Monday 19 March 2018

Martial on the money and Rooney hitting peak form - Five things we learned from United win over Stoke

Anthony Martial scores the second goal for Manchester United
Anthony Martial scores the second goal for Manchester United

Here is what we learned from Man United's 3-0 defeat of Stoke

Rooney is hitting peak form at a perfect time

The England forward struck early in the second half, minutes after having a “goal” ruled out for offside, to record the 244th goal of his remarkable United career.

In his sights is Bobby Charlton’s club record of 249 goals and, with Wayne Rooney now having scored seven in seven games, that record should be broken this season, with United having 14 league games to play plus a minimum of three more in two cup competitions.

More relevantly, if Louis van Gaal is to emerge from this trying season with silverware in a cup or, more importantly, a top four finish and place in the Champions League, Rooney needs to maintain this form. Roy Hodgson, eye on the Euros, will surely have had a smile on his face while watching Match of the Day after the game.

Martial can be the real deal for Manchester United

No United player seemed to have suffered as much as the young Frenchman during United’s turn-of-the-year slump but, to his credit, Anthony Martial is emerging from that funk in quite spectacular fashion.

The deal that brought him from AS Monaco last summer could eventually cost United £61.5m if a variety of incentive clauses are met. One is to pay the French club €10m when he scores 25 goals for van Gaal’s club.

That values each goal at €400,000 and Tuesday night’s effort - his ninth so far but only his fourth in his last 20 games - was worth every penny as he made it 2-0.

There remains a question mark over whether he is more effective wide or as a striker through the middle, and also whether he can thrive in Van Gaal’s much-criticised style of play, but his strong showings against Derby and Stoke in the past four days suggest he could become a firm favourite with supporters desperate for someone - and something - to cheer about.

Van Gaal may be able to win over Manchester United’s fans

It will take more than one positive performance to blow the storm clouds away from Old Trafford. But after being booed off after United’s last home game - a 1-0 defeat to Southampton - the reception the Dutchman and his team received at half-time must have been music to his ears.

Before kick-off, as the United manager walked along the touchline there was polite applause and some equally polite waves back from Van Gaal. But, after scoring at home in the first half of a home game for the first time in 12 attempts, United were cheered off at the interval. Better yet, the supporters had seen not one, but two goals, and more chances in this one 45-minute period than they have probably seen in those previous 12 games put together.

This was more the kind of football United’s fans expect to see and if they keep playing this way, there is a chance that Van Gaal will get his wish and see out the three years of his contract, or at least make way for a more dignified exit at some point on his own terms.

Borthwick-Jackson may prove to be major positive

The local lad has benefitted from United’s lengthy, defender-heavy injury list and celebrated his 19th birthday by making his third career league start against Stoke. Better yet, it was his cross that set up fellow youngster Jesse Lingard for the opening goal that eased so much pressure around Old Trafford.

A virtual unknown, apart from to real die-hard Reds, when van Gaal promoted him to the first team squad at the start of November, the greatest compliment that can be said about him is that many a game has passed with the left-back having gone virtually unnoticed. There is little flash and few frills about his play but his steadiness and consistency are what stands out.

Luke Shaw may have United’s left-back berth sewn up for years to come - once he is fit again - but that might free Cameron Borthwick-Jackson to become a regular at his other position, centre-half.

Who needs Pep anyway?

The answer, of course, is Manchester United and every other club in the Premier League who will have to deal with the richest club in the world now boasting, arguably, the best in the business for next season.

Make no mistake, this result and, more particularly, the performance, has eased some of the pressure on van Gaal and chief decision maker Ed Woodward and defeat, 24 hours after City announced the capture of Pep Guardiola as their new manager, would have been unthinkable. But victory against a Stoke side, that has now lost all eight of their visits to Old Trafford in Premier League history, can only paper over the cracks that have been glaring at Old Trafford this season.

Woodward has mis-managed Van Gaal’s situation as badly as Van Gaal has managed the team at times and the pressure remains on the club’s executive vice-chairman to sort out the managerial situation, and more particularly the succession plan, this summer.

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