Michael Carrick did not start as one of three centre-backs, as anticipated, but instead performed the midfield pivot role where Daley Blind impressed before his unfortunate injury. Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, two buccaneering wingers by trade, were entrusted with orthodox full-back roles either side of Marcos Rojo and Chris Smalling.
Robin van Persie actually began the Hull City clash in a deeper role that usual, freeing Angel Di Maria to join Wayne Rooney in attack. This plan, presumably to exploit the speed of the Argentinian, was scuppered when he hobbled off with only 14 minutes on the clock.
It was a blow but Ander Herrera came on to adopt the position held by van Persie, with the Dutchman moving further forward. Herrera knitted things together with minimum fuss, popping around simple passes to keep possession while Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini were asked to patrol the left and right of midfield. Both had the licence to influence the play and Fellaini would push into areas where he could bully the Tigers’ defenders if any long balls were aimed in his direction.
van Persie silenced his critics
While United were largely in cruise control after the interval, there were obvious signs of the team spirit within the camp. Everybody was delighted when van Persie silenced his doubters with a thunderous drive and he was given a rapturous ovation on the 70-minute mark when he made way for Radamel Falcao. It was a chance for the fans to show their backing for the centre-forward in the wake of some incorrect newspaper back-page reports about his position in the side.
Falcao took his place and, rather than go for goal himself, Mata tried to tee up the South American, only for Michael Dawson to ruin that plan with some wonderfully heroic defending. Darren Fletcher came on for right-back Valencia but the side remained so adept at handling the ball that there were no gaps to be exposed.
Instead, the only downside was the sight of Rooney collecting a painful-looking injury in stoppage time which, after Di Maria’s apparent hamstring worries, will cause a nervous wait ahead of the visit of Stoke City although van Gaal said Rooney told him afterwards that he would be fit.
Other than the ongoing injury concerns, things are looking extremely positive on the pitch and the boss’ influence is becoming visible for all to see. The constant interchanging of positions needs to be seen in the flesh to be fully appreciated and, thankfully, we have another opportunity in a few days’ time. Adam Marshall