Manchester United 3 (van Persie, Kagawa, Rafael) Fulham 2 (Duff, Vidic OG)
1. Debut goals galore. Both Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa got their first United goals under their belt at Old Trafford today. Robin’s sweetly struck half volley epitomised his class and why we were happy to pay £24 million for his services. Shinji Kagawa netted his goal when he was the fastest to react to a fumble from Schwarzer and cooly prodded the ball over the line.
Apart from his goal, Robin van Persie had a rather subdued game and didn’t find himself in the action too much. On the other hand, Kagawa put in another sumptuous performance and was named man of the match. Of all the transfers we have made this summer, the purchase of Shinji is by far our most important. He is a really beautiful player to watch and if United are going to have a successful season, he will no doubt play a major role.
2. Closing out the game. Last season, United’s complacency was amateur at times and today, we tried our hardest to make it a nervous last 15 minutes. At 3-1, we were cruising in second gear but an erroneous decision by De Gea led to a freak own goal by Vidic and Fulham piled the pressure on but thankfully we stood firm.
This emergence of complacency in the squad worries me. Fighting to the last minute is a motto that has become synonymous with United over the years but this young squad seems to lose its concentration far too easily at times. Against the stronger opponents, this is a trait that you do not want to have as you will get punished.
3. Tom Cleverley. I think that was the best performance I have seen from Tom in a United shirt and the only thing that was missing was a goal. He was all over the pitch today – from excellent passing (69/76) to great tackles (4/4), he was showing all the signs of why many a United fan sees him as a future star. Having played twice as many forward passes (38) than backward passes (19), his natural attacking instinct was helping United move swiftly up the pitch.
He had great link-up play with Anderson, reminiscent of how we started last season, and what really impressed me was that he put in today’s performance against Dembele, who showcased why many people think he would be such a hit at United. Today he had 80 touches, a 98% pass accuracy, had two shots, made three key passes, won seven tackles and completed nine dribbles.
He even started shooting today and his parried effort allowed Kagawa to snatch his first United goal. Tom and a certain ginger prince do share a lot of characteristics but I didn’t think that fizzing efforts from outside the box was Tom’s forte. However, some fantastic long distance shooting today from him just goes to show that it is a matter of confidence. The injury last season thwarted his progress but if he can now stay fit, he could become a mainstay in our central midfield this season.
4. A warning to Wayne. You can now be dropped. Rooney started the game on the bench and a sumptuous volley from van Persie ten minutes in vindicated Sir Alex’s decision. A horror injury to his leg will unfortunately be keeping Rooney on the sidelines for at least a month now but regardless of that, his situation at Old Trafford has now changed.
He isn’t the sole top dog any more and Sir Alex has genuine attacking alternatives rather than playing Wayne week in week out, even if he is unfit and playing badly. I think it will turn out to be a good thing. Wayne is a hard worker and he will want to hold onto his starting spot now so the competition with van Persie will be nothing but healthy and I expect it to bring the best out of both of them.
5. Rafael. Easily our most improved player of the past 12 months, Rafael had an absolutely superb game today. It wasn’t just his impressive defensive performance but he scored a goal but could have easily had three. The most used pass of the game was between Rafael and Valencia and his overlapping runs were a regular outlet for us in the attack. I long for the future where I hope to see Rafael and Fabio as our nailed on full backs.
He has matured a lot and doesn’t do as many outrageous tackles as he used to. Although he is far from the finished product, he now has his hands on Gary Neville’s #2 shirt and if he can keep improving at the rate he is right now, he will be a world class centre back within a few years. Remember, he is still only 22.