What We Learned: Manchester United 2-0 Cardiff City

It wasn’t the all-conquering, marauding display some might have wanted, but after a wretched month, United got back to winning ways with a routine 2-0 victory over Cardiff City. Juan Mata’s league debut in a red shirt went relatively well thanks to a scrappy goal for the returning Robin Van Persie and a third wonderful strike of the season from Ashley Young. Here’s what we made of it:

Mata’s not the messiah. Not yet, anyway.

Having just stumped up £37.1m in order to obtain his services from Chelsea and in the midst of a disappointing season, perhaps it’s no wonder that a buccaneering, exciting display was expected of Juan Mata on his United bow. With the Spaniard not having played since the start of the month and his new club still shorn of the sort of confidence that would’ve seen Cardiff dispatched with a little more vigour than they managed last night, it’s not surprising that this wasn’t the second coming. Thing is, it didn’t need to be.

Mata United

Mata’s transfer has altered the mood around the club, and the psychological aspect of gaining a player of his calibre given United’s current state can’t be understated. But the team won’t become visibly better overnight; as we’ve learnt time and time again this season, patience will be key. It might require at least a few more matches before Chelsea’s reigning player of the year adjusts, and it’ll probably take another few signings before we begin to resemble the sort of commanding side the manager and the fans want.

To his credit, Mata slotted in quite well last night. He had a hand in both goals, delivered some delicious crosses and looked eager for the ball. Some loose touches and misguided passes were evident, but ultimately, his debut was solid. The more spectacular moments should hopefully arrive in due course; for now, helping the team regain some composure and sharpening a wayward eye for goal takes precedent.

Van Persie and Rooney instantly prove their worth upon their return

In actuality, there wasn’t that much separating last night’s performance from the recent defeats to Swansea or Sunderland. United had a few chances but failed to put their opponents under any stifling consistent pressure. They spent plenty of time without the ball but gave little away at the back. The difference, as we’ve been hearing constantly is that with Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney in the side, you always have a chance to win. Van Persie scored within 5 minutes of his return having missed the last eleven games, and Rooney’s belated introduction was characterised by some exquisite long-range efforts that went fractionally wide of David Marshall’s goal. Such clinical finishing and adventurous play has been sorely lacking from United’s displays in their absence, and the immediate future feels a lot brighter as a result.

robin-van-persie-vs-arsenal

Van Persie, to his credit, looked sharper than the club’s new record signing, drilling home his goal at the second attempt, flashing a useful pass across goal and using the ball intelligently and confidently every time it came his way before he was replaced by Rooney. The hype surrounding Mata pre-game was justified, but the return of United’s biggest attacking threats should provide the evening’s greatest comfort.

Valencia and Young make a rushed case for their defence

If Mata’s purchase provided United’s wide men with one thing, it was fear. Moyes has seen enough poor performances from his wingers this season, and is now in possession of the sort of players able to fit into a system that can easily dispense with them, if necessary. The Scot’s damning assessment this week was that “no one is safe”, and given how rarely Nani, Valencia and Young have sparkled under him, it’s safe to assume that they were intended to take special note of such a statement.

With Nani seemingly perpetually on the sidelines, it fell to Young and Valencia to offer Moyes something to smile about, and in fairness to the maligned pair, they did well. Young created the opening goal with a delicious cross that Valencia smashed against the bar before firing United into a comfortable lead with that stunning second half strike. Seemingly shunning the concept of a simple goal with three crackers to his name this season, it was the bit of quality United needed to give them some breathing room. On the opposite flank, it might be a stretch to suggest that Valencia appeared a man transformed, but there was a damn sight more commitment and energy on show than usual. His passing appeared sharper, his use of the ball was much less wasteful and he hit the woodwork twice, all told. It shouldn’t have taken the threat of being sold to spark United’s wide men into life, and after so many false dawns, the pressure will be on them to maintain these effective performances. For the time being, this was a useful rebuttal at a time where the immediate and long-term future of the role of the winger at United is a little uncertain.

United still look restricted but a win’s a win

It’s been easy to get lost in daydreams of a front quartet of Januzaj, Rooney, Mata and Van Persie terrorising defences on a weekly basis in the last few days. The reality is that whilst that United’s attacking options are certainly stronger than they were one week ago, there’s still that lack of desire at times, still a little vulnerability and a tendency to run out of ideas once our opponents have enough men back to defend.

david-moyes-pointing

In time, Moyes will surely see the committed and incisive displays that he’s craving, but for now, it’s more important to turn these tight defeats into wins, because the common thread (barring a tonking at Stamford Bridge) is that United haven’t lost by more than a single goal in every loss this month. The performances haven’t been impressive but the final score has always been close. The first step in this brave new world with our dazzling array of attacking talent is to make sure that we’re on the right side of those tight matches. This defeat of the Premier League’s bottom club shouldn’t be seen as impressive, but with two more winnable fixtures up next against Stoke and Fulham before that showdown at the Emirates, it was vital to win. Here’s hoping that this United side can rediscover that avoiding defeat is a valuable attribute.

14 Comments

  1. I will say it again, until Kagawa is allowed to fill the void of scholes, united wont be as good as they can.

    moyes has shown his stupidity by playing jones in midfield, a position he hasn’t got the skill for!

    what Utd lacked was someone in the middle to move the ball and link midfield to strike, persie kept having to drop deep, and then what??? Hes our lone striker!! That’s why even with all his lack of matches, Kagawa in the middle is our solution! Until this is realised i see many more match reports like this!

    • I really don’t know how you can say this, kagawa is struggling big time to make any impact, he has been a disappointment since his arrival and his form is steadily getting worse.It does not matter where he plays, he is too slow,he falls over if even slightly challenged, he does not score goals , he does not assist in scoring goals, and he is not fit enough to play 90 mins. And eats too much apparently.he is best suited as a sub for the last 30 to 20 mins . Come end of season sayonara kagawa, mark my words.
      His best days are well behind him and playing for dortmund.

    • I guess fergie was pretty stupid as he played jones in midfield on a regular basis. It’s because we are so weak in midfield.he does a decent job but is a CB for sure.

  2. I wish moyes played kagawa in this line-up 4-2-1-3
    degea,rafael,smalling,evans,evra,jones,cleversly,kagawa,mata,rvp,rooney.
    Then sub coming januzaj,valencia,chicharito or welbeck like that.

  3. Cleverley should never step on the field in a United shirt ever again. I know we are short in the position but he is completely useless. Only goes backwards, how can we have a CM who never even looks forward?

  4. Kagawa is the only player who from loads of comments seems to get better and better without playing, it’s when he does play people do realise he isn’t good enough, or simply just doesn’t fit in our system, he’s had lots of opportunity to prove he’s good enough in a weak side and he’s still left out, moyes would not leave him out to be spiteful he just doesn’t suit, he is a good player but not maybe in the premiership, same with veron and forlan, both top top players but just didn’t fit in.

    • Totally agree he should be played alongside mata, now his got someone who will help him get the best out of him…jones should be a sub at the more coz I think smalling is improving with every game at the moment anyways. Janazaj is starting to get the whole hype into his head he no longer link up with any players he would rather go in on his own than pass the ball

  5. Paul, my poitn regarding Kagawa is that he has never been played properly!

    he IS a central player, that wants to attack, to get the most out of him we NEED two strikers in front of him. His only chances centrally have been when moyes has switched defensively!

    and the rest of the time he is on the wings. Think of it like this, would you ever play Scholes on the wing? If moyes did you would brand him insane… Well he is insane because that’s what hes doing to Kagawa!

    we talk of the lack of goals or assists from Kagawa, but has the ‘golden boy’ Carrick done anything?? In all honesty i believe Kagawa may have even been making more tackles recently to Carrick.

    if Kagawa was to be played as “no 18” ie Scholes, he would be more effective than as the “no 10”, and the reason is because he needs two strikers ahead of him! Its the way Utd play best!

    Kagawa is best just outside the box, just like Scholes!

    i guarantee if he is played as a central midfielder he will shine like a crazy!!

    until this happens, Utd will struggle. Because Carrick is spending more time behind our own defenders!

    i guarantee… This is our solution!!! I mean think about it, everyone keeps saying we need a creative midfielder, we have one right here!!! But we keep shovng him on the wing!!!

    we miss the attacking influence of Scholes, Kagawa is the closest thing we have to that!!! And can be just as great, but with a different style!

    • I don’t think moyes agrees with you and either do I. kagawa often even when played on the left will move into the centre , it does not mean nothing. He still does not cut it, all he is good for is linking with short passes holding possession. he can not play a decent pass longer than 10 yards.

  6. Not a great performance against Cardiff, but goals make a difference.

    When the big name players are fully match fit I don’t want to see Young and Valencia starting. They both played better in this game, presumably because the arrival of Mata might influence Moyes to play less through the wings and their jobs are on the line. However, both Young and Valencia are not influential enough in this current side. Neither is comsistently, a dynamic potent threat on the flanks.

    RVP was bursting to make an impact on the game which was great to see, and hopefully some of last season’s goal scoring will return. Mata was solid, a decent debut. Smalling is getting better as a centre back. He is hard working, committed, good in the air and relatively quick for a big guy.

    One game at a time.

  7. I understand everyone’s frustration at the need for a central midfielder, however kagawa is not the answer. He is far to unreliable defensively to be deployed in that position, he doesn’t have the strength or physic to deal players like yaya toure etc and would be pushed off the ball with little effort, he gets his pocket picked far to easily as it is, and to rely on him in front of our current back four would not be wise. I do agree that he would link up well with Mata however and it would be nice to see the two on the field together. I would like to see a 4-1-2-1-2. Carrick as the lone holding midfielder ,With the two full backs playing more defensively to help out. with a tight midfield of , januzi and mata tucked in on the wings , and kagawa in the number 10 behind rooney and rvp:

    DDG
    Rafael Evans Jones Evra
    ^ ^ ^
    Carrick

  8. If you watch player highlights of Kagawa u will see he makes a lot more tackles then players give him credit. Carrick is not worth putting on the pitch because he does nothing. I mean absolutely nothing. Recently Kagawa has probably made the most tackles of the midfielders. You talk about him vs yaya… Well that basically means all you want is a giant in the middle. Kagawa in all games has spun players and left them for dead, watch his specific highlights, his brilliance seriously goes unmissed. That’s why i keep going on about him! People are missing so much of what’s right there yo b seen!

    i mean janujaz, not the highest and one of the weakest, but we all still wanna see him play.

    http://youtu.be/tqmGn7Im55Y

    check that vid, kagawas highlights vs Southampton i think lol, give him time and the central position, trust me he will be our solution!!!

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