Januzaj Wakes United From Their Slumber

Januzaj Wakes United From Their Slumber
By Emmet O'Keeffe
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Hell is watching Patrice Evra mindlessly sling the ball into the box from a deep position again and again and again. That lack of thought was the most striking aspect of Manchester United's first half performance against Sunderland and is fast becoming a distinctive characteristic of Moyesball. Evra was not the only culprit, just the most guilty, and no one player can be blamed for the impatience and almost panic that was evident in United's first half approach. Sunderland do deserve credit for helping to stifle United's flow through typically British bulldog midfield performances from Craig Gardner and Lee Cattermole.

Both players were aggressive in their pressing of Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverly and allowed the United midfield pairing very little time or space. Cattermole in particular, has always been reasonably effective at snapping at the heels of the opposition midfielders but too often, is tempted to take a large indisciplined bite out of their ankles, resulting in a comically bad disciplinary record.

According to Statbunker, the 25-year-old's average of one yellow card every 216 minutes puts him out in front as the player most likely to be yellow carded in Premier League history. John Moncur lags behind Lee in second with one yellow every 249 minutes with Luis Boa Morte, Danny Mills and unsurprisingly Joey Barton rounding out the top five. Cattermole falls just two places short of completing the disciplinary double with Alex Rae and John Hartson pipping him for the title of the player most likely to be sent off in Premier League history. However, unlike the retired Rae and Hartson, Cattermole has time on his side. Gardner isn't too far behind his midfield partner in that statistic, lying in eleventh, just ahead of Patrick Vieira.

On this occasion, their aggression was reasonably controlled and Cattermole in particular, was admirably committed as he continued to rage against the dying of the light until the end of injury time. For all of that graft, like the vast majority of their English midfield counterparts, neither Gardner or Cattermole were very constructive in possession and did force the Sunderland defence into pumping the ball long by not putting themselves in a good position to receive a pass. Emanuele Giaccherini helped to provide some much-needed guile to Sunderland's attacking moves and his burst past Evra lead to the opening goal.

Giaccherini's low cross was poorly cleared by Phil Jones straight to the feet of Nemanja Vidic inside the penalty area. The Serb didn't react quickly and got his feet in a tangle in an attempt to execute a clearance and the ball rebounded to the feet of Gardner who finished precisely. Vidic's speed of reaction was similarly slow last Wednesday when he stabbed his foot at the ball weakly and straight to Taison for Shakhtar Donetsk's equaliser. Gardner could have had a second shortly after, but took too long to make up his mind inside the penalty area which allowed him to be dispossessed by Jones. With United stuck in creative rut, Sunderland continued to look the more threatening side and Giaccherini was unfortunate to be foiled by a brilliant save from David De Gea.

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Jozy Altidore won his running battle with Jones and Vidic in the first half and his sheer strength and physicality will make marking him a difficult task for any Premier League centre-half. He used his physical advantages to good effect by backing into Jones and using his body to shield the ball.

Adnan Januzaj was the lone bright spot in United's first half performance and always looked the most likely source of an opening. His movement was always clever and his ability to come off the touchline and move dangerously between the lines added some necessary variation in attack. It was that type of movement that put him in a position to score his first goal. There were some signs that the tide may have been turning as Sunderland were sitting a little deeper in their own half and three minutes before the goal, Tom Cleverly was allowed rare time and space to turn, deep in opposition territory.

There was so much to like about how Januzaj constructed and then finished his first Premier League goal. First he came off his wing to give Michael Carrick an option 30 yards from goal, then he turned without the ball and took the ball on the run before holding off Cattermole and clipping a nice ball to Evra who was finally in a dangerous crossing position. Cattermole was guilty of ball-watching with disastrous consequences as Januzaj was left free on the edge of the box. When Evra's cross found him in space, there was no panic, no uncontrolled blast, just a firm side-foot into the corner with his right foot. After scoring his first Premier League goal to equalise and still thirty-five minutes plus injury time to go, there was no hint of a celebration. This was all part of a plan and it was on to the next objective.

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Gary Neville rightly criticised his former club for not growing with the goal after equalising at a similar stage in the 2-1 defeat against West Bromwich Albion. In contrast to that game, United looked energised and pressed Sunderland higher up the pitch. Six minutes later another moment of Januzaj brilliance edged them in front as he superbly controlled his left-footed volley after a slightly weak John O'Shea header fell to him in the box.

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United were reasonably comfortable after that and looked more controlled and confident in possession. With Sunderland needing a goal, Connor Wickham was introduced and while he had a couple of decent moments, he still looks more rough than diamond with only one goal in 32 Premier League (mainly substitute) appearances. Wickham has a good pedigree and one of the stars of England U-17's European Championship winning team, scoring twice against France in the semi-final before grabbing the winner against Spain in the final. He is only 20 and may yet justify his £8 million price tag but Sunderland look to have erred in selling Stephane Sessegnon.

Sessegnon was sold to West Brom on deadline day for £5.5 million after being arrested and subsequently found guilty of drink-driving on the same evening of Sunderland's League Cup win over MK Dons. Sessegnon wasn't in the matchday squad but Paolo Di Canio was understandably angry with the behaviour of his star striker. Even though he hadn't a great start to the season and had been substituted in both of Sunderland's first two Premier League matches, selling him was an extremely rash decision by a man prone to making many of them. Sessegnon can certainly be inconsistent but he is undoubtedly very talented. He was Sunderland's best player and a goalscorer in both of their victories over Everton and Newcastle last April which were crucial to the club staying afloat last season. Sessegnon was a joy to watch against United last Saturday and Sunderland's new manager, whoever he is, would surely like to have Sessegnon's spark at his disposal.

(Gifs via Feint Zebra)

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