A lot has been made of Louis Van Gaal‘s trust in youth this season with Tyler Blackett, James Wilson and Paddy McNair all being integrated into the first team squad since his appointment as well as a host of others.
But if United’s eight game undefeated run has told us anything, it’s that Manchester United’s experienced heads are stepping up to the plate at just the right time for their Dutch boss.
Eight games ago there were questions over Robin van Persie‘s future and fitness, Antonio Valencia‘s footballing ability and forgotten man Ashley Young was just that – forgotten. Seven wins, one draw and 22 points later sees United line up with a fit and firing Van Persie, as well as two wing-backs in Young and Valencia who have been revived to the point where they seem invaluable in a 3-5-2 system.
All three are very experienced and are at the peak ages in terms of footballing ability – Robin is 31 whilst the Young and Valencia are both 29 – but most importantly, all are in excellent form for United right now.
Van Persie, with five goals in his last eight games, has led from the front after overcoming a difficult start to the season but perhaps more excitingly looks to forming a flourishing partnership with striker partner Radamel Falcao.
Young has transformed into an engine at left wing-back, putting in a sold defensive display every outing whilst more recently vastly improving his attacking play too. His crossing on both feet has been vastly improved whilst his dribbling and ball retention has never been better in a United shirt. Valencia is finally remembering how to take on and, more importantly, beat his man rather than pass sideways or backwards whenever possible.
Louis seems to have found the perfect blend of incorporating young, fresh faces into the squad whilst simultaneously taking the expectation off them and onto the older guard who can deal with it much better.
It’s not just the players that were written off either. Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney were always considered vital parts of the team but rather than coasting on their statuses at United, both have stepped up and have been magnificent this season. It’s been well documented that Carrick is a huge reason behind United’s good spell with his calm head, versatility and passing ability and at 33, the former Tottenham man is proving to United fans that whilst the young players are pushing hard for a first team place, the more cultured generation of players in the squad are not giving up their place any time soon.
Rooney is looking more versatile, efficient and fit than we have seen him in seasons. He started the season as a front man but has since been played in every position all the way back to defensive midfield and has bossed games from everywhere Van Gaal has asked him to play. Great box-to-box runs, an ever improving passing accuracy and range as well as hitting quite a few goals, Rooney at 29 is looking just as important to the team has he has done for the last decade.
Louis seems to have found the perfect blend of incorporating young, fresh faces into the squad whilst simultaneously taking the expectation off them and onto the older guard who can deal with it much better, which has only served to excel and improve these players.
Rather than letting matches hinder on academy prospects that still have vast room for improvement, the more level headed in the team have led the way through grit and determination that sometimes only experience can bring. We all know that you can win everything with kids, but right now it seems United couldn’t win anything without men.
The leftovers from great United sides of old are stepping up, re-inventing themselves and, most importantly, winning games and Van Gaal won’t be the only one who is delighted.