Hangover over? It’s been a torrid month for Manchester United ever since the Real Madrid controversy. Losses to Chelsea in the FA Cup, Manchester City in the league and limp wins over Sunderland and Reading raised questions over United’s mental state at a crucial stage in the season.
It might not have been emphatic but today reeked of professionalism. We took our game to a struggling Stoke and never looked threatened by a team looking destined for the drop.
But now that we are back to winning ways, there really is no chance of City catching us.
Form is temporary class is permanent. It was only a matter of time before Robin van Persie got his name on the score sheet and he finally managed to end his barren run with a penalty against Stoke today. That puts van Persie on 20 Premier League goals and with six games to go, there is no reason why he cannot reach 30 goals in his debut season at Old Trafford.
His match winning goals have made the difference so many times this year and there is no doubt that his signing has been the catalyst behind our drive in the league. You certainly wouldn’t argue against Robin van Persie getting United’s Player of the Year and if not for his dip in form, he would be odds on to be named the Premier League Player of the Year too.
Diamonds are United’s best friend. Adopting a narrow formation plays to our strengths right now. It is a given that our wingers have been nothing short of woeful this season and bringing the ball central more often brought great football today.
Rooney was phenomenal in the middle and he set the pace for the rest of the team. A duo of Kagawa and Valencia combined well with the overlapping Evra and Jones that meant United always had a player available for a pass.
Up front, Hernandez and van Persie continued the short, sharp passing that United executed and if anything went wrong, Carrick was there to clean up and start it all over again.
Given our deficiencies with wingers, I’m surprised Ferguson hasn’t adopted a narrow formation more often this season in all honesty.
Rooney’s future. Rooney was rightfully named Sky Sports man-of-the-match today after his dictatorial performance in the middle of the park.
It isn’t often that Rooney, van Persie and Hernandez get to start a game together because in United’s usual 4-4-2, there simply isn’t the room for all three of them – but today’s formation allowed it and Rooney thrived because of it.
He has always played like a schoolboy – demanding possession and always wanting the ball – and playing in the middle is surely the best way to get that out of him?
His best season may have been the season after Ronaldo left when he played up top on his own and scored 37 goals but, if truth be told, I don’t think he is that sort of player any more.
Rooney‘s sharpness and match fitness just aren’t there I don’t think. Ferguson hasn’t invested in central midfield for years and I can certainly see him being moulded into a central midfield in the same fashion as Scholes dropped deeper with age.
A weakness becomes a strength. Manchester United have scored 21 goals from set pieces this season – a far cry from the team who couldn’t get a corner over the first man last year.
Robin van Persie’s whipped ones and Rooney‘s rifled arrows have been essential to that and it has given us a different attacking dimension that has paid dividends this year. No matter how good a team is, set pieces can be their downfall.
Amongst them, our defenders have netted 12 times in the league – a fantastic return.