I have a friend I meet at Starbuck’s pretty often. He is pretty well off, and so far he has shown up in five different vehicles: a Bentley, Ferrari, 2 different Mercedes Benz’, and a Chevy pickup. I never know which he will drive up in. I imagine Sir Alex has some of those same feelings when he heads for his chair at Old Trafford…wondering which of his teams will show up. Well, no worries this week as the Ferrari showed up for the first 20 minutes, the Bentley for the rest of the first half, then the Ferrari made a brief return after half before the pickup finished things off.
Manchester United Starting XI: 4-4-2
Jones – Smalling – Ferdinand – Evra
Valencia – Carrick – Cleverley – Young
Rooney – van Persie
Sunderland Starting XI: 4-4-1-1
Cuellar – Colback – O’Shea – Bramble
Larsson – Gardner – Johnson – McClean
If SAF had any doubts, they were dispelled very early in this match. Jones put a shot on goal barely 90 seconds in and United ran a clinic for Sunderland that would last for the next 20 minutes. The Devils had the Ferrari fired up and roaring early and often. In the 6th minute, van Persie started an all out assault on the goal with a corner that Mignolet had to clear, but only as far as Young who’s shot had to again be pushed away by the keeper. The corner was taken by Rooney, whose entry also had to be saved by Mignolet. Although United hadn’t scored, the Black Cats had been warned.
Lesson #1: How to clean up a mess inside the box
Instructor: Robin van Persie
It didn’t take long for United to make good on those warnings. At exactly the 15:00 mark, Ashley Young took on two defenders deep in the Sunderland box. After thoroughly making them look foolish, Young sent a ball into the box that was blocked by former United defender John O’Shea. His attempted clearance fell to RVP, who chested it down and drop kicked it into the top of the net.
Wayne Rooney spent the next 10 minutes informing Sunderland that he would in fact be scoring at some point that day. His three attempts on net couldn’t have missed by more than a combined foot.
Lesson #2: How to run a textbook 1-2 (aka, a Give-and-Go)
Instructors: Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley
In the 19th minute, United put in the goal of the day. Down the left flank, Cleverley played a ball to Carrick and cut inside the Sunderland box. Lazy defending made for an easy return pass from Carrick, who set a perfectly weighted ball on a platter for a one-touch finish from Tom. Which leads us to..
Lesson #3: How to finish with minimal angle
Instructor: Tom Cleverley
There were several other things I noted in the first half that bodes well for the remainder of the season…assuming of course that SAF can get that Ferrari to the pitch every week. Sunderland had one shot from behind the defense, and Sessegnon had to dribble past two defenders to get that one off. De Gea had no trouble with the save. The defense was stout throughout. Obviously De Gea had several blocks, but so did Rooney, RVP, Carrick, Evans, Evra, Cleverley, Ferdinand, and Smalling. And that was just the first half. It was a real team defensive effort and Sunderland had zero answers for that kind of organization and intensity.
Lesson #4: How to persevere through missed opportunities
Instructor: Wayne Rooney
After several, several missed opportunities, Rooney eventually got his goal in the 59th minute. After some incredibly nifty footwork by van Persie, the Dutchman sent a cross in towards Sunderland’s Jack Colback. Somehow, however, Rooney was able to sneak his left foot in before Colback could make a play on the ball and tap in a simple, well-earned goal. If you haven’t already, get used hearing RVP to Rooney and vice versa…this partnership doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
As for the goal the Devils conceded…I’m giving them a pass on this one (funny how 3-nil leads tend to make you a little less critical). Larsson played in a cross that all 13 players in the box seemed to ignore, save for Sessegnon. It looked to be heading out of touch, and the United defense responded as such. Sessegnon ran it down, however, and played a quick, lofted cross to Frazier Campbell at the far post who landed three-quarters of the way into the empty net after his header salvaged a modicum of respect for the Black Cats.
Although I could pick a nit and chide the Devils for bringing on the pickup for the last 20 minutes of the match (it got a bit sloppy, in truth), the end result was never in doubt. One telling statistic illustrates just how dominant the Red Devils were in the first half: they held 70% of possession. They owned the Black Cats on Saturday.
Final score Manchester United 3, Sunderland 1.
Manchester United Scorecard (0-10)
Robin van Persie, 9 – this man of the match pick was a tough call, but RVP gets the nod with a goal, an assist, and footwork that would make Ronaldinho proud. In truth, it would be hard to say anyone on the pitch was undeserved of the honor.
Rooney, 8 – another goal, and 3 or 4 others that with any luck at all would also have gone in. He was a dervish on offense who, more impressively, may have shown even more effort on defense.
Jones, Ferdinand, Evra, 8 – a terrific defensive effort over all. I can’t remember a time during the match where they lost their shape or didn’t have at least three back whenever Sunderland entered the final third. Jones was very active in attack, as well, but never neglected his defensive duties.
Cleverley, Carrick, 8 – bossed the midfield well as a pair. Both were involved in the goal of the match.
Smalling, 7 – could have shown a bit more effort on Sunderland’s goal as Frazier Campbell was arguably his mark, but still a solid match despite the lapse.
De Gea, 7 – solid on a night where he wasn’t asked to be spectacular.
Young, 7 – made two Sunderland defenders look foolish on the first goal, but wasn’t much of a factor otherwise.