5 Biggest Positives from Manchester United's Season so Far
David Moyes' Manchester United have enjoyed a mixed start to season, yet find themselves joint-top of their Champions League group and well-prepared for a renewed assault on the Premier League.
It's fair to say that the new manager endured a difficult start to his reign, both in terms of the opposition he has faced and level of performance produced by his teams, yet there are major positives to be taken from his first steps as Sir Alex Ferguson's successor.
While there is certainly some dissent amongst the ranks of United's supporters, the club's fans are by and large behind Moyes and understand the need for patience considering the tasks at hand for the former Everton manager.
They include the need to refresh certain areas of the squad, instill a forward-thinking approach to build on Ferguson's legacy and United's traditional legacy, and a hunger to see young players playing good, brave football.
With first-team action now on hold as the national squads commandeer players and the attentions of the fixture list over the international break, now is the ideal time to review the biggest positives from Moyes' early showing as United boss.
With United struggling to score from open play in the Premier League and struggling to cope with opposition strikers at present, David de Gea has been busy between the sticks behind Nemanja Vidic and co.
Fortunately, the Spaniard has responded by becoming the team's last and most formidable line of defence, pulling out save after save to keep Moyes' men in games and their opportunistic foes at bay.
He's not been able to keep every shot out, as evidenced by United's recent defeats to Manchester City an West Bromwich Albion, but unlike the tawdry defences lined up in front of him, de Gea has been largely blameless for the goals he has conceded.
Former United goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, who left the club in the summer to make way for Moyes' preferred trainer Chris Woods, was one of the main men who helped de Gea find his feet in England. That the keeper's form hasn't been hampered by the departure of his favoured coach is a huge positive considering how vital he will be in as the first team continues to adapt and change as the new era sweeps in.
De Gea's presence as a proven, safe pair of hands and a sweeper keeper able to instigate attacks of his own has never been more valuable behind United's lines.
Less Pressure on Tom Cleverley in Midfield
Just a couple of months ago it seemed that Tom Cleverley's time as a key midfielder for United was up.
With rumours flying that Moyes was seeking to bring Thiago, Cesc Fabregas and then Ander Herrera to Old Trafford, Cleverley looked to have been stripped of his role as midfield point man. Even the arrival of Marouane Fellaini seemed to call time on the Englishman's influence over the first team.
Yet while Cleverley has certainly lost game time to the Belgian, his purpose has also shifted in Moyes' transitioning United side.
His small size belies the fact that he is becoming the team's most mobile and committed tackler.
Most Tackles Won Yesterday Cleverley 8 Jedinak 8 J.Ward 7 Henderson 7 Zabaleta 6 Roberge 6— EPL Stat Man (@EPLStatman) October 6, 2013
Relieved of the pressure of being United's all-action box-to-box midfielder, playmaker, ball-winner and match-winner as he was seemingly required to be when played next to Michael Carrick in a midfield two, Cleverley can now get on with making the most of his abilities through more specific tasks.
Though it's unlikely that he will be the successor to Paul Scholes that some had hoped or the world-class midfield general Moyes had sought in the summer, Cleverley is more than capable of becoming an important player in United's midfield.
He may not be able to meet the extreme multitasking demands of being a first-choice midfielder, following on in the footsteps of Roy Keane and Bryan Robson, he doesn't have to.
Whether his manager requires some added bite, a passing outlet or a bit of extra speed and energy through the middle, Cleverley looks ready to take on whatever job or assignment is thrown at him.
And as any United fan knows, it's through such players that the foundations for the club's greatest achievements have been built.
Wayne Rooney: Back in Shape, Back in Form
Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in.
Since the summer Wayne Rooney has gone from being a pariah of gluttonous disloyalty at Old Trafford to United's team-lifting match-winner.
It's still not entirely clear over what took place during the transfer window, with the player denying he put in a transfer request to join Jose Mourinho at Chelsea.
Regardless of what took place during the offseason, however, the adversity and uncertainty over his future appears to have switched Rooney's mind back onto football, with the multitalented striker back in good physical condition and fine form.
Even though he may remain a divisive figure for many supporters, his wearing of the captain's armband has been a fitting reward for his performances across the team for United.
Having scored five goals and made three assists in six appearances, Moyes' decision to work hard to retain the Englishman looks to be paying off.
Nani's Return to the Fold
With Antonio Valencia industrious but uninspiring and Ashley Young failing to convince anyone with his performances on the left, United's flanks have been in sore need of some magic, trickery and courage of late.
Step forward Luis Nani, who has shaken off his recent showboating excesses to become Moyes' most productive wide man down the right wing.
Brave, determined and strong in the tackle, the skilful Portuguese has not only shown more focus going forward but a greater appreciation of his role tracking back.
In the summer it looked as though the winger's United career was all but finished with many pundits suggesting he would be leaving Old Trafford. Having pulled the player off the scrap heap, credit has to go to Moyes, who instead showed some faith in his talent and abilities.
No longer a manifestation of frustration, forever wasting possession by taking on defences or shooting wildly long range from midfield, Nani has become the best option for delivering crosses from the right.
And that's not the only niche he's begun to usurp from Valencia, having so far linked up well with Rafael on the overlap.
The Brazilian's combination with Valencia was a key attraction of United's wide play during Sir Alex's last few seasons, but the re-emergence of Nani as a reliable creator rather than a loose cannon has shown that the Ecuadorian, Valencia, doesn't have a monopoly over the partnership.
Should Nani's present form continue, he could once again become the most lethal winger in the Premier League, hitting the heights to match his best period of performance so far for United, which came in an 18-month burst between the summer of 2009 and Christmas 2011.
There may be plenty to talk about when it comes to United's recent failures to play as a team, supply decent chances to Robin van Persie and generally attack and defend as a unit, but the introduction of Adnan Januzaj into the first team by Moyes is a move that must be celebrated.
Watching a young star blossom in the club's colours is always a privileged delight for United fans, continuing on as it does from the ideal of the Busby Babes, Sir Matt's legacy and Sir Alex's vision.
That Januzaj not only impressed in his very first Premier League start against Sunderland but proved to be the game's decisive match-winner in was even more special.
Having felt his way into the time through a number of appearances from the bench, including an ill-fated half-time substitution for Shinji Kagawa against West Bromwich Albion, the youngster not only proved his quality but also his mettle by scoring both goals in United's 2-1 win.
The timing of his strikes, the first of which came on the 55th-minute mark after a difficult first half that featured a number of important saves by de Gea, suggests the 18-year-old has the mental strength and talent to become an exceptional player.
Moyes has much to do before his United team match the expectations placed upon them, but Januzaj's impact will be a boon to his authority as a decision-maker and hopefully an inspirational boost to the established squad members who have struggled to assert themselves on the season.
With the promise (and product) of youth lightening the mood around Old Trafford, the new manager can now break through the prevailing narrative of the past few weeks to put United on a more positive footing.
After all, Janzuaj isn't the only gamble Moyes has taken of late. His comments in the press questioning the calibre of United's squad and the level of contribution from his players was met with shock by pundits and fans alike. During Sir Alex's reign, the club was run practically under omerta as far as the media and public criticism of the team were concerned.
Yet his successor now has the perfect example to back up his claims and measure the efforts of players who aren't performing to the level required when representing United on the field.
Walking back into his dressing room of veteran internationals and serial trophy winners, Moyes can ask them all: If young Adnan can do it, why can't you?
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