Manchester United kicked off their 2015/16 premier league campaign with a 1-0 over Tottenham. They lined up in the 4-2-3-1 formation they had been playing throughout preseason. Sergio Romero was given the nod in goal, Matteo Darmian made his debut at right back, Chris Smalling and Daley Blind were the center back combination, and a slim, fit Luke Shaw started at left back. Michael Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin played in the central midfield. Juan Mata, Memphis, and Ashley Young played as the 3, and Wayne Rooney was the lone striker.
Tottenham set out in the same 4-2-3-1 formation. Michel Vorm started in goal, with Hugo Lloris still recovering from a wrist injury. Kyle Walker played right back, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld played center back, and Ben Davies played left back. Eric Dier and Nabil Bentaleb were the holding midfield combination. From left to right, Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen, and Mousa Dembele were the front three behind Harry Kane who looked to continue his strong form for last season.
The game was not pretty for United, from the opening whistle Tottenham put them on their heels. In the 4th minute Eriksen was played in over the top by Kane but his chipped effort went just over the crossbar. United struggled to hold onto possession, with Tottenham winning an awful lot of turnovers in the midfield. It was United though who struck first in the 22nd minute; Mata was able to intercept a pass from the Tottenham back line before playing it to Depay, who played Young into space out wide. With only one centre back defending, Young easily found Rooney in the box. As Rooney was about to pull the trigger, Walker got a foot in, but unfortunately for the Tottenham defender, he only turned the ball into his own net. It was the first time ever that the first goal of the premier league season was an own goal.
After the goal, United were able to get a foothold in the game. They had more possession in offensive positions, and were able to link up to create more chances. Darmian had a strong game out on the right wing. It did not look like he was a newcomer to a League renowned for being a tough League to take to for foreign players. His joy was pivotal to United’s play as he was able to get up the wing high enough which allowed Mata to slide into the middle where he is more comfortable and able to dictate play far more. Darmian provided a lot of offense from the right wing, and United and England fans would have been glad to see on the other side Shaw and Young who although they were still feeling each other out, Shaw’s speed was creating spaces time and time again for Young to work the ball on his right foot.
Despite his own goal Walker had a strong game, he was able to force Young to his left foot almost every time he was on the wing, making him unable to pull the ball back to his favorite right foot. The first half came to a close with United leading 1-0, however, the game left a lot to be desired from both sides.
The second half kicked off with no changes from either side. Romero who had some shaky moments with the ball at his feet in the first half, made some key saves early in the second half that helped the United defense settle into the half. Smalling had a strong game at CB; he was able to make tackles within the box to stop shots, and press early enough to force Tottenham to play wide, when they much favour going through the middle. In the 60th minute, Bastian Schweinsteiger came on as a sub for Carrick who had a solid game in midfield. Schweinsteiger had an impact right away, his quick one touch passing with the wing players allowed United to move the ball much quicker.
Both teams traded semi-chances; Young had a shot from 19 yards out towards the bottom corner that bobbled a bit, but Vorm was able to collect. Romero left his line to claim a Dembele cross that was about to find a wide open Chadli. In the 68th minute Ander Herrera came on from Depay. He had played well on the whole for his debut, at times he looked shaky and tentative, but he was still involved in a majority of the buildup play, and, worked well with Rooney up top. While Herrera was not involved in much play up top, he was able to help United lock down defensively. Darmian’s day came to an end in the 80th minute after he was starting to suffer cramps, he was replaced by Antonio Valencia. This change had an impact on United’s back line. It was evident that Valencia did not have the defensive positional awareness that Darmian was able to bring to the table. A few times Valencia was caught too far up field, and Smalling had to come over and defend out wide. Tottenham threatened in the last few minutes of the game, but were unable to score. The final whistle blew and United won 1-0.
Man of the Match:
Chris Smalling. This was a tough choice because of the offensive and defensive impact Darmian had on the game, he was the best showing of United’s new signings. However, Smalling held together a sometimes poor back line, and worked well with new goalie Romero. His tackles in the box and marking went someway to them keeping the clean sheet. He has matured a lot as a centre back over the last 2 years under Louis van Gaal and is on his way to being one of the best in the Premier League.