United’s defeat of an incredibly plain Sunderland side, combined with City’s loss to Spurs means MUFC will finish the weekend on top of the table for the first time in more than two years.
Even Louis van Gaal is surprised that we’ve won as many points as we have.
It’s still very early, of course, but the Dutchman’s famous philosophy could be starting to pay dividends. His good friend Dick Advocaat feels that United aren’t far off where they need to be, and the supporters are also starting to buy in.
Let’s look ahead a bit and check in with the performances so far.
Two matches remain before the next international break, and they are both huge.
First up is our first home matchup in the Champions League – against Wolfsburg. The Germans sit fourth in the Bundesliga, nine behind unbeaten Bayern. Their away form in the league has been poor, and if it wasn’t for Bas Dost and his goals, they’d be in serious trouble.
That said, at least Wolfsburg won their opening match. After the egg MUFC laid against PSV, we have turned this affair into a mid-week must win.
Our return to Premier League action next weekend sees a trip to the Emirates to defend our three-point lead over Arsenal. For their part, the Gunners will be feeling more confident after dispatching Spurs in the League Cup and putting five past Leicester City in the Premier League.
The good news is that United are riding a 4-match unbeaten run in London, including last season’s 2-1 victory.
A real test is coming following the break – with away trips to Everton and CSKA followed by the Manchester Derby. If we survive this little stretch without a major blemish we could really be on our way.
At the back
Despite the injuries of Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo, United have posted back-to-back clean sheets this week.
David de Gea is approaching top form again after his extended summer break, and the Smalling/Blind alliance continues to impress. Daley has also shown some attacking flair of late, with some exceptional passing out of the back.
Darmian looked solid at left-back, though not spectacular, while Antonio Valencia has resumed his usual role as backup right-back – he does get forward with some regularity to smack his crosses into whoever happens to get in the way.
I have to say, that despite the ‘philosophy’ sometimes squeezing the life out of our attacking play, it’s done wonders for the defence.
If we’re to challenge for silverware, it’s going to come down to this group keeping it simple. Except for Dave, who will have to contribute his usual array of jaw-dropping saves.
In the middle
It took a number of years to sort out, but the Carrick + Schmidfield alliance seems to have really settled our midfield. We seem to always be in control of possession and getting the ball out from the back is much easier this season than it was last year.
I’d like to see the odd through ball for our attackers, especially given the pace of Memphis and Martial – but again, this is contrary to orders.
My feeling is that two holding midfielders may be overkill at home against the likes of Sunderland, but I guess the result is the thing.
Van Gaal is continuing to rotate freely here with no real consequence. These three players work so well in any combination. This should keep everyone happy and healthy for the long run.
The addition [or panic buy if you prefer] of Anthony Martial has been a real spark to our attack. The young Frenchman already looks like he will be a success – showing strength, technical ability and the decision-making prowess that Memphis lacks.
For his part, the young Dutchman has shown flashes of brilliance – combined with occasional Nani-esque decision-making ability. At times, I think he is trying too hard – and I’m OK with that for now. There’s no doubt he’s going to be a star.
I’m delighted that Wayne Rooney is not our main striker now that Martial is on the scene. He’s been a bit better at #10, but this has been the one attacking role we can’t seem to fill properly. Plus, he’s keeping Ander Herrera out of the team, which I don’t care for. Bad news for the Spaniard, though – because Rooney is un-droppable and he is likely best played here for now.
Juan Mata. Goals. Assists. Playing out of position. Being a generally awesome bloke AND writing a blog all at the same time. Is there anything he can’t do?
It’s been frustrating at times and very entertaining at others. But you can’t argue with the progress that we’ve made so far this season and the outlook is positive.
We still may be a little thin in spots and I’d like to see a few more chances for Wilson, Pereira and Lingard – however, I also want to see some silverware.
Van Gaal knows he must deliver, and I think he’s on the right track.