Manchester United vs. Cardiff City: 6 Things We Learned
Manchester United managed a reasonably comfortable home win against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Cardiff City. Given the current league situation, the win was absolutely vital to David Moyes, and the arrival of Juan Mata, as well as the return of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, should provide Moyes' men with a much needed boost as they aim for Champions League qualification.
An occasion marked by an emotional return and an exciting debut, here are six things we learned from watching United's 2-0 win.
Juan Mata Is Going to Be Absolutely Massive for United
Eighty-five minutes in a red shirt, and I'm sold. Not everything Mata tried came off, but he's already off the assist mark, and the assist-to-an-assist-to-an-assist mark. (That's not a thing, and nor should it be, but still.)
Linking up well with his new teammates, Mata completed 44 of 51 passes and was credited for an assist for Ashley Young's excellent goal.
His cross-field ball, kept in play by Patrice Evra, began the move which lead to Van Persie's sixth-minute opener.
It's not easy to settle in to a new side, but the truth is Mata's presence has already made United feel like a more potent thread. To think that this is just the beginning is very exciting indeed.
A 4-4-1-1 Leaves the Striker Isolated, but Robin Being Back Is Great
It took six minutes.
We have missed Robin van Persie. Any team would miss a player of his quality, but given United's recent tendency to make hard work of, well, everything, Van Persie's return provided an enormous lift.
However, there were periods of the game where United struggled to get him the support he needed.
The 4-4-1-1 deployed by Moyes—with Mata operating in the "No. 10" role behind Van Persie—saw Mata being drawn deep in order to get the ball, as United's midfield once again struggled to dominate possession. Squawka.com cites United as having only 48 percent of the possession.
After an excellent first ten minutes of play, United eased off, and Van Persie found himself isolated.
Given it was Mata's first game and that Evra has been battling injury, it is not surprising that Moyes opted for the safety-first option of deploying Young on the left, but using wingers on with Mata in the middle meant there was a lot of space between the players.
Many United fans will be excited by the prospect of some combination of Rooney, Mata, Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj behind Van Persie.
United Fans Do Not Forget Their Heroes
Given the United fans songbook is replete with songs for heroes of yore, which are broken out almost every game, without any real provocation, it should be no surprise that United fans serenaded Ole Gunnar Solskjaer throughout this game.
Within moments of United taking the lead, the Old Trafford faithful sang a jubilant chorus of "You Are My Solskjaer" followed by a hearty rendition of "Who put the ball in the German's net?".
Towards the end of the game, with Solskjaer patrolling his technical area, the crowd struck up again, and despite his team losing 2-0, you could see the Norwegian struggling to suppress a smile.
For All His Faults, Ashley Young's Special Move Is Still a Threat
Young is not a one trick pony. He has a few tricks, but clearly there is one he likes more than the rest.
He also has some limitations. He is often wasteful in possession, although today's 83 percent pass completion would indicate a decent performance in terms of ball retention. Much maligned by the Old Trafford faithful, Young does have an excellent special move.
Whenever he cuts inside and shoots, there is a reasonable chance it will be spectacular; it is his trademark goal.
If he was a Street Fighter II character, cutting inside and shooting would be what happened when you did a quarter circle forward on the joystick and pressed hard kick.
Of course, this is a reference which belies a misspent youth, but it feels apt because cutting inside and shooting is to Young as the Hadoken is to Ryu. It is as negotiating for a pay rise is to Wayne Rooney. It is as being excited about Juan Mata is to United fans.
It is the natural way of things, and it is wonderful when it comes off.
Ryan Giggs Has Seriously, Properly, Amazingly Still Got It
Ryan Giggs played in central midfield today, and once again, he made the assertion that the 40-year-old Welshman is United's best midfielder seem much less ridiculous than it should.
Uncharacteristically, good pass completion statistics (36/40 passes completed, according to Squawka.com) combined with an eye for the unexpected meant that once again United looked better with Giggs in midfield than they have with almost everyone else.
Whilst United were not able to dominate, there was at least the sense of potential when Giggs had the ball.
The last time Giggs and Phil Jones started together was in the 5-0 defeat of Bayer Leverkusen, and Giggs' excellent performance there was almost matched tonight. The run at around the 30-minute mark, where he kept the ball in the face of attention from three Cardiff midfielders, was a particular highlight.
Giggs' remarkable career marches on. Don't be surprised to see him take a major role if United progress in the Champions League.
Adnan Is a Cause for Celebration Even When He Is Not on the Pitch
There were periods in this game when it was, well, a bit dull. The best indicator that things on the pitch were not all that exciting was the crowd would burst into "A Boy Who Can Do Anything."
Adnan Januzaj was given some much-needed rest for this game, but United fans excitement about the player cannot be contained.
It could be interpreted as a slightly passive-aggressive plea to David Moyes to get him on the pitch to liven things up, but I think it's probably more fair to put it down to just how much fun it is to sing.
The boy who can do anything can improve the game even before he's playing. Impressive stuff.