They say, in life, that you make your own luck. And Robin Van Persie proved that there is still life in this middle-aged maxim yet. Although, let’s face it, with Titus Bramble at the heart of the opposition defence, your chances of getting the rub of the green are certainly not diminished in any way. The only goal, the winning goal pretty much summed up Sunderland vs Manchester United in a nutshell. A scrappy goal in an equally fragmentary encounter between two sides at polar opposites of the form table. But we’re used to United grinding out victories against dogged opposition. Been there, done that. They are a lean, mean winning machine, mass producing victories at a rate never witnessed before in the Premier League. 25 wins from 30. Yet another record bowled over by Sir Alex’s merchant avengers, relinquishing the unbridled horrors of their most recent visit to the Stadium of Light. There was a sense of revenge amongst the traveling hordes, the Wearside jeers of last May still ringing in their ears. The shoe is certainly on the other foot now, as Martin O’Neil was brutally booted from his job. Another gallant gaffer falls. While the Black Cats are facing a dreaded visit to the vets, Manchester United pounced on their misery to maintain their grip on a 20th league title. And it’s not always easy to discover something about your team after a rather disappointing display. Sometimes, you have to delve a little deeper to find the answers. 

Buttner shines again

With all the clamour for a certain Miles Kane lookalike to make the move from the Mersey to Manchester, it came as a relative, if slightly unceremonious surprise when Sir Alex splashed out just short of £4million to bring Vitesse Arnhem unknown Alexander Buttner over the shores of the North Sea. Spiked hair, heavily tattooed, the unfamiliar full-back resembled a member of Blink 182 rather than an essential component of a title winning team. But, over the last few months, an “essential component” is exactly what Alexander Buttner has become. OK, if he tried to count his number of Premier League starts on his fingers he’d only need to be one-handed, but the dynamic Dutchman, once again, showcased exactly what Sir Alex noticed that the rest of the footballing world appeared to remarkably overlook. Hey, their loss. It was an excellent performance. Forming an efficient partnership with Ashley Young, Buttner’s forward thrust and enthusiasm marked him down as the Man of the Match in many quarters. Look up the word “tenacity” in the dictionary and there should be a minute thumbnail of the man himself. An impressive crosser of the ball, Buttner personified his attacking prowess, twice forcing Simon Mignolet into showing off the feline reflexes appropriate to his team’s moniker. With age finally catching up with Patrice Evra, Buttner is set to make his dash towards first team recognition. Sir Alex certainly likes a bargain. And in this guy, he’s found one worthy of Del Boy himself. Lovely jubbly, indeed.

Kagawa deserves a central role

Akin to those caused by a refreshing ice cream on a sweltering summers’ day, Sir Alex’s recurring headache is certainly bittersweet. A dilemma that would make even the most prestigious of philosophers partake in a few minutes of solitude. Van Persie’s position is secure. Centre forward, first choice, no doubt about it. But who should occupy that all-important number 10 role that has become so synonymous with modern day football? The cries of “Wayne Rooney” are almost deafening, but maybe some consideration should be given to Shinji Kagawa. After spending months out of fitness and out of form, the former Dortmund destroyer showed everyone why he’s so highly thought of amongst the experts of our field with a sublime treble against the wing clipped Canaries on their migration North. Starting slightly behind Rooney, he was provided with the space to finally do what he does best. Create and score. It’s a perfect combination. Again, he proved his worth on an uncharacteristically sunny, yet appropriately freezing early afternoon kick-off in the North East. Kagawa may not have provided Mignolet with any real food for thought, but his role at the tip of the tripartite central triangle fitted the Japanese playmaker like a tailored glove. Kagawa slowed down the game, almost toying with Sunderland’s battering ram midfield partnership of Gardner and N’Diaye, bringing his team mates into proceedings with consummate ease and swagger. Not too dissimilar to a mini me Berbatov. OK, he may not possess the power or the punch of Rooney, but he offers something very different to Sir Alex: the creative King the Old Trafford masses have been crying out for. The coronation of Kagawa: United latest midfield monarchy. Sir Alex had better get himself down to the pharmacist. Because this selection head-ache is not going to let up any time soon.

United need to rediscover that golden touch

As with any game, there are always negatives to balance the scales, almost like the Egyptian gods, weighing up whether the performance is worthy of a place in footballing heaven or hell. It is all well and good focusing on the positives, of which there were few in all honesty, but it’s the negatives that keep you grounded, keep you remembering that there is always ample room for improvement. Another 1-0 win for United. Yes, it’s three points, and who can argue with that, but again you just got the feeling that, had United really pushed on, they could have boosted their healthy goal difference, giving it superhuman vigour. Professionalism the key to unlocking success and, granted, too often last season’s gung-ho approach left us with faces as red as Sir Alex confronting a Turkish ref, but the first half at the Stadium of Light was the perfect opportunity to ensure that the scoreboard operator earned his wages. Mignolet was rarely stretched to any real capacity as United totally dominated proceedings. Danny Graham may well have stayed on the team coach for the first half, Sunderland really were that ineffective going forward. With that in mind, it was the perfect chance for United to commit more men forward and kill the game before the break, no mercy. Instead, they toyed with their prey, dragging out its pain, instead of putting it out of its misery. United need to rediscover that killer instinct, that dead eyed tiger shark mentality. Although, hopefully, they’re saving their ammunition for City next Monday.

Young’s time is up
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could get that Geordie bloke off Big Brother to speak on behalf of us fans? In any case, its high time Ashley Young was evicted from Manchester United. But hey, fair play to him, he was fantastic for England last Friday. A textbook performance, enhanced by a truly wondrous goal. Maybe he’s finally found his level. The joint worst international team in the entire footballing globe. In the self-proclaimed greatest league in the world then, he’s probably a little out of his depth. This season has been truly terrible. Talk about Liverpool squandering cash on overpriced England internationals, consider this: United forked out £17million to drag Ashley Young to the North-West. His performance on Wearside suggested we might as well bring back Bebe. Talk about desperation. Overhit delivery, misplaced passes; Young should have wrapped the game up in the dying embers, instead opting to roll a tame side-footer to Van Persie, having taken all of the momentum out of his initial forward burst. There’s only so much longer we can take, Sir Alex. He’s getting worse by the game. Suddenly, Nani is looking a very attractive option indeed. Who would have expected that a few months ago?

Defence is the best form of attack

At last, it seems Manchester United have rediscovered the dying art of defending. From that calamitous start to the season, culminating in that 4-3 victory at Reading where Sir Alex joked that he might as well play himself at the back, an attractive prospect at the time, United have revived their defensive durability. It just so happens that it’s coincided with a period of 1-0 wins. Coincidence? Don’t be ridiculous. United have now maintained six clean sheets in a row and not just because they’ve discovered the “new formula” of a certain garishly coloured cleaning product. Bang, and the defensive frailties are gone. Thank God. Could we take any more 4-3s? De Gea seems to have finally come to terms with the fact that he’s going to have to deal with some actual human contact in the Premier League, developing into, not only a top-class keeper, but a sweeper in the Victor Valdes mould. Vidic, Evans and Smalling were fearless, the aforementioned Buttner making up an awesome foursome at the back. From Ground Force to Grand Designs, United are now as secure as any structure in the top flight. It’s about time they got the recognition they deserve.

It may not have been a classic, hey, let’s be honest it was a fairly tepid encounter, but to come away with maximum points and a clean sheet from a side fighting tooth and nail for their Premier League status is nothing to be sniffed at. De Gea’s only moment of worry occurred when Nemanja Vidic got the Spaniard’s face confused with the ball, cue the six minutes of, aptly named, injury time. A return to goalscoring charts for Robin Van Persie (come on dubious goals panel, surely you don’t want Suarez to pick up the Golden Boot) and a clean sheet to throw into the bargain. It’s not a case of blasting teams out of the water, more a case of taking each game as it comes, getting fixtures out of the way. In the end, there will be no games left. And that’s when the trophy returns to its rightful place. It almost seems wasteful that you spend the whole season striving to wrestle back the trophy, only to lock it away in a cupboard for 12 months. Surely is should be on display somewhere. Maybe we’ll design a “Welcome to Manchester” poster complete with an action shot of Vidic, arms aloft, silverware in hand. 8 games left, just 3 wins required. Should be manageable, don’t you think?

Written Daniel Owen
 


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