Because all serious modern sports journalism now appears exclusively in listicle form, here are four things that you should already have known:
Rooney Is Finished
Not "diminished." Not "finding match sharpness." Not "re-adjusting to playing as a number nine." Finished. Wayne Rooney may be the the best striker currently at the club, but that doesn't mean that he's of the required standard for a club of United's ambitions. To be fair, he did grow into the game late on, but...come on. Rooney has lost his old burst of speed, his passing is erratic, his finishing has deserted him, and his first touch has been abysmal for some time now. However, all of this is not news, as Rooney has been in serious decline for about five years. Anyone who has only now realized that he is a has-been who is holding back the team has probably been watching the 2007 season review DVD on loop rather than the actual games.
The Best Midfielders Are On The Bench
We don't know how effective United's midfield can be, because the best combination is yet to start a match together. That combination is definitely not Michael Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin, partly because the positions they occupy are too similar and partly because Carrick has been atrocious so far this season. Carrick, so long United's most reliable and important midfielder, continued his wretched recent form by having his worst 45 minute spell in recent memory. Schweinsteiger is both younger and better than Carrick, but unfortunately the German couldn't be bothered to turn up to preseason in any semblance of decent shape. Additionally, Ander Herrera has noticeably improved the fluidity of play when introduced from the bench. If 4-3-3 really is Louis van Gaal's favored formation, then Herrera, Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin should already be getting used to playing together. Instead, those three have shared the pitch for less than an hour combined through the first three games.
Memphis Is The Business
United's newest occupant of the famed number seven shirt - previously worn by such luminaries as Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia - was sensational. He scored two cracking goals, set up a third, and was generally a constant threat from the left side of the attack. That he played his best game from his best position should not be a surprise. His potential has been clear for a long time. If anything, it only makes it more annoying that he was wasted in the middle for the entirety of preseason, particularly since an excellent number 10 is also being misused on the right wing. Thank heavens that someone has finally introduced Van Gaal to the revolutionary idea of playing his best players - stay with me here - in their best positions.
Chris Smalling Might Be Really Good(?!)
Smalling was outstanding against Brugge, as he has been all season. He looks like the player he should have become, after the early promise when he first signed (ignoring the intermittent years of general incompetence). There has been clear improvement in Smalling's play over the last 7 or 8 months, not coincidentally as he has finally become a clear first choice in defense. There are other contributing factors as well, that have likely aided his good form. Schneiderlin offers more protection from midfield than any other midfielder that Smalling has played with at United. Matteo Darmian is a massive upgrade on the thankfully abandoned Antonio Valencia experiment, and Luke Shaw - now that he's not embarrassingly unfit - is already one of the performers of the season. Even Daley Blind, the world's slowest man, has been surprisingly assured in the other center back slot. Smalling, like most footballers tend to do, is thriving on regular games, the confidence of his manager, and better players around him. Quelle surprise.