AFTER Manchester United recovered from their first loss of the season at Swansea to beat north west rivals Liverpool 3-1 at Old Trafford, Adam Higgins looks at three things we learnt from their victory…
United still need support for Wayne Rooney
The loss of the United captain to a hamstring injury will scarcely be mentioned in the post-match discussion but, during a non-existent first period that did not belong in the record books of this famous fixture, his absence was keenly felt.
With Louis van Gaal having spoken openly about Anthony Martial settling into the English culture, the Dutchman handed Marouane Fellaini his first start of the season having made his intentions clear in pre-season to deploy the Belgian as a number nine.
But Fellaini looked uncomfortable at times as the emergency forward throughout an opening 45 minutes in which United struggled to come to life and lacked intensity for long spells.
Playing Fellaini at CF is excusable if you've no alternative. But if you're #MUFC, and you've no alternatives, that in itself is inexcusable
— Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes) September 12, 2015
More suited to the direct style of his former club Everton, the 27-year-old lost the ball in promising areas and struggled to hold up play for advancing team-mates although, like his team, he improved dramatically in the second period.
Nevertheless, the fact that van Gaal was forced to utilise the midfielder as a targetman and attacking spearhead in one of the biggest games of the season – even after spending over £150 million in the summer – further suggests his squad remains unbalanced.
As strikers go, Fellaini is not a striker.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) September 12, 2015
It again raises serious questions why the likes of Javier Hernandez, Robin van Persie, Adnan Januzaj and Angel di Maria have all been allowed to leave during the same transfer window.
Rooney – who opened the scoring in United’s 3-0 win in last season’s corresponding fixture – continued his recuperation with a watching brief from the director’s box.
United supporters will understandably be delighted with the overall outcome but may have mixed feelings about how the 90 minutes panned out and whether there is enough strength in depth to cover the forward areas and cope should England’s all-time leading scorer be unavailable.
On this evidence, it would be fair to conclude that Fellaini is not a solution and, with James Wilson allowed to join a Championship club imminently, it remains to be seen whether van Gaal can extract a successful formula to his flexible attack.
Anthony Martial can become a superstar
The 19-year-old has been much-maligned and highly-praised in equal measure since becoming the world’s most expensive teenager in a mouth-watering deal that could amount to £58 million.
Much of the pre-match talk centred around whether the deadline day signing from Monaco would be thrown in at the deep end but – although he only played a small part in proceedings after replacing Juan Mata on 65 minutes – he made a massive contribution with a magical moment that he will remember for the rest of his life.
LVG on Martial: "He is 19. he has to adapt to a new culture, to the rhythm of the PL. It was the right time to let him in. More space."
— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) September 12, 2015