Manchester United 2-1 Wolfsburg: 5 things we learned

Louis van Gaal’s men endured a nightmarish start against the German outfit but hit back to pick up their first win of the group stage

Manchester United FC got off the mark in the Champions League with a 2-1 win over Wolfsburg at Old Trafford. Louis van Gaal’s men endured a nightmare start as Daniel Caligiuri put the finishing touches to a fine Wolfsburg move. But United hit back after Caligiuri handled, with Juan Mata converting the spot-kick before the break. The hosts were much better during the second period and deservedly took the lead through Chris Smalling after a fine touch from Mata.

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Here are five things we learned from the clash.

United STILL short at the back

United have looked fairly solid domestically so far this term but in Europe they are getting punished for defensive mistakes Against Wolfsburg, Antonio Valencia was the culprit – failing to step up with the rest of his defenders as the visitors took the lead.

It was a fine move, which saw Caliguiri beat David De Gea, but it was avoidable from United’s point of view with as many as three players being drawn to the ball.

The fact Valencia is having to play at right-back, albeit due to Luke Shaw’s injury, shows just how short United are at the back – despite the millions they have paid since Van Gaal arrived. The Ecuadorian offers plenty going forward but his defensive game leaves a lot to be desired and he was dragged off at the break. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Phil Jones brought in for the trip to Arsenal on Sunday.

Martial is magic – and will get even better

Was LVG fooling us all along? He was adamant Anthony Martial was a player for the future – and was signed for his predecessor. But since arriving at Old Trafford, the French teenager has been nothing short of excellent. Up against experienced defender Dante, who won this competition with Bayern Munich, Martial had a field day and the Brazilian couldn’t live with his foot work early on.

A decent bit of footwork saw him work some space for a shot early on before a fine run and cross picked out strike partner Wayne Rooney – who ballooned over the bar from close range. It’s been a fine start to life in a red shirt for Martial and such is his age and potential, you’d back things to get even better from here.

Mata is spot on

Are we missing something – or has Wayne Rooney given up United penalty duties? After goalscorer Caligiuri went from hero to zero and handled a cross, all inside Old Trafford would have expected Rooney to step up.

But no – this time it was the turn of Juan Mata who coolly stroked the hosts level. For a player hunting down his club’s all-time scoring record, you’d think Rooney would grab any opportunity he gets to find the target. Whether this was just a one-off – or something that has been decided by Louis van Gaal, or the players involved – remains to be seen, but it was all a little odd. Let’s see what happens next time United get a penalty.

Speed is key

Ask any United fan about their long-term ‘identity’ and they will all discuss getting the ball out wide, playing with speed and getting crosses into the box. Fergie’s teams were masters at it but it’s been a while since United had real pace going forward. Now, in the form of Martial and Memphis Depay, they have it in abundance – and when they get going, it can be frightening. Clearly worked up by LVG, United started the second half with real tempo, with Depay at the heart of their attacks.

His work down the left was causing Wolfsburg all sorts of problems as the German side struggled to get out of their half. It was no surprise when the second goal came for United after another attack down the left, further emphasis of how good they can be when there is some real pace to their play.

Smalling is revelling in important role

We’ve been waiting a while for Chris Smalling to become an integral player at Old Trafford. Injuries, loss of form, and senior rivals for positions have stalled his development but Smalling is now showing just what a fine player he is. The 25-year-old has formed a strong partnership with Daley Blind, bar a couple of slips along the way, with his new role as vice-captain bringing the best out of him.

Against Wolfsburg, he was at his composed best – and even chipped in with a goal to give United the lead. His form can only be good news for England too, with Smalling now surely a guaranteed starter at the heart of the Three Lions’ defence. You can’t even begin to imagine how United would cope without him.

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