In contrast to the arguments over selection and formation across the city, the several people I spoke to before United’s opening game unanimously picked Chris Wilder’s starting eleven, the only doubt being over whether Dan Lafferty or Enda Stevens would play at left wing-back.
Judging by Wilder’s post-match comments, it seems that this too was the only position he had to really ponder over. Of course, Wilder was restricted by a few not fully fit players, but even if everyone had been available I doubt there would have any variation in the line-up.
But then I also recall naming the starting line-up for last season’s opening game, but added the caveat that it probably wouldn’t stay the same for long – and so it proved. That will probably also be the case this season, especially if a couple more signings are made before the end of August.
The difference from last season in the quality of opposition was evident, and Brentford are only an upper-middle ranking team. The way they moved the ball around quickly and accurately left United with not as much possession as they are used to at home. Jota was a constant menace and the way Ryan Adams spread the ball all over the pitch from the centre was something we’ll see much more of, and probably from better opponents than him. There will be many tougher tests than Brentford to come, not least Middlesbrough, Cardiff City and Derby County, but if United stick to their plans and work as hard as they did last Saturday we may get something from them.
Of the new players, Jamal Blackman made three great saves but his kicking needs some work, Enda Stevens looked to be a stronger version of Dan Lafferty, and Richard Stearman made no serious mistakes and was always where he needed to be, That’s praise indeed for a centre half. Meanwhile, Samir Carruthers reinforced the belief that he will be a major player this season, and Leon Clarke showed how important a centre forward is even if he doesn’t score. Kieron Freeman didn’t get forward as much as before, but that was understandable, and Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell made a million blocks each. A Brentford fan contacted Radio Sheffield to say that when he was there O’Connell couldn’t defend, but now he plays like Paulo Maldini. Maybe not quite!
And I believe this is the first time United have been above Wednesday since our leading scorer became unavailable for selection that Friday in April 2012. As Wednesday fans have loved to say: #mindthegap.