Manchester United have started the season very well. Premier League wins against Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa was followed up with a 3-1 win in the first-leg of their Champions League qualifier at home to Club Brügge. Defensively, they’ve looked very solid, and the last two games have seen the return to form for Adnan Januzaj.
Most United-fans will remember where they were when Adnan Januzaj announced himself to the world with a brilliant double on his full Premier League debut at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. The second goal, a delightful left-footed volley, was the talk of English football over the following few weeks as the FA thought they could convince the Belgian to play his international football for them. Nothing came of that, but Januzaj’s performances over the following months proved why the FA had been so keen. He basically single-handedly gave United an attacking threat during the winter months, and was stunning to watch. He did it all; score, create, assist, cross, pass, dribble. He looked the real deal, with the United-fans singing loud and proud of the youngster from within:
I want to tell you,
I might as well do,
About a boy who can do anything,
He comes from Belgium,
His name is Adnan,
Januzaj, Januzaj, Januzaj
After going to the World Cup in Brazil (with Belgium), much was expected of Januzaj last season. It didn’t quite happen for him, probably partly explained by the fact United played much of last season without wingers, and a failure to adapt to Louis van Gaal’s risk-minimizing tactics. Januzaj is the sort of player you want to take risks, not always go back or sideways. However, he did still produce the odd display of his undoubted talent. He was the standout player in United’s home draw with eventual league winners Chelsea where he gave Branislav Ivanovic a torrid time from his position on the left-wing.
In the end though, the season represented a failure for Januzaj, after all this was a player who went to Stamford Bridge as an 18-year-old and dominated against seasoned professionals such as Ivanovic and David Luiz.
Over the summer, Januzaj went to Dubai along with Luke Shaw and one of the clubs fitness coaches to return for pre-season stronger than ever before. That certainly seems to have happened as he has definitely filled out a bit, which will help against bigger and more physical opponents. Yet, on the club’s tour of America, van Gaal seemed unsure of where to play the Belgian who was used as the number 10, on the left and finally up front. In the first game of the season he was left out of the squad. Rumours about a loan to Sunderland started to surface, which Januzaj laughed off on twitter.
In the second league game away to Aston Villa it therefore came as a big surprise when Januzaj was named in the starting eleven as the number 10 behind Wayne Rooney. He would produce a good performance where he linked up well with his teammates, but it was his goal, the only of the match, which caught the eye. After setting off on a run where he beat a few defender and held Idrissa Gueye off with his new, impressive physique, he delivered the ball to the left. After a few short passes Juan Mata played a terrific through-ball in to the Villa-box for Januzaj who had timed his run perfectly. With the ball on his preferred left-foot, he tricked Micah Richards into diving in, before cutting over on his right to finish and set United 1-0 up.
Last night against Club Brügge, he continued to show why he should be given plenty of opportunities to play this season. He was excellent in the opening 25 minutes where he continuously found little pockets of space and moved around freely to pick up the ball in good positions. Inside a minute he timed a run well to get in behind the opposition defence, but Rooney couldn’t quite reach his low cross. It was another good performance in the end for the Belgian, and although Memphis Depay will get all the plaudits, and rightly so as he was brilliant, Januzaj staked a claim to keep his starting spot against Newcastle on Saturday.
It remains to be seen what van Gaal’s thinking is regarding this number 10 role in his system. He started the season with Memphis there, but he has been moved to the left and seems a lot more confident out there. With Rooney’s touch, vision and movement all letting him down as a viable option for the position, it leaves Januzaj, Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini as the main contenders. Mata has seemingly nailed down a role as the right midfielder and van Gaal doesn’t seem keen on using him centrally. Fellaini played a part in United’s revival last year, but he should remain a plan B this season, as he’s got nothing of the qualities you would associate with a good number 10. That would leave Herrera and Januzaj to fight it out, and I think that is the way it should be. They should be rotated, with Herrera possibly being preferred for tougher away games and against the top clubs as he is better defensively, but Januzaj can also play on the wing (and up front) and United will have a lot of games this season.
He brings speed the others don’t, for starters. He doesn’t necessarily have a lot of pace, but he possesses great acceleration which helps him drift past players with ease. Januzaj basically has everything a modern attacking player needs, and with games and goals he will regain his confidence which will see him push on further. What really has impressed me this week is his understanding and knowledge of space and which positions to pick up. The way he positions himself to receive the ball is very impressing, with him almost always ready on the half turn so he can instantly go forward with the ball and attack his opponent. His knowledge of playing wide also helps, as he’s comfortable of drifting wide to pick the ball up, which opens space for Mata and Memphis to arrive in to. This type of clever movement is for example something Rooney doesn’t quite grasp, as he is usually stood in good positions, instead of arriving into them.
United should be patient with one of the biggest talents they have had in recent years and allow him to make mistakes. A rumoured loan move to Sunderland would be of no benefit to the player, why would Januzaj go to gain experience in a team who rarely has possession? If he where to go on loan it would be better with a club like Ajax or a German club where you would know he would get to work on his attacking qualities, as that is what he needs to do at this moment in time.
So, Louis, trust the young players you have instead of going out to sign someone who will just be blocking there development when they already are at a similar level. Adnan Januzaj is a fantastic talent who needs to be given the chance to shine, and then grasp that opportunity. He’s showing signs of doing just that, and no one will be happier than United-fans who will be hoping to be entertained for years by the boy who can do anything.