EPL: 180 minutes, 3 shots, 6 points

EPL: 180 minutes, 3 shots, 6 points
PHOTO: Reuters

Even at this early stage of the English Premier League season, unconvincing yet efficient is proving to be Manchester United's epitaph. Louis van Gaal continues to rip up the rule book.

The much-vaunted "United Way" has been consigned to the archives, at least for the moment.

Victory over Aston Villa has become routine since 1995 but its latest chapter required a departure from the swashbuckling playing style typically associated with Old Trafford teams.

Saturday morning (Singapore time) encounters are set to become a staple of the EPL viewing schedule for Singaporeans next season, but Red Devils supporters can only hope that their side's showing beneath the Villa Park floodlights was not a further sign of things to come.

Improving away results remains chief among van Gaal's ambitions.

Following a campaign where a first win on their travels arrived in late November, this was progressive.

So, too, was the Dutchman's gamble on match-winner Adnan Januzaj.

Deployed in his preferred No. 10 position, at the expense of Ashley Young, the Belgium international silenced his critics and offered van Gaal fresh food for thought in his first EPL start for United since February.

David Moyes, who handed Januzaj his debut during an ill-fated spell as United manager, likened his poise on the ball to Johan Cruyff.

As he side-stepped a challenge from Micah Richards, before a sweeping finish past Brad Guzan, the comparison seemed valid.

Indeed, van Gaal may have found himself nodding in agreement with the 20-year-old's Twitter response to reports, on the eve of the trip to Villa Park, that he was set for a season-long loan at Sunderland.

Consistency remains a significant hurdle for Januzaj's fight to follow in the footsteps of Ryan Giggs.

Amid continued interest in Barcelona forward Pedro Rodriguez, he cannot afford to allow this latest opportunity to become yet another glimpse of what might have been.

He is not alone in being burdened by expectation at Old Trafford.

Memphis Depay's eagerness regularly consumed him during an evening on the left-hand side which proved ineffectual.

What flashes of promise existed during his debut against Tottenham Hotspur all but dissipated.

Continual slaloms may have evoked memories of Cristiano Ronaldo but he lacked the Midas touch of his predecessor in the No. 7 shirt.

Had fortune not intervened when Matteo Darmian grappled with Richards in the penalty area, his spurned close-range shot after Juan Mata's defence-splitting pass found him with an advancing Guzan at his mercy could have proved costlier than his £25 million ($55m) price tag.

The inquest into Wayne Rooney's inability to lead the line continued into a second week.

Such was the England captain's lack of presence that, at times, it appeared United were a side that had lost a star striker this summer as much as their hosts.

His solitary touch of the ball in Villa's penalty area in second-half stoppage time exposed the reasons for United's three shots on target in 180 minutes of football.

Such form is unbecoming of potential EPL champions-elect.

Without a catalyst, van Gaal's side risk facing another season as also-ran.


This article was first published on August 16, 2015.
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