Adnan Januzaj was the catalyst for Manchester United’s win over Swansea on Saturday. He was the standout performer who appeared full of adventure and, crucially, ability to make the difference.
David Moyes played a key tactical card in the second half. It was the decision to swap the positions of the 18-year-old with Shinji Kagawa, who was initially deployed on the left flank, which saw both in areas where they’d be of far greater use.
Januzaj played a part in both goals, scored by Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck. Would United have been able to break the deadlock without him? The sense of relief was palpable. And yet even with others putting their names on the score sheet and rounding out the good work put in by Januzaj, Moyes must ensure the youngster isn’t isolated at the head of United’s revival.
It will come internally, first and foremost. There’s a need for United to enter the market this month and make changes to the team, but ahead of the crucial second leg League Cup tie against Sunderland this week, Moyes will be focused on bringing the best out of those he has in his team at this time.
With Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney watching from the sidelines, Januzaj has become United’s source of inspiration, even if it’s still hard to comprehend how a club of United’s stature have come to be in this situation. Januzaj has no right to be talisman of a club this big at this age. He hasn’t completed a full season of top flight football in his short career yet, but he seems completely at home amid the expectation and responsibility.
It’s a promising position for Moyes to be in: a lifeline that has so wonderfully emerged at the time of his appointment as successor to Alex Ferguson. Januzaj may be going through that initial season at the top where fear is completely absent. Naivety can be a great strength of young players. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the same, only to wane slightly during his sophomore season at Arsenal. Don’t dismiss how important it is that Januzaj has emerged at this time.
But Moyes has a task on his hands to bring life into the rest of the squad. The question keeps being asked as to how this group, pretty much unchanged from last season, have been able to decline at such a rapid rate. There’s ability in this side, even if they’re not showing it.
Darren Fletcher’s return has been a boost. He’s not one to shirk his responsibility and hide behind the wall complacency. It’s also promising to see Welbeck up his game as a goal scorer. With Theo Walcott out of the World Cup, there should be a drive from within Welbeck to stake his claim as Roy Hodgson’s best choice as a like-for-like in terms of goals and pace.
It’ll be about protecting Januzaj going into the remainder of the season. Whatever has or hasn’t been said in the past to United players about simulation, Moyes must take a stand against such negative publicity. Januzaj has been an offender and he’ll need to stamp that out of his game if he’s to remain on this course.
And then there’s the returning duo of Rooney and van Persie, who are both capable of single-handedly turning around United’s fortunes. There are few better in English football to partner with Januzaj for the remainder of the campaign, each able to continue to raise the youngster’s game but offer the right amount of protection from the pitfalls of the game.
If complacency is something Moyes needs to sweep away from his squad, it’s something he should also be mindful of himself. There’s a danger that too much pressure can be put on Januzaj. At present, it appears as though the player is taking that pressure, rather than it being forced on him.
Januzaj is a building block to both putting United’s ship right this season and also to creating a strong outfit in future years. He’s not the club’s talisman yet, simply a beacon of hope for Moyes. The youngster is doing his part; he needs something back from the manager and those at the club.