Five things we learned from Manchester United's 1-0 win over Spurs
Published 08/08/2015 | 15:53
Harry Kane is no one-season wonder, United need to sort out the De Gea situation and more from the Man Utd vs Spurs game
1) Daley Blind is good, but not as good as his dad
Much of the BT Sport panel's discussion before the match was around United's non-signing of a commanding centre back in the summer, with Daley Blind apparently now expected to perform the same ball-playing defender role that his father did many years ago in Van Gaal's famous Ajax team.
Blind's passing ability might be key to Van Gaal's plan to build attacks from the back very patiently (VERY patiently) but United's laboured approach to getting up the pitch and Blind's lack of strength on the ball almost let in Spurs a couple of times; Blind was muscled off the ball while charging forward on one occasion, leading to a Spurs counter attack.
The ball-playing defender role Blind finds hiimself in can be compared to that of Javier Mascherano at Barcelona. Both are of a similar height, can pass a ball and are capable of fluidly switching position as the team moves further up the pitch. The problems become evident though when you look at La Liga, where the slight Mascherano rarely has to deal with strikers of the build of Harry Kane, who can dominate in the air from set pieces.
Likewise, it's very rare that Barcelona face the pressure of a team that presses as highly as Spurs, who play in a league populated by muscle bound human terminators (or as Rio Ferdinand calls them, "the big boys"). It will be interesting to see whether Van Gaal prefers Marcos Rojo to Blind when he returns to fitness. Strength vs tactical fluidity, pace vs possession, reaction vs prevention.
2) Harry Kane is no one-season wonder
It took Harry Kane five minutes to produce his first piece of magic and confirm that he is more than just a goalscorer (if he even needed to). His scooped through ball split the Man Utd defence in half and allowed Christian Eriksen a chance at goal which he should really have taken.
At times, like Wayne Rooney, Kane found himself isolated up front but showed such strength on the ball that Spurs could counter attack whenever they managed to get the ball to him.
There's something so deceptive about the way Kane is able to drive away from defenders - he seems to leave them chasing him while he's not even pushing himself that hard, and time and again he confidently took the ball forward while under the attentions of Luke Shaw, allowing team-mates to join in the action at the fun end of the pitch.
He didn't manage to get on the scoresheet this time, but looked a constant threat and clearly the best of Spurs' players. The comparisons with certain past England greats are perhaps a little too early and convenient, but Kane genuinely looks to combine some of the movement and (early) pace and power of Alan Shearer with the vision and trickery of Teddy Sheringham.
3) Juan Mata deserves his place in Van Gaal's Galacticos
There were times following Juan Mata's move to Manchester United where it seemed like Chelsea may have gotten the better deal in a £37million move. Now though, Mata has settled in the side and against Spurs provided a creative spark that the team needs. One piece of ball control in the 68th minute was enough for Old Trafford to spontaneously applause, appreciating the skill in the same way you might admire a firework in the middle of the show.
For all the big money signings United have made in the summer, and the expectations around Memphis, Mata's ability to create beautiful bits of play in tight spaces and return to displaying the star quality he showed at Chelsea might prove just as vital for Van Gaal's title push.
4) Rooney (and Kane) needs support
The new signings all look to have settled in rather well at United - Darmian and Schneiderlin impressed in particular - and in pre-season the Memphis and Rooney partnership looked to be starting to gel, but against Spurs Rooney didn't seem to even get a touch until the 22nd minute when he very kindly allowed Kyle Walker to score an own-goal for him. In fact, he spent the majority of the first half a spectator, watching Spurs attack at the other end of the pitch.
Until Ashley Young's cross found the striker alone in the Tottenham box he'd been cut off from the play and this continued even after United got more control of the ball. Memphis, Young and Mata tried to support but as the game went on, Rooney eventually went looking for the ball and began finding more space wide as a result. This allowed the attacking trio behind him to be brought into the play but Rooney was never really able to get himself in a position where he could get a shot on goal.
Van Gaal thinks Rooney will be his 25 goal a season striker but on the evidence of this game he may well act as more of a false-nine, facilitating the goal scoring exploits of his attacking teammates until the team works out how to make best use of his goalscoring abilities.
Replace all of the player names for Spurs players above, and the same is true for Harry Kane. Except Kane managed to get some shots on goal.
5) United really need to sort out the De Gea situation
The most predictable of all the things we'd learn from today's game was that David De Gea - or someone has competent as he - is needed if United want to challenge for titles.
For all Van Gaal's meticulous planning, no team should begin a campaign without such a crucial position adequately covered. Sergio Romero spent most of last season on the Sampdoria bench due to the club trying to get rid of his giant wage bill so could be excused for being nervous on his debut. If he looked cool and calm in the warm up, he looked anything but when actually playing, particularly when distributing the ball from his box.
In the 16th minute Romero wildly punted a chipped pass straight out for a throw in deep in the United half and in the 36th almost got caught spending too much time on the ball by a chasing Harry Kane - perhaps taking Van Gaal's tactical request to build from the back slowly a little too literally.
Rio Ferdinand confirmed that having a brand new goalkeeper who he wasn't sure about behind him would have made him feel uneasy, and some of the hazardous short passing which led to Spurs winning the ball in dangerous territory looked like the product of nerves.
The Argentine made some important stops, choosing to acrobatically push shots away instead of catching them but there is more to goalkeeping than simply pulling off attractive-for-TV saves. United will quite clearly want to resolve the De Gea will he/won't he saga as soon as possible to gain some much needed stability in the defence.