United top league and confound critics


The amount of time some people put into hating Manchester United is astounding. This week I was exposed to a video that had dubbed an entire track from David Attenborough’s voice to mock the team. PHD’s take less work. To hell with them all, United are top of the league.

The other scapegoat for the world’s frustrations of late has been Wayne Rooney and his lack of league goals. Having scored a hat-trick in Europe and then a League Cup goal, Rooney has now ruined everybody’s fun by scoring in the Premiership. Expect pages of sports reporting to be dedicated now to how long it has been since he scored with his left foot on a Sunday, or some such. Rooney now has five goals for the season.

Sunderland have the grim outlook, bad fortune and hunched shoulders of the damned. Whilst they put up a bit of a fight at Old Trafford, there was no way they were going to recover from going one nil down and David de Gea spent most of the afternoon working on his tan. No mean feat in Manchester.

Predictably, when he was called upon, De Gea made the kind of improbably brilliant save that makes him the Leo Messi of number ones. Sunderland sighed. Although the debate can never be fully settled, De Gea is starting to nudge Peter Schmeical out of my all-time Manchester United eleven.

Juan Mata is a current favourite for a variety of reasons. He has never complained despite being played out of position for almost his entire United career. Despite this, he still manages to often be our most incisive attacker and is a genuinely selfless player too. This could be seen both in the cutback for Depay’s goal today and in letting Andreas Pereira take the free-kick against Ipswich midweek.

In addition, United have the classy Bastian Schweinsteiger swaggering around the midfield looking every inch the World Cup winning legend he is. Whisper it quietly, but United are starting to look like a decent football team again.


Man of the match against the sorry Mackems though was probably Anthony Martial. There was no record-breaking goal in the third start for the Frenchman, but he chased every loose ball and displayed the kind of generosity that endears people to their teammates in a lay-off for Depay in the second half.

The afternoon also saw United notch up their sixth clean sheet of the season. This is not bad considering Van Gaal was widely chastised for failing to buy a centre-half during the summer. Chris Smalling is growing in stature by the game and Daley Blind was excellent again alongside him.

Hearts could be heard breaking across town as Manchester City were thumped 4-1 by Tottenham at White Hart Lane before United kicked off. That result ensured United are able to finish the week top for the first time since Fergie retired.

The team do not play the same way under Louis van Gaal. This has been a point of contention for many Reds of late and the style of football can grate from time to time. Accusations of sterile possession are largely accurate but at least the results are starting to come.

Upon Fergie’s retirement, ESPN asked me what was the most important thing that needed to change at Old Trafford. I said “the expectations of the fans.” United are expected to win, and to win playing good football. They are getting there, is it such a crime that it is different to the past?

To expect the juggernaut to continue relentlessly and with the same swagger was unrealistic. Van Gaal does things a different way, but he is taking on board the message that United fans want the team to attack.

Maybe we all need to get used to things being a bit un-Fergie-ish occasionally. At the moment, Van Gaal’s results demand respect and patience. It has been a great week.

Follow Mark on www.twitter.com/markjpayne





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