United played against Sunderland, hoping to return to winning ways after defeat at Swansea and reestablish themselves in their pursuit of a top four finish. Again, United selected another new squad, although Van Gaal's hand was forced by Robin Van Persie's ankle injury. David De Gea made another start in net behind a 4-5-1 United squad including Marcos Rojo at left back, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling at centerbacks, Antonio Valencia at right back, Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, and Wayne Rooney in central midfield with Ashley Young and Ángel Di María at left and right wings, and Radamel Falcao at lone striker.
United's early passing was sloppy; they didn't seem settled, which led to some chances for Sunderland. In fact, most if not all of Sunderland's chances arose from United's mistakes. Eventually, United settled the game down and took a commanding hold of possession.
United also generated a number of scoring chances, including a Wayne Rooney shot on a free kick, parried by the Sunderland goalkeeper over the bar. Still, Di María turned in a poor performance in during the first half. Radamel Falcao had rare showings, sometimes not even capable of holding the play up and maintaining possession. Di María's performance prompted his early exit for Adnan Januzaj at halftime.
In the second half, United returned to bouts of confusion with players miskicking passes due to lack of communication, starting attacking runs but not finishing them, and turnovers of possession. Januzaj and Ashley Young were positive influences, however, adding a sharp edge to United's attacking front.
In the 65th minute, however, Radamel Falcao found a brilliant return to form. He played a brilliant touch in the 18-yard box, controlling a cross and turning towards goal, only to be dragged down by John O'Shea. In the aftermath, a penalty kick was awarded, but curiously, there was a case of mistaken identity and Wes Brown was shown the red card and sent off. Wayne Rooney rose to the occasion from the penalty spot, striking the ball past the Sunderland goalkeeper. The goal ended his goal drought of eight consecutive games.
Falcao was substituted for Marouane Fellaini right after he drew the penalty, which surprised many after the tremendous amount of skill and technique displayed in earning the foul. With Sunderland down to 10 men following the penalty kick, things were heavily in United's favor to get more goals.
Rooney would pick up a second goal in the 85th minute, a true poacher's goal, as he headed in the rebound of Adnan Januzaj's shot. He was substituted just moments afterwards for Juan Mata receiving warm applause from the Old Trafford crowd. Januzaj's inclusion in the game was essential to United's success, as he provided tremendous pressure on the right wing and scoring chances
United almost grabbed a third goal, when Antonio Valencia's shot pass was saved off the backline by Costel Pantilimon, but deflected off Ander Herrera in an offside position. The game finished 2-0 with United grabbing a crucial victory and sliding back into 3rd place on the league table, edging out Arsenal by 2 points. Arsenal can still reclaim their position in third with a victory in their match against Everton on Sunday.
United's victory will hopefully settle the camp of fans, who began to waver after their defeat at Swansea City. While it would take a miracle for a serious run at the title, United find themselves only five points behind second place Manchester City, but still remain in a heated battle spread across 3 points for a 3rd or 4th place finish. United fan's will certainly wonder what's happened to the form of English record signing Ángel Di María, whose impact on the game was minimal and seems to be consistent substitution off the field in recent weeks. The initial diagnosis for Van Persie's injury places his return in a minimum of five weeks. In that time, one can only help that a consistent striking partnership can be developed between Rooney and Falcao in that time. Rooney proved on match day that his best position remains center forward. United play Newcastle United away at St. James' Park on Wednesday March 4th at 2:45pm EST.
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