Encouraging signs for Moyes and Man United

Posted by Musa Okwonga

Whisper it, but the UEFA Champions League is slowly emerging as the home side's greater cause for optimism this season. The footballing year is young, but David Moyes, a relative newcomer at this level, has shown more assurance in his selections and coaching in it than in domestic competition.

Here he again opted for a central defensive partnership of Phil Jones and Jonny Evans, and ahead of them a midfield comprising Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa, with Wayne Rooney supporting Javier Hernandez in attack. Kagawa, though he began on the left wing, increasingly drifted infield, and added an encouraging fluidity to Manchester United's play.

Rooney, of course, is the team's form player and thus a great impediment to Kagawa's desire to play as the No. 10, but within two minutes of the match the England forward staked his claim as the main man. Starting out on the left flank, he cut inside past a trio of challenges before driving the ball against the right upright, and its ricochet caught the hapless Inigo Martinez on the shins to make it 1-0, after just two minutes.

Brewin: Three Things

That the hosts didn't add to their margin of victory in the next hour and a half of play was somewhat surprising. In fact, this game had vague parallels with the win over Galatasaray in the Champions League group stages last year: then, as now, the team went 1-0 up with an early goal; then, as now, Kagawa was an orchestrator of much of the team's best play; then, as now, they failed to score a deserved second goal. In between that decisive strike and the final whistle, Sociedad threatened to draw level, twice hitting the woodwork; most impressively with a first-half free kick from Antoine Griezmann, which left David De Gea looking unusually perturbed.

As the scoreline suggests, this was not a perfect performance from Manchester United. Antonio Valencia, though looking vastly happier than he has in months gone by, was still far too hesitant when presented with the opportunity to play a first-time cross, and was somewhat disappointing in the variety of his delivery, choosing a little too often to hit the flat low ball across the box. When he cut it back a little, adding a touch of swerve, he looked far more dangerous. Rafael again showed what a loss his early-season absence had been, adding attacking enterprise down his flank, though coming too close to a second booking for comfort.

However, the tone was overwhelmingly positive. From a team perspective, the three points were most welcome, leaving Moyes’ men with seven points from their first three matches. And, from an individual point of view, Kagawa began to deliver the goods. Though he did not score -- spurning one and a half presentable opportunities, which he should have addressed in each case with a single touch -- he looked perceptive in both movement and possession, combining well with Rooney, Giggs and Hernandez.

One Cruyff-style turn by the Japanese midway through the second half drew an admiring gasp from Old Trafford, and his passing both long and short -- including a far-post cross that almost resulted in a second goal -- was generally a delight. After Hernandez was substituted for Ashley Young late on, Kagawa came briefly into the No. 10 position, and if Robin van Persie remains out through injury -- as he was Wednesday night -- it would be intriguing to see what he could do if given a start there.

Giggs also deserves a mention: his place alongside Carrick in central midfield was bemoaned by many, but the formerly flying winger seems to produce his best performances when he is most doubted. As was the case against Liverpool in the Capital One Cup, his swift distribution and excellent technique were the foundation of a fine performance, one which again defied his age. At nearly 40 years old, Giggs must set a galling example to those other midfielders in the squad, several of whom have notably failed so far to take their chance.

So, a win, and by that token a very good result that offers solace to Moyes in a difficult week. Then again, perhaps they are all difficult weeks at Manchester United; he will be grateful, then, to his midfielders, for making large stretches of this match look so easy.


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