Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

SOLID DEFENCE HAS GONE UNNOTICED ; Attacking Problems Have Taken the Focus Away from LVG's Improvements.

Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

SOLID DEFENCE HAS GONE UNNOTICED ; Attacking Problems Have Taken the Focus Away from LVG's Improvements.

Article excerpt

DAVID de Gea didn't receive a player of the month nomination for January and unlike his December snub it wasn't due to variety.

Amid the outcry over 3-5-2, Phil Jones taking corners and Wayne Rooney playing in midfield, United's defence has quietly improved.

The clean sheet against Cambridge was their eighth in 16 games. Stats are invariably misleading, but United failed to keep opponents at bay just twice in their first 11 games of the season.

United have not been as dependent on De Gea lately. The run takes in his impregnable performance against Liverpool, as well as superb displays at Arsenal and Stoke, yet the Spaniard has not left the pitch as United's saviour once this year.

United have played some insipid football since the draw at Aston Villa in V December and Louis van Gaal's struggles with the attack have masked his progress with the Reds' defence.

Not since the 2-2 draw at West Brom on October 20 have United sieved more than one goal in a game. The dam burst against MK Dons and Leicester and it is to Van V Gaal's credit he has handled umpteen defensive injuries and still improved United's backline.

The improvement began with Michael Carrick's return to the starting lineup against Crystal Palace in November. Serene and economical with the ball, Carrick has arguably been United's best midfielder and defender so far this season.

His impact has diminished over the last six weeks, though, and he is due to miss the next five matches with a muscle rupture. Daley Blind spent three months on the sidelines, however he has started every game when available and has taken over Carrick's role as the midfield anchorman.

Blind very nearly gifted Cambridge a first-minute opener on Tuesday night and, like Juan Mata at the diamond's apex, he is prone to dwelling on the ball. Nevertheless, he has displayed impressive leadership skills for a recent addition and his importance has increased in Carrick's absence. …

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