Saturday, 5 October 2013

Match Report: Sunderland 1 - 2 Man United

Sunderland 1
- Gardner 4

Man United 2
 - Januzaj 55, 61

Premier League, Stadium of Light, Sunderland, 05/10/2013

Were this the NFL, this clash would have been dubbed 'The Crisis Bowl' as bottom club Sunderland with 1 point out of 18 faced the sluggish champions, who themselves were in the middle of their worst start in 24 years.

Not for the first time this season I was surprised by Moyes team selection. His only new signing Marouane Fellaini was omitted with no report of any injury, although one his since come to light. Shinji Kagawa was again overlooked for Belgian teenager Adnan Januzaj who was given his first start on the left side of midfield. Nani replaced the equally inconsistent Antonio Valencia on the right. Rooney and van Persie started together in the league for the first time in three weeks.

Sunderland went with a slightly more defensive set up than last week against Liverpool. Lee Cattermole was used as an anchor-man in a three man midfield behind Gardner and Ki with Seb Larsson dropping out of the side. Giaccherini and Adam Johnson switched sides with the Italian now operating from the right.

Sunderland v Man United - lineups

Giaccherini was certainly one bit of business Paolo Di Canio got very right over the summer. He created the opening goal with a run down the right which made Patrice Evra look considerably older than his 32 years. His shot/cross was blocked by Jones but Vidic botched his clearance and the ball broke to Craig Gardner whose low angled shot sent the Stadium of Light into overdrive.

The opening goal lifted not only the crowd but the whole Sunderland team. They seemed to get to every ball first, win every tackle and not allow United to find their rhythm at all.  Lee Cattermole (stripped of his squad number by Di Canio in the summer) in particular was excellent in the first half, closing down Rooney, van Persie and Nani with a burning desire and intensity that was sure to rub off on his team-mates. Whatever about his lack of talent and  his excessive fouling, his passion and determination are attributes of his game that can't be faulted whatsoever.

Adnan Januzaj was United's best player even in the first half. He posed the biggest threat to the Sunderland goal with his mazy runs and quick feet. The best chance for a second goal in the first half however fell to the hosts. Adam Johnson cut through a very ordinary United defence down the right flank and crossed for Giaccherini who's header was brilliantly denied by De Gea. The save was called one of the best in Premier League history by none other than Peter Schmeichel at half time. Jumping the gun perhaps but there's no higher praise for a Manchester United goalkeeper.

United will have been disappointed not to have scored before half time but came out in the second half probing again. Januzaj was booked for going down far too easily under pressure from three Sunderland defenders. Any normal 18 year old might have been fazed by this chastening experience. Januzaj is not a normal player though. He was proving a handful and got his rewards when he played in Evra down the left, who was a constant threat going forward, who payed him back with a superb ball right into the Belgian's path. He slotted it home past Westwood to pull United level. His first senior goal on his full debut for the club.

But wait.... there's more.

United pressed a lot following the equaliser. Something they failed to do a week earlier against West Brom and were punished for it. They seemed to have learned their lessons from that defeat. In the 61st minute a cross from Nani was headed clear by John O'Shea but watched all the way by Adnan Januzaj who positioned his body perfectly and caught an absolute perfect volley... and a star was born.

Sunderland's response was  very underwhelming and the game was effectively over there and then. It seemed they were void of both ideas and energy after the draining efforts of the first 45 minutes. Not till deep into stoppage time did they mount any sort of threat to the United goal and by then the away side were happy to sit back, wind the clock down and emerge from what looked to be further misery with a valuable 3 points. David Moyes will no doubt sleep a little easier tonight.

Moyes has copped an awful lot of flack when things have gone wrong recently and now I think he deserves some credit. Starting Januzaj was a bold move and it's paid off in a big way. His job now along with Edward Woodward is to convince this diamond that his future lies at Old Trafford and not abroad as Paul Pogba decided his did a little over a year ago.

Both sides can take positives from this. United have stopped the rot and avoid going into the international break on the back of three straight league defeats. Sunderland have shown that despite their current position, they have more than enough ability to avoid relegation this season. And Kevin Ball is making a serious case for consideration for the job full-time.

Player Ratings

Westwood - 7.0
Celustka - 7.3
O'Shea - 7.1
Roberge - 7.0
Colback - 6.8
Cattermole - 8.1
Gardner - 7.5
Ki - 6.4
Giaccherini - 8.0
Johnson - 7.0
Altidore - 6.6

Larsson (Gardner 56) - 6.4
Ji (Johnson 64) - 6.2
Wickham (Ki 74) - 6.1

Man United
De Gea - 7.2
Rafael - 6.5
Vidic - 6.4
Jones - 6.8
Evra - 7.4
Carrick - 7.2
Cleverley - 7.3
Nani - 7.7
Rooney - 7.9
Januzaj - 9.2
van Persie - 6.9

Welbeck (Nani 76) - 6.4
Valencia (Januzaj 76) - 6.5
Smalling (Rafael 85) - n/a

Man of the Match: Adnan Januzaj - Man United

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