With Alex Ferguson’s glorious reign consigned to the history books, David Moyes unveiled his blueprint for a new era at Manchester United in today’s 2-0 victory over Wigan in the Community Shield.
Some disjointed displays on the club’s pre-season tour to Asia and Australia, followed by Friday’s loss to Sevilla, had given the impression of a United squad struggling to adapt to their new manager’s demands following Ferguson’s retirement.
But there was enough invention and pace on display from the champions at Wembley to suggest Moyes will stay true to the attacking principles so well established by Ferguson over 26 and a half years at Old Trafford.
With FA Cup winners Wigan now plying their trade in the second tier after last season’s relegation, it was difficult to draw too many definitive conclusions from Moyes’ first significant outing as United manager.
One thing is certain. As Wayne Rooney tries to engineer a move to Chelsea, Moyes desperately needs Robin van Persie, scorer of both United’s goals, to stay fit if the Scot is to challenge for major honours.
Moyes sent out United in a 4-3-3 formation similar to the shape he used at Everton, but it was a far from rigid approach and allowed his attacking players plenty of room to improvise.
With Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley patrolling the central midfield areas with quiet authority, Ryan Giggs — nominally the third midfielder – had freedom to either drift wide or get forward to link up with the front three.
Van Persie started as the most central of those three, with Wilfried Zaha, the £15 million signing from Crystal Palace, lined up on the right flank.
Danny Welbeck began on the left, but played centrally alongside van Persie for long periods.
Ferguson was more of a 4-4-2 man for much of his reign, but United’s fluid movement when they took the lead in the seventh minute showed they should have few problems working in the system.
Giggs came into a central position and flicked a backheeled pass to van Persie, who dropped deep into midfield to take possession before spreading play wide to left-back Patrice Evra.
Evra whipped over a cross to the far side of the penalty area and, with Wigan’s defenders distracted by the forward runs of Welbeck, Zaha and Giggs, van Persie timed his incursion perfectly, arriving completely unmarked to power a header past Scott Carson.
United’s supporters were getting their first look at England winger Zaha, who inspired Palace to win promotion to the Premier League before completing his move to Old Trafford in the close-season.
The youngster offered a few tantalising glimpses of his talent with his nimble footwork, while also earning a rebuke from Giggs for over-elaboration when a backheel went astray.
United were able to coast along without hitting top gear for long periods, although the evergreen Giggs, approaching his 40th birthday, seemed to thrive in the new-look shape.
And van Persie’s second goal just before the hour, featuring a quick interchange of passes between Cleverley and Welbeck and ending with a deflected strike by the Dutch forward, suggested there is no reason to fear a major decline in the Moyes era.
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