It’s the first season in two years where there hasn’t been a major upturn at Utd (yay same manager as last year!), unless of course you call the switch from Nike to Adidas a major upturn, which of course it is, in quality of shirts. Sadly this isn’t a post about the differing quality and designs of the world’s two biggest sports clothing producers (although if it was I’d be telling you why Adidas is better than Nike) but rather an analysis of the Man Utd squad for the upcoming 2015-16 season.
I didn’t get a chance to write up a season review specifically for Utd after last season because time was short and I was off gallivanting for a number of weeks, and by the time I got back so much had changed I felt that a season review was no longer really relevant to the time. So instead here’s a short passage, 4th was minimum expectation but in reality the team massively under achieved and should have finished second. Utd were incredibly lucky that the teams below them were all sorts of levels of incompetent because the amount of times Utd gave their competition an open goal only for them to balloon it over the bar was embarrassing. There were holes all over the squad and in my opinion a minimum of six players were needed for the club to have a reasonable chance of winning the league and there was still a huge ton of deadwood to be shifted out of the club which would happen at great difficulty.
I wrote this exact same piece last season (which can be read here!) and some of the points on the squad are quite interesting when you look back at them. Obviously things change with the squad as the transfer window doesn’t close for over three weeks and players will still come in and leave. Last year it was all about 3-5-2, this year Utd have switched back to a more familiar 4-3-3 a very effective formation but one which requires pace out wide, something I’m not sure Utd have enough of as things stand.
As with last season Van Gaal’s overturn of the squad has been rather harsh and deep cutting, with sentiment being left for no players. Some of the players being sold have been quite astonishing, and possibly more astonishing is the price with which they are being sold for. Yes, Ed Woodward may be a genius at squeezing sponsorships out of nowhere, but the guy is hopeless at selling players (to be fair he will be using accounting techniques which calculate the true value of the transfer which will be much higher than the physical transfer itself). Heading out of the club were big names like Robin Van Persie (had two bad seasons in a row and looks done), Nani (this transfer has been coming for years, just glad to get him off the wage bill), Rafael (which is such a shame because he was Utd through and through and always gave his all, in Fergie’s last year he was phenomenal and looked like he was going to fulfil his potential, only for a terrible year under Moyes, constant injuries and a lack of faith from LVG; very sad to see him go), Tom Cleverley (couldn’t give two fucks), Angelo Henriquez (who never seemed to get going), Ben Amos (was never good enough), Saidy Janko (bit of a surprise but I’m not sure he’s technically good enough for this level), Reece James and Tom Thorpe (both probably not ever going to be good enough), and all these players left for the grand sum of around £12 million… I know that a lot of the players were either on a low contract or the club just wanted rid of them, however the lack of money made is pretty pitiful.
Falcao also won’t be back this season, in what can only be called no loss at all. How odd that he went from having a piss poor season with a team in which he couldn’t get in to despite the strikers struggling for goals, to a team which finished well above his previous team. It’s funny how everyone is applauding Mourinho’s signing as genius and low risk/high reward whilst at the same time chastising Utd for wasting money on a player who clearly hadn’t recovered from a knee injury and making Utd the butt of all the jokes because the club spent £6m on a loan fee… The puppet master often pulls the strings gently. The thing about Falcao for me is that although he may get back to his old form, I very much doubt it. He doesn’t look sharp at all and seems to have lost pace, however worst of all he consistently pulls out of fifty fifty’s in a manner which leads me to believe that he is scared that he will re-injure himself and if that is the case he will never get back to his very best and will continue to disappoint in front of goal. Amazingly enough the big signing of last season, Angel Di Maria, is no longer a Utd player after only one year. In what can only be called a disaster, Utd sold Di Maria for a loss, however in my opinion we overpaid for him and this time PSG are paying his actual market value. What does annoy me is that this is the same team who paid £50m for David Luiz and Sterling went for £50m this summer as well, Di Maria is better than both of these players, it really says something about what the club and the manager must think about him. If you had told me last September that neither Falcao nor Di Maria would be in the Utd team at this point and I wouldn’t be bothered about it, I would think you had been taking Donald Trump pills; oddly enough this is my exact feeling about neither man now being at the club.
Now on to the actual squad, I will break it down into positions (GK, CB, etc).
David De Gea is the best goalkeeper in the league and the second best in the world, he has everything you would want in a keeper and is only 24. You couldn’t hand write a more perfect situation than this, De Gea should be the clubs goalkeeper for the next ten years minimum, that was if he didn’t have a year left on his contract and wanted to move back to Madrid. I’m obviously biased, however why would anyone want to move to Madrid when they have such shit fans, you will earn more at Utd and be much more loved by the crowd? What confuses me even more is that De Gea is a Atletico boy and fan, yet he wants to move to their arch rivals? It’s some Italian level football proportions which I will never be able to understand. Sadly De Gea has left Utd in a really awkward position, he wants to leave but why should the club let him go for anything but good money? They shouldn’t, they should let him run down his contract and hope that he realises the mistake which he has made or alternatively he breaks up with his girlfriend who ultimately is the real cause of all the unrest and the desire to move back to Madrid. If De Gea is there at the start of the season and acts like a professional, then Utd have a quality player in nets, if he jumps out of the way of the ball (a la the PSG game) then it will be an unhappy year for both the player and the club. If he goes then Utd will need to sign a new keeper and a keeper of the quality required to replace De Gea won’t come cheap.
Sergio Romero came in on a free in what was a very nice piece of business for the club. He is an excellent backup and it is quite surprising that he wasn’t looking for first team football. The key word here is backup, if De Gea were to leave and Romero was promoted to number one I would be concerned, he isn’t by any means awful but there is a reason why he’s been a backup the last few years.
Victor Valdes and Anders Lindegaard are also both still at the club and both are more than capable of being backups or in Valdes’ case the actual starter if De Gea were to leave. Oddly though both men seem to have upset Van Gaal and both have been told that they are free to leave. It’s an unusual situation because Valdes in particular is surely a useful body to have around, but maybe that’s just me.
Utd currently have by far the best goalkeeping depth in the Premier League; De Gea, Valdes, Romero, Lindegaard and even Sam Johnstone is quite in impressive line-up. Sadly that’s two too many and by the end of the window it wouldn’t shock me at all if three of those five were gone, sadly one of that three may be De Gea.
Matteo Darmian comes in this season to fill the massive hole which Utd have at right back, a major weakness last season which cost the team on a number of occasions. Darmian is a shrewd piece of business, Utd have signed the starting Italian right back who is 25 for only £12.7m, compare that to the £27m that was paid for Shaw last season and you start to see why Shaw was massively overpriced. Darmian has everything to be successful as a fullback; pace, an engine, good going forward and he’s decent in defence. A good signing who should have a big impact this season.
Antonio Valencia has completed his transformation into a right back; the issue is that he isn’t a very good right back. I like Valencia, I like the determination and desire he shows, however the simple fact is that he has little to no defensive intelligence which is required for a right back. It is that odd thing that as a winger he wasn’t decent at going back the way, but defending as a right back is a whole different monster and quite simply he isn’t good enough when it comes to the big games. If Valencia plays as a back up to Darmian, coming in on a limited occasion in games which Utd should win, then I doubt there will be a problem. The problems will arise when he has to play for a sustained period and his defensive weaknesses will be shown once again, likely in a costly manner.
Utd are looking good at right back, however all it would take is a serious Darmian injury for that to all change.
Luke Shaw had a poor season last year which contained many niggling injuries, losing his place to makeshift left backs and generally being called unfit. It’s a shame for him because at such a young age he moved for an astronomical fee and a hell of a lot of pressure was put on him. He’s a year older, he looks fitter and he has had a year to bed into the first team and what it is like playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs. If Shaw can replicate the form which we all know he is capable of then Utd will have a deadly duo at full back, I think he will.
Oddly enough Utd only have one recognised left back this season but there isn’t actually a concern about depth. Shaw will be backed up by a mix of Rojo, Blind, Blackett, Young and maybe even Darmian switching sides.
Phil Jones is the butt of many jokes; however what is often missed is that last year was his first playing predominantly at centre back for Utd and he actually had a really solid year. What people often forget about Jones is that he is only 23, yet has already made 128 appearances for Man Utd. Personally I think Jones has the potential to be a really good player and is currently the clubs best centre back, however he is still to rash and clumsy for my liking, often putting himself in unnecessarily dangerous positions where he could easily be injured. Speaking of injured it really is Jones’ Achilles heel, since joining Utd he hasn’t had a full season of fitness, something which is vital if you are to be a starting centre back. If Jones could stay fit for the season I think by the end of it people would be talking about this being the year of his coming of age, sadly it’s a big if.
Chris Smalling was in the last chance saloon last season and you have to give it to him as he came up with his best season at Utd. I’m still uncertain about Smalling because he only looks comfortable in the right centre back slot, he still looks scared on the ball, often losing it between his feet and he still at times turns off. Smalling has however improved greatly under Van Gaal, I just don’t long term see him as being any better than a backup.
Marcos Rojo is very similar to Smalling in my eyes, he is a solid enough player but is often lacking concentration, can be a bit rash and his use of the ball can often leave a lot to be desired. Rojo however benefits from being left footed and playing for a manager who seems determined to play a left footed player at the left centre back position, which is odd when you consider that Utd’s greatest ever centre back pairing was between the both right footed Vidic and Ferdinand. I always think it’s harsh to truly judge a player after one season, and Rojo could take leaps and bounds this coming season; however he seems like a good back up to me, not a starter.
I’m surprised that Evans is actually still at the club and he managed to avoid the clear out which has so far happened this summer. It isn’t that Evans is awful, but rather that he is unreliable. Evans would be fine as a backup; however it says everything when he has fallen behind the younger McNair in the pecking order. At best Evans is currently the fifth centre back at the club, which for a player of his age and experience isn’t good enough. He should really be starting somewhere and if he were to go to a Everton for instance I’m sure he would do well (just look at Fletcher at West Brom), he just isn’t good enough for this level anymore.
Paddy McNair was quite the revelation last season (I thought it would have been Michael Keane), coming out of nowhere when every other option was either suspended or injured. At times he looked like he could be the next big thing in defence and then at times he was the polar opposite and looked like a teenager being thrust into the spotlight of playing for one of the world’s biggest football clubs. McNair has shown glimpses of real talent and after 18 appearances for the first team last year you can only imagine that he should be able to kick on. If McNair were to kick on Utd would have a very solid player for the years to come, this is a big year for him.
Tyler Blackett is a total anomaly to me. I don’t understand why he is so high up the pecking order in regards to the defence. Yes he has versatility and can play left back to a degree (he isn’t the best just now but may develop given playing time); however he doesn’t look nearly good enough to play centre back in my mind. He turns off constantly letting the opposition in behind him, finds himself out of position, often looks lost, doesn’t have a great use of the ball and frankly doesn’t look Utd quality. The one thing which Blackett does have is a left foot and apparently that is more important than general ability. Hopefully he will develop but I have my doubts and he is currently the sixth best centre back so may not even get the opportunities required.
Centre back was one of Utd’s worst positions last season and this season is no different. One big difference is that last year Utd intended on playing 3-5-2 and didn’t have Rojo at this point. For me Utd are still short one centre back from having a very solid defence. LVG seems determined to force Blind in to playing centre back, but it isn’t that easy to make the switch from midfield to defence and he is also a bit on the small side. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Utd entered September without a new centre back, but you would feel safer if the club had one.
You can’t really start anywhere but Bastian Schweinsteiger, what a signing and for relatively decent money (around £14m). Something which was sorely missing form last season’s Utd team was leadership, not surprising when you consider big names like Rio, Vidic, Evra and Giggs all left in the summer and their presence was never replaced, that has now been rectified. Schweinsteiger is the kind of midfield general which you need in a team to drive them forward to success; in fact I’d go as far to say that this is the first time since Keane left that Utd have had exactly that. Potentially Utd have signed one of the best central midfielders in the world, a man who has won everything, the downside to it is that Schweinsteiger has been struggling with injuries the last couple of seasons and if he struggles to overcome those injuries again Utd will have bought a broken player. Even if Schweinsteiger was to spend too much time in the physios, I don’t actually think it would be too horrific for Utd, as the leadership which he brings to the dressing room is invaluable and the amount which was paid for him makes it almost no risk at all.
Morgan Schneiderlin will get less press than Schweinsteiger but I actually think it was the better signing. Schneiderlin finally fills the massive Roy Keane shaped hole which hasn’t been filled for a number of years. Honestly Keane was the last quality defensive midfield player which played for Utd before the signing of Schweinsteiger and he left almost ten years ago. Schneiderlin has had three excellent seasons at Southampton in the Premier League and has more than earned his move. He looks good enough to take the step up and has the defensive mind, passing ability and physical presence to be a real success in the heart of Utd’s midfield.
Ander Herrera had a difficult season last year until he finally broke in to the first team and finished the season very well. Herrera was impressive in what was a fairly lightweight midfield, and with the signings of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger this is no longer the case. Herrera breaks up play well, gets stuck in and goes forward with great effect. He isn’t the most physically imposing and he is short but he should flourish in a three man midfield which will allow him to play box to box.
Michael Carrick was excellent last year, sadly he was also injured a hell of a lot. You could really see the difference in Utd’s results when Carrick was in and out of the team. You know what you get with Carrick, he doesn’t grab the headlines but does everything nicely and playing in a three man midfield will protect his lack of legs and should give him more space to ping passes about.
Marouane Fellaini is one of the biggest examples of a career rejuvenation under LVG. It is funny to think that he was almost certainly going to be sent out on loan before injuring himself, only for him to come back and have the season that everyone wanted him to have the year before. Yes Fellaini isn’t Utd class, yes he has no passing ability and yes he is like a cart horse, however the big guy is really effective. Big Felli out muscles defenders like no one else, he is excellent in the air and is a constant nuisance. I don’t think he should be starting, but as a guy who can come off the bench when you need a goal and give you something totally different, well you couldn’t pick a better player than Fellaini. Imagine having played 75 minutes up against it the entire match but you’ve held on, only to see this big monster that plays physical as hell trundle off the bench and walk next to you, he’s a nightmare.
Daley Blind is the new Phil Neville, a man who can play every position but can’t hold one down permanently. Blind should primarily be a holding midfielder, where he will back up Schneiderlin; however he will also likely play a lot of left back and it looks like centre back too. Blind isn’t a bad player, he’s solid but not spectacular. His passing for a central midfielder isn’t probably to the standard which you would like and he probably plays it a little too safe. Blind does show glimpses occasionally of being more than a utility man, however currently he hasn’t shown it enough. He’s a solid left back and will be a good back up, however I have doubts over his potential success at centre back. What concerns me is that he is on the short side, the defensive requirements for playing holding and playing centre back are totally different and he does have a tendency to be caught in no man’s land which as a centre back is a huge no no. I get that he is playing there because he is left footed and LVG wants a left footed player at left centre back but surely there are better options.
Utd’s central midfield has gone from being a real spot of weakness to being one of the team’s biggest strengths. There is now real quality in that midfield and better than that there are a number of players who do different things. One issue which may arise is if you were to play two of the players together who may not quite fit (a la Carrick and Schweinsteiger being a bit too similar), however too many options is a good headache to have.
Memphis Depay is another exciting signing in a season of exciting seasons. Utd were sorely lacking in pace and creativity, something which Depay will give them bundles of. The question will be how long he will need to settle in to the team, after all the jump from the Eredivise to the Premier League is fairly substantial. Memphis certainly has all the attributes of a potential Premier League star and the fact that most of the top teams wanted him says tons. As much as the Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin signings were both excellent big signings, this is the one which sets the heart racing. Memphis will get his chances as well with light competition for three places; he’s my pick for young player of the year.
Juan Mata isn’t really a winger but he has found his place wide right. The issue with Mata as a winger is that he doesn’t have any pace and although he has improved defensively he still doesn’t have the defensive nuance you would like. Mata is still a great player and you could move him in to the middle, but I have my doubts. Sometimes it isn’t about how good you are, sometimes you just don’t fit in a system and sadly Mata seems like he doesn’t really fit. I personally would still keep him around because he is still an excellent player and quietly had a very good season last year, but I struggle to see where his place is in the team long term, which is a shame because he is the type of player which teams should be built around.
Nobody improved as much as Ashley Young under LVG’s stewardship, the transformation from everyone’s most hated player to the rejuvenated son is quite remarkable. I though he has a place in the team at left wing back, however when Utd switched back to a back four I couldn’t see him at the club anymore. Young seems to be that guy that you keep seeing everywhere and despite never wanting to see him again he keeps showing up over and over again. Almost certainly Young will be a starter going in to the new season and deservedly so. Young is the perfect example of a player who has tons of ability but loses confidence and form, usually when a player does this over a number of season they never recover, so the fact that he has is quite remarkable. I’m sure off the back of all this praise he will have his worst season yet and everyone will go back to wondering how he plays for Man Utd.
Adnan Januzaj is the only player who dramatically regressed under LVG. Januzaj was the one bright spark from the Moyes era and last year he was awful, no goals and no assists. What annoyed me most about Januzaj is that it seemed like he had developed maturity issues (not playing the right balls, being selfish, diving, etc), something which will not help him develop at all. One of the major issues with him could be that LVG wants to turn him in to a striker, which isn’t the worst idea in the world because I’m not sure he is truly suited to being an out and out winger. There is no doubting Januzaj’s ability, however ability doesn’t turn you in to a world class footballer; determination, commitment and ability turn you in to a world class footballer, he should remember that. Positives for Januzaj is that he can potentially play four positions in the team and it looks like he has bulked up some which should help with all his falling over.
There are a number of young players kicking about who will be trying their best to get a chance to fill some of the wide and attacking midfield positions. They are headlined by Andreas Pereira who looks like a real talent and seems to have a fairly level head on his shoulders; he should be given more of an opportunity this year hopefully. Jesse Lingard follows Pereira in the pecking order but at 22 this is his make or break season, if he doesn’t make in indent in the first team this year he never will. I feel sorry for Lingard, who started the first game of last year only to get a mid-term injury and by the time he was out the team had been established and he was pumped out on loan, I really hope he gets a chance. The last of these players is Nick Powell, a player with so much potential but a horrible attitude, this is his last chance to prove why he deserves to stay at the club, he’s almost certainly a goner.
With the departure of Di Maria the winger/attacking midfield position are lacking a player; there is still a lack of pace and directness as well. The question is will LVG look towards Pereira and Lingard to fill the Di Maria shaped hole or will he go out (as is heavily reported) and sign Pedro? Either way one of these things needs to happen or there is a massive gap in the team.
Club captain Wayne Rooney probably wouldn’t have thought last year that he would be sitting at the club with little to no competition for his position at all. Everyone rightly gets pissed when Rooney plays in the midfield, however often needs must. This however is no longer the case as Utd’s central midfield has now become the strongest area of the team and the striker cupboard is barer than Manuel Pellegrini’s personality. Rooney is the clear starter and with a full season up top you have to hope that he will be able to put up numbers which are in the thirties, he definitely has the ability and now he has the chance to prove how good he is.
Javier Hernandez seemed like a goner, yet here he still is. After a year at Real Madrid Chicharito is back in red, however I have my doubts if he will be when September comes about. People seem to forget that Hernandez is actually a very good player who has pace, finishing abilities and is proven at this level. Remy backs up Costa at Chelsea and I would say Hernandez is better than him, yet it seems very much like he will be heading out of the door. This isn’t last season where he found himself as the fourth choice centre forward, now he is number two and to be honest that should be good enough for him to be happy. I would keep him as the back up to Rooney, are you really going to be able to find a better player who is willing to play as the number two in a one striker system? I doubt it very much.
James Wilson finished off the list and if the strikers stay the way they are he could be in for a very big season. Wilson showed that he is a solid player last year and it shouldn’t be forgotten that he is only 19. He has pace, desire and makes good runs, the only thing I could criticise him for is that he didn’t score enough goals in the games he was given. It is difficult because most of those games were off the bench and it can be very difficult to make an impact in this situation, if he is the third striker his chances will improve greatly and he should be given more of a chance to prove himself. Another bright prospect who adds a nice change of pace to the bench and some much needed speed up front.
Rooney is a quality player but beyond him there isn’t much else, Hernandez is a good enough back up in my mind and Wilson is a great development player to have, but if Rooney were to pick up a serious injury it would leave the club in a very bad situation. To think Utd have went from having Rooney, RVP and Falcao to Rooney, Hernandez and Wilson, in terms of names it is a massive drop-off although it surely can’t be a drop-off in production, that would nearly be impossible.
Utd have a good squad and you could even argue that they have the best squad (not first eleven) in the league. There is really good depth all over the pitch and the first eleven isn’t bad either, yet nobody is talking about Utd to win the league. So why is that? Well the problem is that despite having the best keeper in the league he wants to leave, the centre of defence is still missing a commanding leader, there is a lack of pace and the team could probably do with another striker. Utd are close and if they get off to a quick start and are able to go through the season without having the massive dips which the team experienced last season then it could be a very fruitful season. The Premier League is set up to be very close this season between four teams and it should be very interesting, Utd will be in that mix.
As far as potential signings go I think that Utd could do with signing a centre back, winger and striker, plus a goalkeeper if De Gea is to leave. It is a big ask to bring in four players after the club has already brought in five this summer, that is too much turnover and the team will play with very little chemistry. The good thing though is that the early signings got a full pre-season in and will be bedded in much better and should hit the ground running. It seems everyone and their grannie is tipped to be going to Utd so the always unreliable newspapers are useless in predicting this stuff. If we’re talking keepers I’d sign Leno if De Gea goes, I doubt Utd will sign another centre back at this rate nor do I know who they will sign (Otamendi gets thrown about a lot but the fact that nothing has come of it makes me think it won’t happen), Pedro would be a great replacement for Di Maria and give Utd the pace and directness which the team is lacking and the striker rumours have been varying in unbelievableness.
I expect Utd’s current team to line up like this:
I’d love to see LVG give some of the youth players a real chance this season, he sort of did last year with the likes of Wilson, McNair and Blackett, but I’d love it if he took it to the next level like he did at Bayern where he flooded the team with that perfect youth experience mixture.
I’m quietly optimistic for the season ahead, the team is solid and the summer additions have been very strong. I still feel like the team is two players short of being really good (a centre back and an attacking player with pace) but this team is good enough to challenge for the league. Is it good enough to win the league? Probably, but I wouldn’t make Utd favourites. They’re there and that’s important, a title challenge is a must this season because a second season of just making the Champions League and that’s it isn’t good enough.
If you made it this far then I applaud you effort of going through what can only be called a big wall of words which at times seemed to incoherently rabble on over little to nothing and often made little to no sense, sort of like this paragraph which you are currently reading…Anyway why not take a few more seconds to skip over to the Facebook and Twitter pages where you can get more of this mediocre content at a click of a button, or why not leave a comment and share your thoughts on the Man Utd squad for the upcoming season, it only takes a second or two.