As Sir Alex noted in his post-match interview, there were almost two Manchester United performances in Saturday’s 3-2 win against Fulham.
One was a showcase of attacking football, characterised by quick passing and formidable wing play. The other was a nervy and, at times, sloppy display that gifted Fulham two goals and ensured a nail-biting finish.
Shinji Kagawa shone on his home debut, playing just behind Robin van Persie and linking United’s play from midfield to attack. He was particularly effective high up the pitch, with 49% of his 47 passes made in the final third. His insistence on taking the ball in tight situations was admirable and he rarely lost possession
A true two-footed player, Kagawa sprayed the ball around the field with both feet and also hit the post with a left-footed shot minutes after he’d given the Reds the lead with a close-range tap-in. It's no wonder he received a standing ovation when he was substituted with 22 minutes remaining.
The Japanese attacker wasn’t the only Old Trafford debutant to make an impact. Robin van Persie scored a brilliant goal on 10 minutes to level scores, sending Patrice Evra’s bouncing cross into the far corner from 12 yards.
Van Persie’s performance was about more than his goal, though. Indeed, that shot was the Dutchman’s only attempt all afternoon. His delivery from wide positions was dangerous, with one beautifully clipped ball almost teeing up Rafael for a second headed goal after the interval.
United perhaps looked best when Tom Cleverley was pulling the strings. Cleverley’s energy and desire to play the ball forward is refreshing (he attempted 38 forward passes and just 19 backwards) and he was heavily involved for the first hour. Defensively, too, he broke up a number of Fulham attacks and made more successful tackles (four from four attempts) than any other United midfielder.
Speaking of defensive contributions, Rafael was also superb. Often criticised for his defensive discipline and tackling ability, the Brazilian got