Gameweek 7, Old Trafford: Manchester United climbed above their City rivals, Manchester City to the summit of the Premier League table after a comprehensive 3-0 victory against table bottom clad Sunderland.
The Reds buoyed by City result
After picking up momentum with victories against Southampton last weekend and Ipswich Town in the Carling Cup during midweek, there was a bright mood at Old Trafford. Despite being just 2 points off Manchester City, Louis Van Gaal was in a cautious mood claiming that United are not ahead of schedule, despite their fine start to the campaign.
Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat who has played alongside Van Gaal for Sparta Rotterdam, had lost only once to his friend in their 10 previous meetings.
“No, we are not ahead of schedule, I think that in every league that two points average is a high average, so we maybe we are one point ahead of that schedule and that’s a good average.”
There was also increasing praise for young striker Anthony Martial, with David Beckham appreciating his bright start at Old Trafford. The most expensive teenager was also one goal short of creating a new record- the chance to be the first Manchester United player to score at least one goal in his first three league appearances.
After a much-changed line-up for the league cup tie, Van Gaal made 5 changes with Matteo Darmian, Michael Carrick, Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis and Anthony Martial all given the nod to start in what was a strong attacking line-up. Captain Wayne Rooney was determined to break his league drought that had been stretched to 11 league games.
The ecstatic Manchester United fans were high on song after the result at White Hart Lane, with Tottenham beating Manchester City 4-1. They knew that a victory over the Black Cats would take United top of the Premier League table
United exerted an early control
United, as expected started the game very brightly, with Memphis and Martial getting heavily involved linking up well with Mata and Rooney. Matteo Darmian playing at left-back due to injuries to both Shaw and Rojo, utilized space and crossed into the box only for the ball to skim past the head of Anthony Martial, who was looking for his fifth goal in five matches
United remained comfortable when on the ball confidently playing it around and finding feet with ease. Sunderland slowly began to come into the match, exerting some pressure with a header from captain John O’ Shea.
Sunderland almost gifted United a breakthrough with clear miscommunication between goalkeeper Pantilimon and defender Younes Kaboul, resulting in the keeper handling the ball outside his area.
The resulting free-kick was fired straight into the wall from Juan Mata as another chance went begging. Despite United’s control, it was David De Gea who was the first goalkeeper to be called into serious action as striker Fabio Borini forced him to stop with his feet at the near post, much to the relief of the Stretford End.
With frustration looming large, and second away from the half-time whistle, United was finally rewarded for their efforts. Blind picked up Juan Mata with a peach of a ball into the Sunderland danger area, who brilliantly cushioned a grounded pass for Dutch winger Memphis Depay to comfortably tap home. United got themselves in front and Memphis scored his first league goal for his new club. The goal got the United support going as the half time whistle was greeted with loud cheers!
Rooney finally breaks the jinx
Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat decided to make a few changes bringing on Scotland frontman Steven Fletcher for Adam Johnson to provide some meat to his team’s attack. It was Manchester United however who continued from where they left off and were rewarded yet again for their early rigor.
The threatening Martial received the ball from Mata down the right flank, and used his exquisite pace to race towards the by-line before outfoxing Kaboul and just finding enough time to cross directly towards onrushing Wayne Rooney, who bundled the ball before it took a slight deflection off the goalkeeper into the back of the net. The goal would have surely got the United skipper feeling a lot more relaxed after his critics left no stone un-turned in reminding him about his goalless streak in the league.
Two goals down Sunderland hadn’t yet given up and looked for a response straight away. After winning a succession of corners, Sunderland looked like they still could trouble United.
Jermaine Lens’s free-kick landed dangerously close to the far post followed by Patrick van Anholt, flashing a chance after being played in a goal scoring opportunity. 67 minutes in, United should have wrapped it up, with Martial again starting off the move, evading his marker to rush through on goal with only O’Shea and the goalkeeper to beat. The Frenchman played it in the path of the supporting run by Memphis only for the Dutch winger to shoot straight at Pantilimon.
With a little over 10 minutes remaining, Van Gaal freshened things up replacing Carrick, Blind and Memphis with Schweinsteiger, Jones and Young, to ease the pressure late on. United continued to threaten for a third goal with Juan Mata’s effort excellently tipped to safety by the Sunderland shot-stopper.
Young looked threatening down the right wing as United threw men forward in an attempt to kill the game. Juan Mata who was excellent all game got himself on the score-sheet in the 90th minute firing into the roof of the net following an Ashley Young cross. United took all the three points, and were also instated as the new league leaders of the Barclays Premier League!
Man of the Match- Juan Mata
The Spanish maestro was instrumental, in breaking down the Sunderland defense. His superb run down the right channel was found by Daley Blind’s diagonal ball and his controlled pass found Memphis with an easy tap in.
His first touch for the third goal, to control Young’s cross was sublime and overall he dictated the play picking up pockets of space and creating it for his team-mates. Juan Mata’s current form is what United need going into a challenging set of fixtures in the coming few weeks.
Can United pick it up from here?
This certainly is the critical question on everyone’s mind. Manchester United have given themselves a glorious opportunity to pick up the pace from the position they find themselves.
They certain face a series of challenging opposition in the form of Arsenal, Everton, and Manchester City slotted in between a Champions League encounter with German side Wolfsburg.
For now though Loius Van Gaal is a “happy coach” as he sees good performances translate into victories. Manchester United are looking good, and with such consistency if they are sending out a statement of intent. How the players cope the upcoming challenges will really define their title credentials. At the moment, ‘The Theatre of Dreams’ has rekindled.