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John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin

Sergio Romero a hero for United as keeper impresses against Spurs

MANCHESTER, England -- Three thoughts on Manchester United's 1-0 win Saturday over Tottenham on the opening day of the Premier League season.

1. United win but struggle

This was better than last year's opening 2-1 defeat at home to Swansea, but there's still plenty to improve at Manchester United, who hung on to win against a listless Tottenham.

This was a performance that brought back memories of last season. There was plenty of passing, though it rarely translated into forcing an underpowered Spurs onto their back foot. In the last 10 minutes, the home nerves were jangling as Spurs built up a head of steam.

United's new-look team, flush with summer arrivals, had not done nearly enough to put the game beyond doubt. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero, making his United debut, was required to make two full-length saves as Tottenham pinned them back.

Until their fortuitous 22nd minute opening goal, the home side were static, with only Memphis Depay remaining in motion. They received sincere luck when Kyle Walker took the ball off a dithering Wayne Rooney's foot to direct it into an empty net, after the attack had been set up by a poor pass from Nabil Bentaleb.

Of the four new United starters, Depay was most striking, if regularly wasteful, in possession. Matteo Darmian deserved highest plaudits for his careful management of Christian Eriksen, whose late chances came after the Italian's withdrawal. An upright runner, Darmian was also useful on the overlap. He received a standing ovation when replaced by Antonio Valencia 10 minutes from the end, having done plenty to suggest he will be first-choice ahead of the Ecuadorian.

In midfield, Morgan Schneiderlin was ambitious in his passing and quick in the tackle, but his partnership with Michael Carrick, for so long United's leading midfielder, looks in need of further work if they are to dovetail effectively.

Bastian Schweinsteiger's arrival for Carrick in the 57th minute was met with a loud welcome. The German stroller instantly assumed leadership responsibilities and could be seen ordering teammates into positions to receive his ambitious long passes. His booking for an ankle tap on Nacer Chadli did, however, betray a lack of pace.

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Sergio Romero made his United debut after Louis van Gaal said David De Gea was not in the right frame of mind to play.

2. Romero the United hero

The Argentina international had not played a club game since December 2014. At 28, he has played 62 times for his country yet has fewer than 200 first-team appearances at club level. In the face of David De Gea's mental state, Louis van Gaal rolled the dice and received a performance that began shakily but improved as the keeper's confidence grew.

Van Gaal's logic delivered. Romero was relatively fresh from playing in the summer's Copa America, meaning Sam Johnstone, without a single first-team United appearance, stood down. Victor Valdes, excommunicated by Van Gaal, was not even listed in the programme.

Losing De Gea, United's best player last season, was far from ideal, and a Real Madrid move remains the most likely outcome to this summer transfer saga.

Beyond his rapid-fire reflexes and elastic frame, De Gea is consummate with the ball in open play. Romero was nervy here, however. The opening moments saw him struggle with his distribution -- on a couple of occasions he sold short defenders who had shown for his passes. His first save was effective if unorthodox, blocking an overlapping Kyle Walker and getting a rap on the shins for his troubles. A second-half collection of an Eriksen cross drew relieved applause. Still, though, he finished with a clean sheet, and those saves of Eriksen's shots had the Stretford End singing his name.

He might not end up anything like a long-term solution but Romero collected his clean sheet, making the saves that kept the points.

Harry Kane battled with Manchester United defender Matteo Darmian but failed to find a breakthrough.

3. Kane carries the can for Spurs

Tottenham's squad list produces a sense of streamlining. With both Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado being ushered out, Harry Kane remains the sole striker. For a player who could not get a first-team start 12 months ago, it looks a considerable burden. But as United and Arsenal are finding, strikers are difficult to source.

In his previous appearance at Old Trafford, a 3-0 defeat in March, Kane arrived with a status akin to the greatest living Englishman, but he disappeared from view. This time around he played with the boundless enthusiasm that made him such a hit. His gangly frame is rather difficult to knock off the ball and his creative eye is equally strong. At times, his tussle with Daley Blind, surely only a temporary solution at centre-back, did not look a fair fight.

Speculation still links last season's breakout star with United and he almost damaged them in the opening minutes. When United's defenders expected him to shoot, he instead lobbed a perfect ball to Eriksen, but the Dane's chip skimmed the bar with Romero stranded.

Kane, though, cannot do it all on his own. It is Spurs' habit to leave transfer business late, but bodies seem necessary if the club are to even dream of the top four or a decent Europa League campaign.

Eric Dier's deployment as a defensive midfielder was a legacy of Tottenham's trimming. Paulinho, Benjamin Stambouli and Etienne Capoue have been sold, and with Ryan Mason recovering from a summer injury, Dier, a defender by trade, sat in front of his usual department and looked none too comfortable when passing the ball out. United made more than a couple of first-half incursions straight off Dier errors.

Mauricio Pochettino's other options were untried and untested. Tom Carroll has returned from a mixed loan spell at Swansea and Dele Alli is a teenage talent signed from MK Dons.

John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.


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