Fulham looked weak, stunned, out of their depth, and far from the team who put four past Crystal Palace only a few games prior. That was predominantly due to the quality displayed by Manchester United, who had put themselves three-nil up inside 22 minutes.
You can discuss the shortcomings of teams and even managers, but when they’re so ruthlessly exposed by an opposing team, you acknowledge their ability – in this case United – for turning on the style in such a fashion.
How much should we extract from United’s last three or four games? Well a lot, because if we’re going to be quick on the draw when David Moyes looks lost at sea, it’s only fitting to praise a team who look to be navigating out of that particularly rough spell.
The margin of victory against Real Sociedad could have been bigger had it not been for the heroic performance of Claudio Bravo in goal for the Basque club. On the night, United, and Wayne Rooney in particular, looked energised and focused on the job at hand.
The turnaround against Stoke could and probably will hold far more significance than simply beating a team who are below United in terms of quality and resources. Yes, losing to Mark Hughes’ side could have prolonged this difficult start to the domestic campaign for Moyes, but the new manager’s celebrations were evidently laced with an understanding of the long-term effects that win would have.
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How far should we support the line that anyone can beat anyone in the Premier League? League-leaders Arsenal struggled against Crystal Palace but came through unscathed, while Manchester City lost to Cardiff and United themselves picked up a loss against West Brom. So the win at Craven Cottage on the weekend was notably thrilling, while accepting the premise that even the “underdogs” are capable of having their day.
Alex Ferguson’s teams were not always the most impressive, but the Scot forced a level of performance from his players that was often unmatched across the league. For all the shortcomings of a host of players, there was an inevitability about results: a knock-on effect of fear generated from the manager to his players that eventually washed over the opposition.
It’s not that the fear-factor has been lost from this United team under Moyes, but rather that it had to be rediscovered. Very few thought that the transition would be smooth, and naturally there was a period of bedding in that may not be complete.
But the players themselves know the culture of the club and the manner of performance that’s expected of them. Good players don’t always combine for football that can at times be described as merciless. The van Persie-Rooney duo looked like a renewed force that could legitimately claim the title of best strike partnership in the league. They’ve been there and done it, and why shouldn’t they have enough about them to alone guide United up the league and force a stay at the top?
It needed a decent run of results, but domestic teams are now seeing the combined ability of United’s front two. With Javier Hernandez waiting in the wings – and having scored in the League Cup – there is plenty of firepower to genuinely frighten opposition backlines.
United had a way about them under Ferguson, an attack that relentlessly pummelled the last line of opposition defence until the wall fell. Going three-nil up within 22 minutes is evidence that the intensity hasn’t deserted United just yet. It’s a level of play that forces mistakes in defenders, once again stemming from a fear that the wave after wave of attacks will continue for much of the ninety.
There is still much to do. Moyes needs to retain defensive stability while also utilising an ever-increasing array of attacking options. But fortunately the locker still holds one of United’s most valued weapons. There aren’t too many teams around Europe who genuinely strike fear into the opposition in the way United can.
Will United’s fear factor help guide them up the table?
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