However Blind was back in his natural left back role on Sunday and it was a role that the Dutchman relished and flourished in. Blind was defensively disciplined throughout and looked to get his side on the front foot at every opportunity when in possession. In the first half in particular, Blind and Ashley Young conjured up a fantastic understanding and ran the Spurs right hand side ragged. Blind’s willingness to drive forward and provide an attacking outlet was eye-catching and pleasing to see for United fans. With Carrick’s return in midfield and question marks continuing to be raised over Shaw’s fitness and performance levels this season, Blind may have made the left back spot his own after an impressive display against Tottenham.
Smalling and Jones need to stay fit
When Sir Alex Ferguson signed young English duo Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, many felt they would conjure up a partnership to take over the mantle from legendary pairing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Poor performances, lack of confidence and consistent injury setbacks have significantly held back Smalling and Jones’s progress at Old Trafford. After a successful European Under 21 Championship as a partnership in 2011 many felt that the two would kick on and become the focal point of the national team’s defence. United fans have had to endure a lot of frustration and patience when waiting for Smalling and Jones to live up to their much built up expectation. The pair had a rare opportunity to impress Van Gaal as a centre back partnership in Sunday’s clash against Tottenham, Spurs possessed the deadliest striker in the country in Harry Kane. Smalling and Jones combatted the Kane threat admirably and didn’t given the in form striker a sniff of goal. As the match developed it was clear to see that both Smalling and Jones’s confidence was sky high and they were relishing the opportunity to play together. The jury has been out for the English duo for a significant period of time now, many feel that Van Gaal needs to sign a world class centre back that can imbed calmness and leadership in what has been a very shaky Manchester United defence this season. After an impressive display at the weekend, Jones and Smalling will hope that Van Gaal will provide the duo with more opportunities to influence and aid the team’s vision in reaching the top four. If Jones and Smalling can stay injury free for the remainder of the season and replicate the performance they produced on Sunday on a consistent basis, Van Gaal will be handed a dilemma. Does he spend big in the summer on the likes of Hummels, Varane, Marquinhos or Laporte or will he feel that Smalling and Jones have earned the right to be Manchester United’s first choice centre back pairing. Manchester Uniteds’ next game against Liverpool will present Smalling and Jones the acid test to see how far they have come and how far they could potentially go at Old Trafford.