Win over Villa gives an indication of where certain individuals are
1. Where do you play Jones?
Phil Jones could have never envisaged such a start to his Manchester United career. Despite playing more minutes than anyone else, there is still the same burning question surrounding Jones – where do you play him? Certainly, it would appear that central defence is his strongest position but it is fairly clear that, this season anyway, his chances there will be limited. It is also worth noting that Chris Smalling has looked the more assured defensively of the two and so, for the moment, should be considered ahead of him. And then there’s Jonny Evans.
As for playing at right back, again, Smalling looks reasonably comfortable and is gradually becoming a long-term candidate for the position, and not just to fill in when required. Although Jones is competent in any position, there are arguably better alternatives at the moment (however, there is no doubting Jones’ potential to match and surpass any one of his competitors in the future). And so, because of this, Sir Alex’s decision to play him alongside Michael Carrick in central midfield against Aston Villa was justified. Jones looked relaxed and assured and got the best out of his much-scrutinised partner in the process. Not only did Jones help United win the midfield battle, but he scored his first senior goal – the pivotal goal that would come to decide the game.
Jones isn’t a utility player, though. Simply because it sounds a pale description of what he actually is – indeed, his versatility has seen him rewarded with game time but he’s no John O’Shea. Once he finds his natural position – which still could be as a central midfielder – it’s difficult seeing him being anything other than first choice.
2. Carrick is United’s best central midfielder
The Michael Carrick debate – if you’ve ever had the misfortune to find yourself in one – is tedious. But, like Bruce Forsyth on the television, it seems like it’ll last forever. See, the pro-Carrick wagon is always right as are the dissenters – both have valid points (most of the time). They do have common ground, though; 1) it’s universally accepted that Carrick has the talent and 2) Carrick is a ‘confidence’ player. Seeing as the author of this post is quite vociferously in the ‘pro’ corner, just look at his Twitter avatar, he is inclined to believe that the former Spurs midfielder is crucial to the team. Since making his first League start of the season against Swansea, Carrick looks a man who believes in himself again, strutting around the centre circle as if he had slayed a bear with just a sideways pass. Carrick is pivotal to the team’s success. United have conceded just once – ONCE – in all of Carrick’s 373 league minutes so far this season (this stat comes from @osullivanmufc on Twitter – follow him instead of me for bearable Carrick-drivel). How did they concede that, you ask? Via the contentious penalty in their recent 1-1 draw to Newcastle, of course. Against Villa, he was excellent; he kept winning the ball, laying the foundation for attack.
But there’s a problem. And that’s United central midfield. Or lack of it, if you will. They lack depth, and it’s fairly obvious that they need to invest in a player or two in the next transfer window. Darren Fletcher is still a good player, but he has caught the curse of Ledley King, whereby he can’t play two games in a week. The only issue with Tom Cleverley is his fitness; once he returns from injury, he has the ability to surpass everyone else in United’s thin central midfield. Right now, it’s better if we can refrain from using superlatives for a player who has only made a handful of senior appearances. And then there’s Anderson and Gibson – the perennial bane of the Manchester United fan; both have talent, especially the former, but struggle to find consistency. And so Carrick is United’s best; although, as much we love the man, that probably isn’t saying much when you consider those around him.
3. Lindegaard deserves game time
“Clean sheets are like goals for goalkeepers,” said Anders Lindegaard after the 1-0 win. “In 10 games, nobody will remember how many fantastic saves were made – they will remember how many clean sheets were kept. For my sake, I would rather win 1-0 than 10-1 because I am a goalkeeper and I want a clean sheet.” Lindegaard should be proud, then – so far this season, he has kept four in just five games. Unfortunately for him, David de Gea hasn’t done much wrong either after a shaky start and so Sir Alex Ferguson has been forced into rotating his two stoppers – surely a wise thing to do considering both are good enough to be first choice. “It keeps us both sharp,” says the Dane to MUTV. “I enjoy working with him very much. It’s very enjoyable and it makes us both better.”
4. Ashley Young still has much to prove
Is it too premature to be critical of Ashley Young? Certainly not, when you consider how his form has dropped since a short spell out with injury. He has been largely ineffective recently but perhaps this will be overlooked largely due to his explosive start to life as a United player back in August – the 8-2 win over Arsenal his best game so far – but that’s where the problem lies. There’s no doubt how good Young is on his day, and how much United may benefit from his presence, but it’s worth being wary for the time being. This next month will give us a clearer picture.
5. Wayne Rooney’s productivity hurt by playing in midfield
The thing with Wayne Rooney is that he isn’t playing badly; but his lack of goals after an impressive start does raise questions. For one, has the temporary move to midfield hurt his productivity in front of goal? Or is it just a coincidence? It appears, right now, to be the former – Fergie thinks as much but is confident he’ll get back to scoring ways – as United themselves, with Rooney in the team, have looked a team unable to breach defences since the 2-0 home win over Galati where Rooney played in that unfamiliar position. In their last four League games from then, the team have scored just four, Rooney none. For any team, it is crucial that their main source of goals is firing; but things are sure to look up; this is Wayne Rooney, after all.