Manchester United opened their season on Saturday, the first official match of the 2015/16 Barclays Premier League season. Their opponents, Tottenham Hotspur, were hoping to ruin United's home opener for the second consecutive season, after last season's defeat to Swansea City.
The transfer window has been a busy time for the team with players departing and incoming. The dismal first season became the final season in the Ángel Di María experiment, as United offloaded the Argentine winger at a £17 million pound loss to French super-club Paris St. Germaine. The oft-desired number 7 jersey was left vacant for barely a day, before Memphis Depay, the new highly talented Dutch signing, assumed the often-lauded jersey. Time will tell whether he can truly live up to the reputation of the jersey's previously influential wearers including Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, and Eric Cantona or fall short as the users following the Portuguese football superstar, including Di María, Michael Owen, and Antonio Valencia.
Louis Van Gaal adopted the same 4-5-1 formation that gave the Red Devils success in their climb and maintenance of their top 4 finish. United's starting XI featured goalkeeper other than David De Gea for only the second time, as manager Van Gaal inserted new arrival Sergio Romero in his stead, citing the goalie's lack of focus and concentration as the prime reason for his exclusion from the starting lineup and substitutes. Ahead of the Argentine international goalie, Van Gaal fielded a back line of Matteo Darmian, the second of the four debutants, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind, the Dutch footballer's first start at centerback under Van Gaal, and Luke Shaw, whose fitness and performance are at an all-time high after travelling with his fitness coach in the offseason. In holding midfield, Van Gaal started United vice-captain Michael Carrick alongside French newcomer, Morgan Schneiderlin. In the attacking roles just ahead of the holding pair, Ashley Young started wide left, Juan Mata right, and Memphis Depay, the fourth and final starting debutant, in the central attacking role just behind the captain Wayne Rooney in his now accustomed lone striker role.
The match kicked off with Tottenham grabbing the reins, looking scary in attack, and creating a very dangerous chance in the first five minutes. Harry Kane, last year's prolific striker, played a perfect through ball over the heads of Darmian and Smalling, which Christian Eriksen controlled with a header touch to himself, followed by a chip attempt which beat a charging Romero, but also beat the crossbar, going out of bounds harmlessly for a goal kick. United gained a stake of control shortly after, with the Dane's chance on goal serving as a wakeup call. Darmian's positioning and movement became near perfect and Smalling more wary of dangerous runs from Tottenham attackers.
In the 20th minute, United's efforts were rewarded. Juan Mata intercepted an ill-advised pass from Nabil Bentaleb and quickly played it forward to Memphis. He played Ashley Young through, who in turn found Wayne Rooney wide open with a cross along the ground. Kyle Walker, who was in an advanced position when possession was lost, made the mad sprint back to defend Rooney, but his challenge from behind was only enough to knock the ball off Rooney's feet in the direction of the goal, just past the outstretched diving arms of Michel Vorm, the Spurs goalkeeper.
United's efforts doubled afterwards, but they still remained without a shot on goal until Ashley Young's darting dribble into the box led to a shot saved on the goalline by Vorm in the 65th minute. Shortly after, Depay was subbed for Ander Herrera, an early end to his debut, in which all could perceive that he desperately wanted to score. Schweinsteiger's major involvement in the game, besides displaying the ability to spray passes from midfield across the field, was a professional's foul, dragging a Tottenham player about to beat him for pace, for which he was shown a yellow card. Romero contributed some crucial saves to earn his clean sheet as the game came to a close, but the game hardly felt out of United's control after the own goal.
It was not the roaring, rampant start that Louis Van Gaal or United supporters wanted, but there were positives to gather from the match. Darmian turned in a magnificent performance at right back, hopefully a sign of better things to come from the Italian fullback. Sergio Romero appeared up to the task of keeper despite some unwieldy ball distribution mistakes. Memphis and Rooney continue to build a rapport in attack, and although they were unable to connect for a goal this week, the partnership should produce many in the times to come. Schneiderlin was a stalwart in midfield, making only a few errors in linking up play between the defense and the attack. Schweinsteiger's debut in relief of Michael Carrick helped to seal the victory, guaranteeing an upbeat note on the German's first match at Old Trafford. Daley Blind's first match at centerback went smoothly, a clean sheet without any glaring errors, but still some questions remain unanswered for the defender like whether a more physical striker, like Diego Costa, can be more than a challenge for the Dutchman.
Still some issues remain for the Mancunians, primarily those surrounding Spaniard goalkeeper, David De Gea. De Gea, Van Gaal, United and Real Madrid are embroiled in a unusual dilemma this transfer period with United and Van Gaal unwilling to see him leave on anything but the record for a goalkeeper, De Gea desperate to make the move sooner than later, and Real Madrid playing hardball unwilling to dip too deep into their coffers for the world class goalkeeper, who could just as easily arrive next year on a free transfer. Look for a decision to be made by September 1st, the close of the transfer window. Questions revolve around Van Gaal's formation and squad selection as well. For instance, it remains undiscovered whether Memphis will benefit from playing centrally or on the wings.
Manchester United have a busy week approaching with a match this weekend and midweek next week. United play Aston Villa, who were victorious in their season opener on Friday. The match will be aired on NBCSN at 2:45 p.m. ET. United also have the first leg of their UEFA Champions League play-in tie on Tuesday, August 18th against the Belgian football team, Club Brugge. That match will be played at Old Trafford and most likely aired on Fox Sports 1, also at 2:45 p.m. ET. The second leg will be played August 26th.
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