Some sort of a midfield
Whistle Stop 3
Not long after Schweinsteiger had come on, he telegraphed a long ball across the length of the Old Trafford pitch. Deep into Brugge territory, it seemed it was to reach a wicked area, for a Mata first touch to embrace it. As it turned out, Schweinsteiger put his hand up even while the ball was mid-air, to apologise to the attacking half of the pitch. It wasn’t a bad ball by normal standards, just a few inches away from the target. And yet, Schweinsteiger, who has shown all the grace in admitting his lack of match practice, praising Fellaini for easing him into the system and the number 31, demonstrated yet again he meant all he’s said, and the high standards he sets himself.
Another time, he recovered a ball, half lying on the ground, from under the feet of a Brugge defender in possession. It is fairly normal for a defensive midfielder to do that, but the ball fell right into Mata’s diaphanous, magical paws. Towards the end, he outmuscled their centre back to win a header.
After all of this, the commentator, like most media coverage on him so far, quipped about how he isn’t “supposed” to win headers, following an earlier line on his play slowing down the side. It is almost like his reputation is the only thing on the pitch, and he lacks everything else at the moment.
There is a long way to go in this season, and hopefully, a few more with him, but there is a general-like solidity and assurance about him that stands out. Take this definition of safety — for a regulation CDM, safety under duress means passing to the keeper or out to touch. For a special player like him, under supposed lack of match practice, safety is ensured, perhaps even to a greater degree considering Romero’s foibles, without ever turning to the goalkeeper.
United played a fluid game for the most part today, promising so much yet falling short in terms of goals. The one thought that crossed my mind as attack after attack got blunted by our defence and Schweinsteiger, is how important midfield generals are to such free-flowing sides. Arsenal, to date, were a different side when Vieira was around. There is a huge difference with that security at the centre of the pitch.
Talking of which, we finally looked like some sort of a work in progress. Something that is capable of producing an adrenalin rush, while on the move. It has been a long while since we saw so many red shirts in the box while on the attack, and, to say the least, it warmed the heart.
Daley Blind’s importance will be realised, if not now, when someone like Jones makes an appearance in that spot. Blind could be the poster boy for any self-respecting superbike — such was his pivotal role in helping switch from defence to attack in the blink of an eye.
Carrick had an off day, a horrible one at that — the own goal only partly made up for with the assist for Memphis’ first goal. With the multitude of options now available, you just get the feeling he would turn out to be a key substitute in what would be one of his final seasons with the club. van Gaal’s ruthlessness in taking him off at half time was only logical — the importance of this fixture cannot be overstated.
M for Memphis and magic. When he finds himself in space, like he so often will in these open games, his long range shots are, at the very least, a menace. And yet, in the post-Di Maria period, composure and physicality are two make-or-break elements he would need to build into his game, for more such nights to take shape. Given how much better he is built, got to think it is just a matter of time.
Rooney, contrary to whatever he might believe, looks a far better midfielder who can switch wings, than as a striker in the box. Vision and precision are his friends at the moment, while speed and bulldog attitude his foes. Given that, and the competition he now faces from the likes of Memphis (and potentially Chicharito, who seems far better built after Madrid), it is a call he needs to take with the manager. With such supply from the wings, inconsistency in the middle is not an option.
The rest of it is now fast becoming a familiar story. Chris Smalling circa 2015 played how Chris Smalling circa 2014 had no business thinking about emulating. Romero is still a ticking timebomb with the ball in his feet, while Schneiderlin kept blowing hot and cold on his Champions League debut. Mata was great in the first half, dimming down as the night wore on. Januzaj twinkle toes was on the money from minute one, with his right foot strength and getting into space the latest boxes ticked, in an impressive attributes card.
Oh, and Fellaini. Forgive the cricketing reference, but that headed goal reminded me of “does Jayasuriya have spring in his bat?”. Really, what’s inside that foliage?
In an alternate universe, it would have been wonderful to put an end to this “What’s the truth about De Gea? Wants to play or not?” debate, by starting him today. Cup-tie him*, and then see if he still wants to move to Real Madrid. How many million euros for that, Mr Perez?
Manchester United v Club Brugge, Old Trafford, UEFA Champions League qualifier, August 19th, 2015.
*[EDIT]: Playing the qualifiers and moving to a club cup-ties a player, provided the former club qualifies to the main draw. At this point, it is assumed United go through.