Adnan Januzaj's Importance to Manchester United Is Both Encouraging and Damning

Rob DawsonManchester United CorrespondentJanuary 7, 2014

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It's been three months since Adnan Januzaj announced himself with a match-winning performance at Sunderland.

Handed his first start for United at the Stadium of Light in October, his two goals helped lift the gloom around Manchester United after successive Premier League defeats to Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion.

But back in the Northeast on Tuesday night for a Capital One Cup semi-final first leg, things have changed for the Belgium-born teenager. 

He arrived back at Sunderland's ground, not as a carefree youngster getting the odd game to aid his development but as the fulcrum of United's attacking threat.

It's as much a comment on Januzaj's unbelievable talent as it is United's struggles this season, which only intensified with a third straight defeat.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05: Adnan Januzaj of Manchester United is congratulated on his goals by Robin Van Persie and Michael Carrick after victory in the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Manchester United at Stadium of Light on O
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It's 10 years since Cristiano Ronaldo took his first steps with United. The Portuguese winger arrived at Old Trafford already with first-team experience from his time at Sporting Lisbon. 

Januzaj's senior experience before this season amounted to photo-bombing Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement pictures at the Hawthorns on the final day of last season.

Ronaldo arrived at United in a deal worth nearly £13m and was immediately handed David Beckham's No. 7 shirt. By January 7, 2004, he had started 11 games. Januzaj's start at Sunderland was his 11th of the season, too.

Ronaldo finished his first season with 24 starts and eight goals, and Januzaj is on course to match that. Both have had to face accusations of diving.

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - MAY 19:  Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is applauded by players after his 1,500th and final match in charge of the club following the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Manchester United at
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Ronaldo, also 18 during his first season at United, played an increasingly central role during his first campaign, starting on the periphery and ending with a goal in the FA Cup final against Millwall.

It's the same for Januzaj, although he's got a long way to go to match Ronaldo's exploits.

After a first 20 minutes against Sunderland during which United barely had a shot, Moyes turned to the 18-year-old to provide a spark, moving him off the left-hand side and infield at the expense of Ryan Giggs. 

Soon Januzaj had spun Sebastian Larsson in the centre circle, hurdled a challenge from Lee Cattermole and been clattered on the edge of the penalty area by Phil Bardsley. 

Moments later he had the ball in the net, only to have his celebrations cut short by the linesman. 

As United chased the game in the second half, it was Januzaj again who looked the most dangerous, first curling a shot wide off the post, then scooping Antonio Valencia's cross on to the roof of the net. Surrounded by other attacking players such as Giggs, Valencia and Danny Welbeck, it was Januzaj who stood out.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - JANUARY 07:  Adnan Januzaj of Manchester United is challenged by Phil Bardsley of Sunderland during the Capital One Cup Semi-Final, first leg match between Sunderland and Manchester United at Stadium of Light on January 7, 2014 in Su
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Had it been another season, another era, Januzaj might not have been given the opportunities he's been afforded in his breakthrough campaign. Maybe even if Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie had not been consigned to the treatment table.

That he has become so vital for United so soon after his introduction is both encouraging and damning.

Encouraging because his talent will only grow with experience and maturity. Damning because United, the champions of England, are becoming increasingly reliant on a raw teenager.

Blooding Januzaj is one of the few highlights of Moyes' short reign at Old Trafford. But not even the United manager would have thought he would become so vital so soon.