Januzaj obscures defensive shambles

Posted by Mark Payne

Manchester United were not going to keep Adnan Januzaj a secret for long. There are not many teenagers who can rescue a Premier League game in the North East, and United are lucky to have him on their books. Unfortunately, his wonderful full debut in the 2-1 win at Sunderland could not completely overshadow another poor performance from the champions and a defensive nightmare that nearly resulted in another defeat.

The plaudits that arrive at Januzaj's door are well earned. There is terror in the eyes of defenders whenever he takes the ball, and his second goal at the Stadium of Light was as fine a volley as you will ever see. "I would be surprised if even the great players in United's past have shown such promise on day one," said his manager, David Moyes. No pressure.

Nonetheless, it should be remembered that for every George Best and Ryan Giggs, there are several Russell Beardsmores and Federico Machedas. The next best step for Januzaj is to get him signed to a new contract and make sure he doesn't buy a ridiculous sports car.

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The two strikes from the 18-year-old brought relief to middle-aged men around the world; such is the bizarre reality of the English Premier League. And this is a Premier League with a very different feel to it this year, not least because it contains a very average Manchester United team.

In truth, parts of this match were painful to watch. United fans could have been forgiven for viewing the game through their fingers. It took only five minutes to concede a goal that Charlie Chaplin could have conceived, such was the slapstick buffoonery. Between them, Phil Jones and Nemanja Vidic set up Craig Gardner to such an extent that he couldn't miss.

United have enough players with individual skill that they can get away with being incoherent as a team, but it cannot be ignored how many players are off form at the moment. For example, the entire defence was terrible. Were it not for David de Gea leaping around making world-class saves behind them, United would have conceded more.

This department, more than any other, is where Moyes must focus his attention. Rio Ferdinand and Vidic can no longer be considered the first choice centre-halves. Moyes needs to make bold decisions about whom to pair at the back and stick with them. In the view of this commentator, Jones and Jonny Evans should be that pair, with Chris Smalling, Vidic and Ferdinand as backup. It will take a while for them to jell, but a new pairing needs to be found.

To conquer the Premier League your football team will need to win between 25 and 29 matches. Some of those victories will be glorious; some will be lucky; a few of them will be unspectacular. This was a victory Manchester United stumbled to; it might not have been winning ugly, but it wasn't all that pretty, either.

Despite the changes at the top in the summer, this season's vintage of Manchester United bears several likenesses to its predecessors. This time last year the defence was a shambles, too, but it was dug out of trouble by the derring-do of Robin van Persie up front. His body language at Sunderland betrayed a man not overjoyed with his work. When a chance finally presented itself late in the second half, he thrashed it wide. The rest of his afternoon was a study in frustration.

It has been a harrowing few weeks for Manchester United and their new manager. For once, the international break will be welcomed at Old Trafford. It will be interesting to see if there are any media leaks from United players whilst they are away. In the meantime, the squad needs to regroup and come back with renewed determination. At present, United are closer to the relegation places than the top of the table. It is uncomfortable for everybody, and winning is the only way out.


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