Not quite a year on from the disappointing 2-1 reversal to Swansea City, Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal presided over an opening day victory over Tottenham Hotspur.
Barely a classic, the Old Trafford side ground out a victory, with a host of new signings making their Premier League bows. Morgan Schneiderlin, Matteo Darmain and Sergio Romero impressed during the game, with Bastian Schweinsteiger coming on to become the first German to play for the club.
It was £25million man Memphis Depay, latest incumbent of the famous Number 7, who was under most scrutiny during the game. Operating just behind Wayne Rooney in the ‘Number 10’ role, the man who scored 25 goals with PSV last season showed some of his famous skills, but lacked the know-how to break Tottenham’s stubborn defensive lines. Ashley Young and Juan Mata were deployed in the wide positions of a 4-2-3-1, with captain Rooney the spearhead in the attack.
Despite linking nicely to force a Kyle Walker own goal, the Red Devils front line looked somewhat disjointed.
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Deploying Depay centrally, with Young and Mata either side, has been the plan for the majority of pre-season, but the system can actually prize the best away from both the Spaniard and the Flying Dutchman.
On his 64th birthday, Red Devils chief van Gaal appeared to blow out his candles and wish for a Gareth Bale-like-‘Number 10’ in his new signing. While at Spurs, Bale would utilise his pace and power into bulldozing teams, either running past defenders to slot past the opposition ‘keeper, or unleashing a trademark wonder strike from 25+ yards.
The new man may one day get to that level, he certainly has the attributes. Clearly, van Gaal is a huge fan of Bale, having been heavily linked with him all summer, so perhaps he is moulding Depay in a similar style. But to pay such a large fee for a prolific goal scorer from the wing, then move him centrally seems rather odd.
With Mata in the side, the £37.1m signing have one of the best Number 10’s in the world shunted to the wing. The former Chelsea man can of course perform well in the role, as shown by his performance at Anfield last year, but both players appear to be playing out of position.
What made Memphis such a sort-after property this summer was his ability to cut inside from the left wing and shoot. What makes Mata such a successful player is his vision, neat passes and quick thinking.
So, taking their best attributes into account, both men seem more suited to each other’s roles, rather than their own. With a single game gone it is unfair to label a tactic as a failure, and United ultimately won the contest – they must be doing something right.
Still, at times during the match, the Old Trafford side looked out of ideas after some neat passing in their own half. Dutch international Depay was slow in possession on occasion, where someone like Mata or substitute Ander Herrera may have upped the tempo.
With Wayne Rooney being the only notable striker likely to stay at the club this year, surely van Gaal will want to get the best out of the attacking unit behind his captain. Perhaps Memphis can be moulded into Gareth Bale mark II.
But as he beds in, selecting a World Cup and Champions League winning ‘Number 10’ in his favoured role may be beneficial.