United barely even broke a sweat. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s starting line-up reflects his one eye on Chelsea in the FA Cup on Monday but he still put in a number of his star players and they strolled to success via an own-goal from Titus Bramble in the first half.
Sunderland had looked relatively lively prior to that unfortunate deflection and had even enjoyed some decent spells of possession but, like most teams do against United, they failed to make it count.
Sunderland really didn’t have any ideas going forward – whenever they found themselves in possession, they seemed almost surprised and just passed it around United’s defensive half without any real impetus and certainly no penetration.
In the end it was a comfortable and routine away win for the Red Devils who completely controlled the game. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have behaved in much the same way all season.
Home or away they show up, go through the motions, grind out results where necessary and beat everyone in sight. They’ve lost just 3 league games in total so far this term and only drawn 2. They’ve won an incredible 25 out of 30 games in arguably the most intense league in the world.
But what’s most astonishing to me is that, in my humble opinion, they haven’t even had to be that good.
They’ve been uncharacteristically vulnerable at the back, they’ve lacked quality in their wide areas which in previous seasons has been where they’re most dangerous, and they’ve not had an outstanding playmaker in the centre of the park to call on as their nucleus.
Paul Scholes used to be that player but he’s been injured, as has new signing Shinji Kagawa. In fact, United’s best midfielder by a long mile has been Michael Carrick who, frankly, I’ve always considered something of a utility player.
Where United have packed a punch is in their striking options – Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and, to a lesser extent, Danny Welbeck have been in great form and fitness for the majority of the season.
They’ve scored exactly 40 league goals between them. United’s goal difference is exactly 39 so its quite clear to see where the difference has been this season compared to last.
Interestingly, they’ve provided 30 league assists between them, which means, for the most part, they’ve been providing chances for each other. This explains how United have done so well without much firepower in their wide-men and a lack of creativity in their midfield.
The fact that Wayne Rooney, a striker by trade, has often played this year as an attacking midfielder outlines where they have been lacking this term. United haven’t been that good in reality. They’ve just been better than everyone else.
image: © edwin11