It’s incredibly unusual to be sitting here writing about a Premier League season which as about to start and more or less knowing exactly how the teams should line-up. So here’s the analysis of the Manchester United squad for the 2018-19 season and this time it will likely be what the actual squad looks like for once.
Utd had an average season last year, nothing special, about minimum expectations of a passable season, however if you listened to the media you would be led to believe that this team were shockingly poor and are on the cusp of catastrophe. I find it odd how derogatory the media has been this summer about Utd, it shouldn’t surprise me that the media is willing to stoop to low levels and yet here we are again.
I don’t know if there is an agenda against Utd (there is a disproportionately large number of Liverpool fans and pundits in the media) or if it’s that there is an agenda against Mourinho or if it’s a mix of both. What I find ridiculous is how poor sports journalism has become that it is more important to sensationalise headlines than write a good piece. People love reading negative posts about Mourinho and in many ways he doesn’t help himself but more often than not it is spun in a manner which is farcical. Journalists have turned their back on their profession as they have become slaves to the click. The truth no longer matters, can’t let it get in the way of a good story.
For the first time in a number of seasons it finally looks like David De Gea will be at Utd for the long term. With Madrid signing Courtois their long awaited goalkeeper signing has happened and Utd’s number one is finally safe and sound. He’s the best keeper in the world, by far the best in the league and Utd’s best overall player.
Sergio Romero is about as good a back up as you could hope for. I’m pretty surprised that he’s still at the club because he’s better than being a career back up.
Lee Grant was one of Utd’s three summer signings and one which can only be described as incredibly odd. Yes you need a third keeper and yes you’d rather get Pereira some first team experience and it’s only fair to let Johnstone go, however I’d rather see a youth player take this spot. It’s a really weird signing because it isn’t like Utd are struggling to fill the home grown player numbers. It wouldn’t honestly shock me if he never plays a game for the club.
Can’t ask for much more at goalkeeper, it’s the one part of Utd’s line up that has been set since Fergie left and continues to be an absolute strength.
Valencia is Utd’s starting right back…again… I find it concerning for the club that Valencia who is in the twilight of his career and is coming off the back of a very average season is the man who will line up at right back when everyone is fit. Athletically he still looks ok, however his end product really dropped off as the season progressed and I can only assume that’s because he ran out of gas. Dalot’s signing points to him being rotated more often, but you would really hope for more. Valencia still has the potential to be a good player, however I don’t think I’d want him to be my starting full back for a fresh season with minimal competition.
Dalot is the second signing of the three and everyone seems to think that he has bundles of potential, which is great! The problem arises from the fact that he only managed to play 8 first eleven games for Porto and he’s already 19. I’m hoping for the best, he’ll get a season to sit behind Valencia and allow him to get comfortable in his new set up. Dalot should get a good chunk of game time this season, probably upwards of 20 games and that is vital experience at his age. Utd definitely don’t have a bad recent record signing teenage full backs…
As of writing Darmian is still at Utd which is quite a remarkable feat. I can’t blame him for wanting to leave, he barely featured last season and clearly isn’t wanted. Utd have shopped him all summer yet nobody would pay what Utd were looking for. I like Darmian, he isn’t that great and offers nothing going forward, but he is useful to have around as a utility option who can play all along the back line. The European window is still open so I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t here by September but I still think he’s a useful squad player to have around.
Three players for one position is pretty good depth, Valencia is an ok if not ideal starter, the other two make for good backups. In a perfect world Dalot would become the starter as the season progresses, we shall see.
“It’s crazy to think that when Luke Shaw was signed by Utd that I would be writing about how the club has a left back crisis, however that is exactly what is happening. Shaw is going into his fourth season and he has been a massive disappointment. He often looks overweight, his confidence is terrible and seems to constantly pick up niggling injuries, it really isn’t good enough. It’s hard to not question if his heart is really in it. This is it for Shaw, this is his make or break season, if he doesn’t bring the goods this year then the club needs to sell him and bring someone else in. When you spend £27m on a left back you don’t expect to spend three seasons having a massive gap at the position, yet that’s where Utd are. The criticisms coming from Mourinho are very concerning, and he isn’t the first manager to make them, which is even more concerning, it is becoming a trend.” That’s what I wrote about Shaw last season, still the case. He looks in better shape, however I don’t know how many times I can think that only to be burned once again.
Ashley Young is Utd’s starting left back for the season… It’s a weird one, he’s another useful player to have around, however the idea that he’s a starter is concerning. When your team plays inverted wingers (and Utd very much do) then all the width is created by the full backs, this is a concern if you’re then also playing an inverted full back. I don’t understand footballs fascination with inverted wingers, but to have a left side with two inverted wide players is just silly. Young isn’t a bad player, but he shouldn’t be any more than a squad player and unless Shaw actually shows up that won’t be the case.
Left back is a mess, it was a mess last season and it’s even more of a mess this season. In the summer it was unthinkable that Utd would go into the season without a new left back, yet here we are without a new left back. Young is ok, Shaw in theory could be great (although I think it’s unlikely) and Darmian can always cover if needed. Utd will go into the season with their two starting full backs being aged 33, hardly what you’d want.
Bailly was really good in his first season looking like a starter for the long term, then followed it up with a season where he just couldn’t stay fit. Bailly only managed 18 games, that’s about as many as Darmian and Bailly would be one of your starting eleven if everyone was fit. Bailly can be rash and at times turns off, however he’s only 24 and still has massive room for improvement. The question for Bailly is whether he can stay fit for the season, if he can then it would make a massive difference for the backline and his progression in his career.
I thought Jones had a really good season last year and yet he still only managed 25 games. Jones and Bailly are Utd’s two best centre backs in my opinion, yet they managed a combined 43 games between them, a disappointing number for one starting centre back never mind two. I still think Jones is developing as a player and has shown massive improvement since Mourinho came in, however he is still liable to the odd brain fart (FA Cup final, Spurs game). I think both of these things would be forgiveable if he could just stay fit, however he has never shown this ability in his career. Jones is 26 now, he should be a stalwart but he isn’t because he isn’t on the pitch enough. There’s only so many injury prone players one team can carry.
Smalling has been at Utd 9 years now, the senior centre back in the squad! Smalling was the only centre back who showed any ability to stay fit last season and due to that he was the ever present in the second half of the year and to be fair to Smalling he did fairly well. I feel like I say it every year and I’ll say it again, Smalling is a good squad player, however if you’re relying on him as a starter then that’s a problem.
Rojo came back from his ACL tear last season and as expected looked well off the pace and got very little game time. Rojo isn’t really Utd class, he’s too rash and isn’t really defensively all there. He was having a great season prior to his injury but an ACL isn’t an easy one to come back from and he will probably line up as Utd’s fifth choice centre back, making it harder to get that match fitness. Not a terrible fifth option.
Lindelof comes into a big season for him, I wouldn’t say it’s make or brake but it can’t be far off it. He didn’t really have much of a season last year, he looked like it was all too big for him, like a lost little boy out there. His passing is good, he’s definitely the best centre back on the ball but defensively it all looks a little bit messy. It feels like he’s overthinking what he has to do, that he’s scared to get it wrong, almost as if he himself thinks he isn’t at this level. Lindelof showed at the World Cup that he is a good player, that he can be effective, now he has to raise his game at Utd and show why he deserves to be at this level.
I think most Utd fans (and Mourinho) would have wanted a new centre back, someone who could play an entire season without being injured, a leader, yet Utd will go into the season with the same centre backs as last year. It was clear Utd were looking for a starting centre back, that means that Mourinho doesn’t fancy what he has, so how will the centre backs the club have respond to this? If Bailly and Jones can stay fit then I think Utd are actually set up really well at centre back, realistically they won’t, so it will all depend on how Lindelof develops and how fit the other guys can stay.
Pogba improved his performances from last season, however due to injuries and an untimely suspension it didn’t feel like he was ever to get real momentum. Pogba is such a good player but he still has too many inconsistencies. His passing, control of the ball, use of his body, speed for his size and strength are all fantastic, his defending and at times (not all the time) his effort is lacking. The World Cup (where I felt Pogba was the best player) showed just how good Pogba is, he lives for the big moments and that is reflected in his Utd performances. There’s obviously been a lot of negative noise running into the season starting which is almost certainly Pogba playing his Rooney card to try and get a juicy new contract, it’s a shame that this is what modern day football is. Pogba is a special player, he can be a leader in this team, he brings swagger and this needs to be his year to step up and show why he deserves to be the man.
Matic was a massive player for Utd last season as he filled in the gap which had existed for many seasons in holding midfield. Like many of Utd’s players Matic tired at the end of the season as he was left to play almost every game, but the cover this season should allow him to be rotated more and stay fresher. Matic is better on the ball than I was expecting and his defensive work is top notch. He was often isolated playing next to Pogba in a two, so you would think with the money spent on Fred that Utd will be playing a three this season, certainly in the big games and this should help Matic heavily.
Speaking of Fred, Utd’s third and final signing of the summer. Fred is the marquee signing of the year and is exactly what the club need to fill up the central midfield. He is an all around central midfielder who will compliment Pogba and Matic to make a very good three or two. The question for Fred will be how well he’ll be able to adapt to the league, for the amount of money spent and the fact he’s the only big signing of the summer I don’t think anything but instantly will be accepted.
Herrera took a big step backwards last season, he was in and out of the team all season and had what seemed like a lot of niggling injuries, however when he did play he wasn’t that great and never looked sharp. It’s a total contrast to how he played last season, where he was electric and made a huge difference in the midfield. He will probably drop into more of a squad role now, which is a shame for him because I do think he’s better than that, however it just means that there is quality depth in the middle of the pitch.
Just when you thought big Felli was out of the door…we pulled him back in…yay… Honestly it isn’t a terrible re-signing because it would cost a bunch of cash to replace him and with him re-signing Utd have great depth in central midfield. Part of me wanted him to leave because he is the poster boy for Utd’s terrible post-Fergie era and it always bothers me that when he plays or comes off the bench that the tactics turn into hoof ball to the big man, but you can’t deny that hoof ball to the big man can often be a successful tactic and honestly Utd could do worse.
McTominay received 23 appearances for Utd last season, not bad for a breakthrough season. McTominay is about 5-6/10 at everything, however isn’t outstanding at anything and in the long term that could cost him his place. In the short term he has space to grow as a player and will be given opportunities to further develop with the first eleven. If he can improve his passing and possession play then I think he can develop into a really good player, I think a lot of this is to do with him needing to develop more confidence, which will hopefully for him come in time.
Central midfield is actually looking pretty healthy with the addition of Fred plus the return of Andreas from loan who can slot in here too (as could Mata and Lingard). It feels like Utd have a lot of options in the middle of the park now and that going into last season was one of my biggest concerns. Pogba, Fred, Matic as your starters and backups of Herrera, McTominay and Fellaini, not too bad for a team which will switch between a two and a three.
Alexis Sanchez wasn’t signed this summer, however if he was (which basically he was) then I think it would make this window look a hell of a lot better. What I really don’t understand about the Sanchez signing is that Utd signed him not to play on the right wing (which would have made a ton of sense) but instead played on the left wing where Utd already had two players. He’s certainly a trier but is incredibly frustrating to watch him give the ball away several times in a match. Sanchez has had the summer off though and this combined with a full pre-season should allow for him to have a better season. I think Sanchez could be really impactful this season, I expect big things from him and he could be the secret weapon that nobody is really talking about (as crazy as that sounds).
It seems that every window Mata’s position at the club is precarious, yet he keeps clinging on. I like Mata a lot, he’s a team man. My problem with Mata is more that he is likely the starting right winger for the season and he really isn’t a right winger. Mata has never really been able to replicate his Chelsea form at Utd and I don’t see this season being any better. You know what you’re going to get with Mata, it’s going to be solid but don’t expect a marvel.
What can you say about Martial? Started last season really strongly then blew up in the second half of the year. It’s so frustrating to watch what is clearly an incredibly talented player piss it all away because he has an attitude issue. I guess it shouldn’t be shocking that a guy who knocks a woman up in his teens has drama surrounding him, but you just expect more. He needs to work on so many aspects of his game and because he’d rather bitch to his cousin he’s missing a World Cup winning medal around his neck. Martial needs to learn how to defend, how to press and most importantly how to run in behind, I don’t see him as being overly better than he was when he first came to Utd. The problem for Utd is that he could easily head off to some other club and absolutely light it up so you’re always scared to let him go. It seems that Mourinho has fallen out with him and I can’t blame him, he should be a nailed on starter and instead he’s fucking about being immature. Who knows if he’ll be at the club next season, his performances don’t merit it and his relationship with the manager is abysmal. If Mourinho is still here next season then I can’t see Martial being at Utd, which is sad.
Lingard had a career season as he stepped up from being a prototypical squad player to being one of the first names on the team sheet. Lingard is exactly what you want in a player, someone who gives everything and will run all day, however to relegate Lingard to that is really unfair. Lingard has improved his end product immensely and that is the reason he has developed so much as a player. His vision for space, his running with the ball and his interplay make him a really dangerous asset. It will be interesting to see if he is able to replicate his form this year.
Andreas Pereira is back with the team for this season after a loan spell at Valencia. He’s played a bunch of the pre-season games and will give Utd an extra option in central midfield, attacking midfield and on the right wing. It will be interesting to see how much he gets to play because he is down the pecking order just now. There’s no doubt that he’s got potential, however he played a squad role at Valencia last season and at 22 he really needs to show what he can do if he wants to play in the side long term. The irony of going to Valencia last season for more game time is that he would have probably got lots of game time last season with the amount of injuries Utd had, this season hopefully he’ll stick around and get his chance. He has a little bit of flair in the attacking third that is often missing and will be hungry to show what he can do.
There’s a lot of good players in the attacking third, the problem is that they all play on the central/left side. Martial or Rashford should really be looking at the right wing and thinking that that is their spot instead of being huffy that Sanchez was signed. Similar to left back, the lack of a right wing signing is quite the surprise. This isn’t a new issue, it’s been known for years that Utd lack a right winger, so for it to again be ignored is confusing.
Lukaku had a respectable first season for Utd last year and has developed significantly as a player (which is weird when Mourinho can’t develop attacking players…). His hold up has improved dramatically, his finishing is much better (still needs work), his distribution is much better also and his effort feels improved. Lukaku had a good World Cup and seemed to very much develop as a leader in the Belgian squad, that will be very useful for Utd. I expect Lukaku to take another step forward next season, some rotation will help him over the year but I don’t expect him to get much.
Rashford felt like he regressed a little last season or maybe it was more that he didn’t progress like you’d expect. Everyone knows he’s a talent, you don’t get to 123 games by the age of 20 for a club like Utd unless you’ve got something. The problem for Rashford is that he needs to work on his end product. If he thinks he’s a striker then he has to score and assist more, he needs to make defenders cry when they see him and he needs to get every minute he can (hence why he should try play on the right wing). Rashford has a few really bad tendencies, he tends to keep his head down too much, runs at players when passing is the better option and shoots when there are better options available. The latter of these things is a classic case of a player who isn’t playing enough trying to impress the manager by scoring, when in fact nothing would impress the manager more than making the correct decision and setting up a goal for someone else. He’s a talent, but he needs to work on his end product or he will become another what if.
The striker position is actually quite stacked, you have Lukaku and Rashford who are both good options and then in a worst case scenario you can slot Sanchez up there. It isn’t a bad position to be in.
At the end of last season I felt that Utd needed to sign a centre back, right back, left back, two central midfielders and a right winger. Utd brought in Dalot (right back), Fred and brought back Pereira (two central midfielders), so got about half of what I think ideally you would want. I think the biggest problem is that most people were expecting a new left back and when that never appeared people got frustrated, which is understandable. There’s no doubting that this squad and first eleven is better than it was last season, so for Utd fans it isn’t the disaster it is being made out to be.
Speaking about doom and gloom, how will the season likely go? It’s an interesting question because the way the media are portraying it is as if Utd will struggle for top four… The thing is that although City were the clear best team in the league last season, I felt Utd were the clear second best team. Now lets not ignore the fact that Utd have improved the first eleven with Fred and improved the squad with Pereira and Dalot, without losing anyone of significance. Now also consider that the general consensus is that Utd underperformed last season, not sounding so terrible all of a sudden.
I think City will win the league, however if you’re a Utd fan I don’t know why you would think that you couldn’t challenge for and win the title. Look at it this way, City won the league by 19 points last season, breaking all records in a remarkably successful season, realistically they will drop around 10 or so points this year in comparison to last. That reduces the gap down to about 9, you’d also expect Utd to improve from last season with the squad they have and with the additions that have been made (including a acclimatised Sanchez). I’m not saying that Utd will win the league, rather that I don’t think the gap is as big as it’s being made out to be. I’m sure Utd will prove me wrong as the Mourinho dreaded third season blow up is activated. Hopefully there is a title contest this year because the Premier League really needs it.
So you’ve finally made it to the end of the Utd squad analysis for 2018-19!!! So why not take that extra moment to share your thoughts on how you think the season for Utd will go, what players you expect to show up and whether the Mourinho collapse will happen?