Manchester United moved to six matches unbeaten with a 4-1 win over Fenerbahce, and the comfortable score is a good reflection of the proceedings of the match. Fenerbahce, a team that isn’t bad by any means, was second best for the entire match as Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba scored penalties and Pogba and Lingard scored range efforts. The goals weren’t complete passing movements, but said movements were on show today, with Juan Mata and Michael Carrick highlighting United’s quick, possession-oriented attacking football.
Juan Mata’s new position
Today, it was more obvious than ever that Mata was playing in a new central role, deeper in the midfield and even closer to Carrick than Pogba was at times. Mata’s movement around the pitch caused constant problems for the opposition and all of United’s attacking movements went through him. At the creative centre of the pitch, Mata was able to influence the team because his deeper role allowed him to pass forward with greater ease, onto Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard’s runs.
The way Mata is playing, one question would ask why he hasn’t played in this role before, and I think the answer is because football development is slowly seeing attacking midfielders move deeper down the pitch. David Silva, Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City’s Spanish playmakers, have been moved into deeper midfield roles in recent years, with great success. The key to their transition of role has been work-rate, and the same goes for Mata. He has covered the most distance of United’s players a few times this season.
Robin van Persie is great
Robin van Persie’s return to Old Trafford was marked with a poacher’s goal, one of the only opposition goals ever celebrated by Manchester United fans. Van Persie managed to score 22 goals in his first season at Fenerbahce, proving he still has it, and he managed to score against United too. It was a shame he had to leave the club after his instrumental role in United’s 20th title, and to see him back was great.
Watching his play and his goal, it makes me wonder why he left United instead of Wayne Rooney. The Dutchman had far better goal-assist rates in the season before he left, but hiding behind the fact that Rooney played in midfield was a poor decision for the board at United. I think Robin van Persie would have been a better asset for United last season overall, and he seems to be a more loved player than the Englishman, achievements aside.
United is a better side than last year
Whether United is yet material to win the Premier League or not, it is undeniable that the side looks reinvigorated to say the least. Mourinho’s men showed their class in two ways over the last week, displaying tremendous defensive ability on Monday and now the attacking talent needed. The attacking fluidity and individual quality on show was not at the club last year, and the defensive ability was matched and exceeded against Liverpool.
Everyone else is better, but United looks up for the fight. The worst spell of the season is likely over for United and the Red Devils remain five points behind league-leaders Manchester City and Arsenal. With a series of players in good form and a team looking rejuvenated, United should be mounting a serious title challenge this year, and hopefully it starts with a win against Chelsea.