Losing the Manchester derby at the start of November gave everyone the illusion that Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United is heading into the same direction like it did under his predecessor, David Moyes. Since the loss against Manchester City, the Red Devils managed to pick themselves up and win six consecutive games, most of which by a single goal lead (against Arsenal, Crystal Palace, Stoke City and Southampton) and twice by a margin of three against Hull City and historical rivals Liverpool.
Despite the troubles and the media criticism that United faced, their defensive line seems to be holding out quite well. The Premier League is one of the most demanding leagues and in most matches; every single goal scored could make the difference as we have seen with Manchester’s one-goal lead wins. Having a compact defense reduces the pressure off the attackers’ shoulders. Against Crystal Palace a single goal was needed, while 2 were enough to see off Arsenal. Their recent form has given them 18 from 18 possible points in the last six fixtures, Van Gaal’s team rose to the third spot directly behind leaders Chelsea and Champions Manchester City, unsurprisingly, both boast a better defensive record conceding four and three goals less. There’s a strong correlation between the goals conceded and the club’s position in the table. In the first 10 matches, United conceded 14 goals and only three in the past six games propelling them from the bottom half to the Champions League zone.
Offensively, the club’s performance slightly improved compared to what it was at the start of the season, earlier, they scored three against Leicester and two against West Bromwich Albion and a few other goals scattered over different games, but they failed to record wins due to their defense conceding on plenty of occasions. The Red Devils may be enjoying a record of six straight wins, but they still have plenty of problems to address, their flawed display was overshadowed by individual talent coupled with a bit of luck and persistence.
Goalkeeper David De Gea deserves a lot of credit for the recent results, his outstanding performance in goal saved the club on many occasions, he’s certainly maturing in the right way after spending enough time at Old Trafford. Besides, the goalkeeper, no one can ignore Michael Carrick’s contribution. Despite being injured at the start, he was able to make a comeback and feature for just less than fifty minutes against Manchester City, United may have lost the game but Carrick couldn’t have been asked to do more considering he had just returned from an injury and United had a player sent off. After that game, Carrick featured in every single game playing every single minute of them.
Carrick’s Premier League experience is a great weapon at his disposal, he knows how to position himself on the field, in the right place at the right moment, not the same way like Inzaghi does, but in a way to molest opposition attacks and intercept balls. He doesn’t drop himself on the ground at every occasion, he waits for the perfect moment to tackle his opponent, and when he can’t, he attempts to block the attacker’s shot. His movement can be likened to the people who work behind the scenes in movies and plays. He doesn’t force himself onto the ball or keep it with him for long, but he knows how to keep the opposition’s play away from his own half. When the ball is at his feet, he makes sure he’s one step ahead of his opponents, he knows where his team-mates are position without wasting any time, he doesn’t only play short passes to waste time, but he also averages four long passes per game, most of which reach their destination.
He may have lost his pace at the age of 33 but he surely hasn’t lost any of the experience, vision and knowledge he accumulated in his eight years at the club. Manchester may be sitting comfortably at the third spot but they need to improve their performances and play more like a single cohesive unit if they are to get closer to Chelsea and Manchester City, they are still in the title race, but it’s up to them to bring back the title to Old Trafford.