1. A game of two halves. United were nowhere to be seen in the first half. We were playing tit-for-tat with Ajax but rarely threatened their goal with genuine opportunities. The second half, however, was quite the opposite. We came out firing from the whistle and controlled the tempo of the entire half. Young’s low shot gave United the cruise control that we were looking for and De Gea, apart from a couple of top class saves, was a statue for the majority of the game. Ajax’s greatest threat came at the feet of young Eriksen, who impressed SAF on the night, but they always looked second best on the night.
2. The return of Tom Cleverley. Tom played his first competitive minutes for United since October yesterday and if you had lived in a hole since then, you may not have even known he had been missing. Instantly assured with the ball at his feet, Cleverley complimented Carrick in a midfield pairing that I think promises the most for United fans. They played off each other well, with Cleverley the more attacking of the pair. Possession was never a problem and Cleverley, when needed, pulled off some pinpoint long passes up the field. Very glad to see him get minutes yesterday and in the run-in, we need as many central midfielders as fit as possible because United, being United, will suffer injuries along the way.
3. Injury to Valencia. Speaking of injuries, the injury to Valencia is probably the single injury we wanted to avoid most in the squad. Our outstanding player of the past two months, Valencia will be sidelined for about four weeks with a hamstring injury he sustained in the build-up to the second goal. The return of Young and Nani last night now seem extremely well timed but we are going to suffer without the relentless power and energy that Valencia brings to the team. He has been simply phenomenal this season and an inconsistent Nani and an out of form Young don’t exactly breed confidence. Here is to hoping that Valencia can recover quickly once again from an injury and be back in time for the Spurs game at White Hart Lane.
4. Fabio at LB. Patrice Evra rightly got left out of the squad last night following the Liverpool fixture which left him physically and mentally drained, so Fabio was given a chance. He took it with both hands. The more lucid of the twins, Fabio put in an extremely professional performance and was part of a defence that never looked like being breached. Evra is our out-and-out first choice LB but healthy competition never hurt a professional and if Fabio can pull out performances like that every time he gets the chance, who is to say that SAF won’t be faced with a selection dilemma in the future. I always envisaged a United with Rafael/Fabio running down the wings as fullbacks – maybe it will happen sooner rather than later.
5. Jonny Evans deserves praise. It won’t have gone unnoticed by all United fans but Evans has by far been our most improved player of the season. The season-ending injury to Nemanja Vidic seems to have brought the best out of Evans and he has been putting consistently good performances in for a while now. Sure, there is still the fact that at at least one point in the game, Evans will put himself in an awkward situation by making a wrong decision but he is still young, and still learning. This is not to say that Jonny’s name would be first on the team-sheet in a fully fit squad, as United are dire at defending set-pieces without Vidic in the box, but he has stepped in while to deputise for the captain whilst he recovers on the sidelines. I see Evans in a similar mould to Ferdinand at his age. Will he mature in the same fashion as Rio? If it is going to happen, he needs to show it this season when he has constant first team football.