Friday 4 March 2016

United 1-0 Watford: Things are looking up but questions remain

There were a few raised eyebrows when Juan Mata was named as United captain on Wednesday night in the absence of Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Chris Smalling. 

But it was the Spanish playmaker whom came up with the type of decisive moment that great leaders produce- an inch perfect free-kick that left Heurelho Gomes with no chance.

Mata has those match-winning moments in his locker and this one couldn't have come at a better time as United won four on the bounce for only the second time this season. 

This remarkable season just keeps on producing surprises.

After the 2-1 defeat at Sunderland was followed by a reverse by the same scoreline in Midtjylland, both United's top four hopes and participation in Europe seemed in doubt.

Now however, things are looking up again for Louis van Gaal and his side after dispatching of the Danes to set up a last 16 tie with Liverpool, an FA Cup quarter-final on the horizon and a Premier League campaign that has been re-ignited.

Qualification for the Champions League- the Reds minimum target- now suddenly looks a very realistic target having moved level on points with City after results went our way on Wednesday.

Van Gaal reckons his legacy will be the ever-lengthening list of youth players he has introduced to United's first team.
The man who gave opportunities to future stars like Edgar Davids, Xavi and Thomas Muller at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively has now provided a similar gateway to Marcus Rashford, Tom Fosu-Mensah and a host of other burgeoning starlets at Old Trafford.

As encouraging as it is to see so many young, home-grown players break through into the senior set-up- and as talented as these kids undoubtedly are- United fans want to see Van Gaal's side mount a genuine title challenge- and these lads aren't ready for that just yet.

LVG had enough confidence in teenage defender Fosu-Mensah to name him in the centre even against the prolific pairing of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo.
The youngster looked bright and composed on his debut as a sub against Arsenal, and although this was by no means a faultless showing (the Dutchman was caught out on a couple of occasions)- but he certainly showed promising potential. 

It was a night to forget for his senior centre-back partner Daley Blind, however.

Van Gaal would have hoped his experience would prove a calming and reliable presence on the young Fosu-Mensah, but Blind was sloppy in possession and caught on his heels too often.
There are still serious question marks over United's defence- when fit Chris Smalling is an automatic choice but Phil Jones' persistent injury problems means  a world class partner alongside Smalling is the way forward.

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