With three home wins on the bounce, and their first back-to-back Premier League victories of the calendar year, are Manchester United beginning to emerge from their slumber? Suddenly, United are up to fourth in the Premier League table for the first time in over a year so have the Red Devils found their feet or is it another false dawn for the United faithful?
The Reds are still a long odds chance to claim the title, especially with Chelsea in such strong early form. Can Louis van Gaal’s side mount a serious challenge? Here we will make points for both sides of the discussion.
Sunday’s recent 2-1 win over Everton was another small step in the right direction for van Gaal’s troops, but there was several concerning elements to the win. Yet again, United tended to tire out of the game as it wore on.
The Reds have conceded six second-half goals in their last three fixtures, with just two scored. Barring a world-class double save from David De Gea, United would have only taken a solitary point against an Everton team who must have surely been feeling the effects of their Europa League trip to Krasnodar last Thursday.
High-profile loan signing Radamel Falcao is yet to complete a full match since swapping Monte Carlo for Manchester, as his long-term fitness is still being nursed along. A hamstring injury to Paddy McNair has also depleted the United back-line even further, as there seems no respite for the medical staff at Carrington.
There are positive notes to consider though. The form of record-signing Angel Di Maria has been nothing short of sensational in his brief United career. Three goals and three assists in just five appearances have already given the Stretford End plenty of reasons to sing his name and the quality of the Argentine’s play has been such that he must be a very early contender for the PFA Player of the Year award.
Daley Blind has been equally as effective in a defensive midfield role, by breaking up attacks along with passing the easy ball. This type of work has been severely lacking in a United side since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. At around £14m – which is a cheap purchase for United in recent history – Blind looks to be an excellent acquisition on the evidence of his fledgling appearances. Another plus is that van Gaal has already placed faith in United’s youth policy, with the likes of Blackett, McNair, Lingard and Wilson all gaining valuable Premier League experience.
Whilst being in the midst of an international break, United will hope for further good news on their lengthy injury list. Marouane Fellaini returned to the side against Everton, while Michael Carrick, along with Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling are all making progress in their fight for fitness. Van Gaal has yet to have the luxury of fielding his strongest team this season, and with upcoming games against Chelsea and Manchester City on the horizon, United will need their strongest possible squad to compete.
Since van Gaal’s arrival at Old Trafford in July, the Dutchman has re-iterated on many occasions to the media that he requires time to be successful. The fruits of his coaching labours are beginning to bear fruit now with his United side appearing more solid with each performance. The Red Devils still look rather shaky at times in the centre of defence, but with Jones, Evans and Smalling edging their way back to footballing health, van Gaal can look towards finding his best defensive unit.
United have a wonderful array of attacking talent with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Falcao and Di Maria who will assure goals this season as the club will look to the top four places and beyond. It could well be however, the strength of Manchester United’s back line that will determine if they have truly turned the corner or not.