Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 1: Bullet Points

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Manchester United did just enough to win at Villa Park last night, with Adnan Januzaj’s first-half goal proving to be the difference.

…and here are the bullet points:

- One of the curiosities of the British broadcast media is how loathe they are to criticise the Premier League’s sacred cows. Claiming that Wayne Rooney appears to be in steady decline is not an original observation by any means, but it is interesting to note, given how often the player now seems to under-perform, just how rarely an English commentator or summariser will acknowledge his failure to contribute.

Rooney was awful last night, really bad. Rather than just being a poor imitation of what he once was, he now plays like a different person altogether. His touch has gone, his dynamism is nowhere to be seen and, on current form, he has no business starting for either his club or his country.

Some statistics from his performance: 0 defenders beaten, 0 tackles made, 1 touch inside Aston Villa’s box.  Rooney is a goal-scorer and that will always be his primary function, but they’re used to be so, so much more to his game.

- Tim Sherwood is still learning how to manage at Premier League level - or any professional level at all - so, with that in mind, he’s owed some leeway. The concern, however, is over how deep his coaching influence really is and whether his powers are anything more than superficial.

During his time at Tottenham, he typically struggled to identify a successful strategy against top-tier sides and his teams would generally struggle after the adrenaline of an occasion wore off and his dressing-room instructions stopped wringing in his players’ ears.

There was lots of effort from Villa last night and nobody could accuse them of short-changing their supporters, but method was in short supply and Sherwood exerted almost no control over the shape or rhythm of the game.

Yes, Manchester United are one of the more talented sides in the division, but they remain vulnerable under Louis Van Gaal and Villa’s failure to test Sergio Romero at any point last night was symptomatic of their confused approach.

- Villa do finally have a left-back, though. The club parted with almost £10m for the twenty-one year-old Frenchman, but he has arguably been the side’s best player in each of their first two games. His obvious value is clearly what he provides when driving into an opponent’s half - good pace, slick on the ball - but it’s also worth noting just how little United were able to create down his side of the pitch last night.

- Well done to Adnan Januzaj for the composed turn and finish that produced the game’s only goal, but Micah Richards’ part in it is difficult to overlook. Richards may not have played quite as many games in his career as he might have been expected to by the age of twenty-seven, but he knows far better than to lunge at the ball in that area.

It felt irritatingly familiar: so much of what Richards does is impressive but, aside from injuries, his career-to-date has been characterised by wholly avoidable mistakes and moments of baffling naivety.

The build up was very neat from Januzaj, but Richards couldn’t possibly have made it easier for him - which was a shame, because - as usual - the majority of what he contributed was excellent.

- Not to the extent to which it’s worthy of any loving description, but Luke Shaw is definitely improving as an all-round player. From his first exposure at Southampton, he has always been able to go forward and has always possessed the physical attributes to trouble defenders on the outside. Now, however, he seems smarter and far more cognisant of what’s happening around him when he doesn’t have the ball.

Leighton Baines is out of action until November, so now is a very opportune time for that progression.

- Chris Smalling has had a super start to the season and, by the end of this weekend, no English centre-half will have given two better Premier League performances than he has. Why the sudden upturn? Who knows - but Rio Ferdinand made an interesting point on Twitter about Matteo Darmian and how the Italian’s instinct to defend the inside of the pitch ahead of the outside was having a stabilising effect on Smalling and creating a more stable environment for him.

Something to look out for, maybe.

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