When Man Utd won the Premier League last year, it felt like this may be the beginning of the end of an era of dominance which not many others teams could even dream of replicating. That statement may seem like a bit extreme, because after all Utd had just won the Premier League for the 13th time in dominant fashion, but there were cracks beginning to show already.
The biggest loss this summer for Utd is blatantly obvious; you do not lose a manager of Sir Alex Ferguson’s quality and have it not affect the quality of the squad or the performance of the team. I like David Moyes as Fergie’s replacement and I think he will do a good job, however it isn’t easy to replace the best manager in the world (I’m bias, I love Fergie).
Man Utd haven’t really lost that much else so far this summer, excluding the retirement of Paul Scholes, who couldn’t stay fit last season and was at best a squad player when he was. All in all, excluding his experience in training, Scholes retiring isn’t that much of a loss to Utd.
Now all the talk in the paper which cannot be ignored is about Wayne Rooney and his future at Manchester United (even I wrote something https://bm23sportsreviews.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/the-wayne-rooney-dilemma/). Regardless of where he goes, Rooney going would be a big loss to the squad. Although last season Rooney played second fiddle to RVP he was still a major part of the team and played an important (but smaller than usual) role. To sell Rooney (I’m assuming they are) and not bring in a replacement would be unforgivable.
Now onto the actual squad, I will break it into positions (GK, RB, CM, etc).
David De Gea showed last season what a great goalkeeper he is, and was voted the best keeper in the league last year (and well deserved too). He is an excellent shot stopper, has great athleticism and has the best distribution I have seen from a keeper. There are still concerns about his aerial ability but he is getting better and definitely isn’t getting bullied the way he used to. He played fantastically in the Under 21 Euro Championship and was a vital part of the excellent Spain team which won it. He has a very bright future.
Anders Lindegaard is a fantastic back-up goalkeeper, the problem with him however is that he thinks that he has the abilities of a starting goalkeeper (which he hasn’t). I’m not sure if he is even going to be at Utd at the start of the season (he wants away) but he would not be a major loss.
Ben Amos and Sam Johnstone are two young keepers who could take that step up and fill the back-up role if Lindegaard were to leave.
Utd are set at goalkeeper, the only question is whether or not Lindegaard will be there at the start of the season.
Rafael was probably the best right back in the Premier League last season (sorry Zabaleta), and has really grown as a performer. There are no real issues with Rafael as a starter other than he isn’t the best defender, but you can get away with that as a full back.
Guillermo Varela is (so far) Man Utd’s only signing of the season. I’m not sure whether or not he is a good player (although I have heard good things), and there is talk that he may be loaned back out to South America.
Fabio can play either left or right back, but realistically (if he is still at the club by the start of the season) he will be at best a squad player. The talk was that if QPR hadn’t been relegated then Fabio would no longer be a Man Utd player, and it wouldn’t surprise me if another club came in for him.
With Rafael and one of the other players kept as a back-up, Utd are set for the season and shouldn’t have any serious problems unless Rafael receives a serious injury.
Patrice Evra is now 32 (old for a full back), and if I had written this before last season I would have talked about how Utd need to sign Leighton Baines (the best left back in the league) because Evra has lost it, however Evra had quite possibly his best season at Man Utd last year. Regardless of Evra’s good play last year, Utd have flirted with the potential of buying Baines (once again). It isn’t a surprise; if you have a chance of getting the best left back in the league then you have to go for it, plus who knows if Evra last season was a one off? To get Baines Utd will have to pay around £15 million (quite expensive for a 28 year old left back); this will likely mean the end of Evra at Utd (Monaco are apparently interested), which would be sad because he is an important member of the dressing room (vice-captain).
Alex Buttner is nothing but a back-up and I don’t see that changing any time soon. He is immense going forward (for a left back) but cannot defend to save his life, still a decent back-up to have though).
There is a great level of uncertainty at left back for Utd. If Baines does come in then Evra will go, if Baines doesn’t join then Evra will start, which will create greater uncertainty about his level of performance.
Nemanja Vidic had a difficult injury plagued season last year and I’d expect more of the same this season as well. Vidic is still a quality centre back (one of the best in the world) but he can only play at most once a week; otherwise his knee injury will flare up again. He is the captain and is an important figure in the dressing room and will still start in the big games, definitely worth having him around.
Rio Ferdinand is very similar to Vidic; he has injury problems and cannot play more than once a week. Ferdinand showed last season that he is still able to play at the very top level of football and is still worth his place in the first team as well as the squad. It is incredible to think that even with their injury problems Rio and Vidic when fit are still the first choice centre back pairing for Utd.
Jonny Evans is quite possibly my least favourite Man Utd player. For years I have been asking why this man is still at this club, last season I found out. I’m still not a huge fan, but I can respect the performances he consistently put in last year when only he and Rio were fit. If it weren’t for Evans, Utd would not have won the title with such ease last season.
Chris Smalling only managed 22 appearances for Utd last season in an injury plagued year. At 23 he is still a young player and has a lot of potential to fulfil. I’d expect him to take a step up this season coming and become an integral part of the first team.
Phil Jones also only managed 24 appearances for Utd last season in an injury plagued year. It is incredible to think that he is only 21, because he plays like a man much older. Much like Chris Smalling, I’d expect Jones to take a step up this season and solidify the centre back position, to create a tandem with Smalling.
Man Utd are stacked at centre back, but last season each of the 5 centre backs had a long spell out injured. If that were to happen again this season then it could be a concern, however it is fairly unlikely. Although at the start of the season I’d expect Vidic and Rio to be the starting duo, I’d hope and expect Jones and Smalling to begin to take control of the centre back tandem. It is incredible to think that (in my opinion) Jonny Evans is Utd’s 5th best centre back, especially when he would start for most other teams in the league. It will also be interesting to see if Michael Keane is able to make a larger impact this season, after he spent the second half of last season on loan at Leicester.
Antonio Valencia used to be the epitome of consistency out on the right wing, however last season this was not the case. It was unusual watching Valencia last season; he couldn’t cross the ball, he couldn’t beat players to the line and he lost his powerful shot, three things in prior seasons he was known for. Valencia’s form picked up towards the end of the season, but not to the extent where you thought that he was playing well. The hope naturally is that Valencia returns to his form of old, and it is reasonable to assume that he probably will. However Valencia is very much a confidence player and his play this coming season will very much depend on how much confidence he has.
Wilfried Zaha was the last signing of the Alex Ferguson era and he looks like he will be a good one. If you watched Zaha last season for Crystal Palace, then you will realise why Man Utd were willing to pay £10 million (with potential for another £5 million). Wilfried Zaha’s performance was out of this world in the play-offs, if it weren’t for him then we would probably be seeing Watford in the Premier League this year instead of Crystal Palace. Zaha was so dominant on a big stage that any fears that people could’ve had about him not being able to take the step up to Utd were quashed. Zaha has also had a very strong pre-season performance and looks like he will be able to have an instant impact on the Man Utd first team.
Adnan Januzaj and Jesse Lingard are two players that aren’t household names yet, but they look like they could be the future of Man Utd. Much like Zaha, Lingard and Januzaj have had excellent pre-season tournaments. Lingard is a local lad (Warrington) and Januzaj is another off the Belgian production line. It will be interesting to see if either gets a serious chance to make an impact on the first team, after all David Moyes does have a great history of bringing through young talent (Rooney, Rodwell, Coleman, among others).
Ashley Young had a poor season last year, it was hampered badly with a string of injuries (only played 21 games) and when he did manage to play, it was generally inconsistent. When Young signed for Utd, it looked like he was ready to take the step up. However he hasn’t really been able to make the transition from Aston Villa as well as was thought. Maybe it isn’t fair to criticise Young (because he has struggled to maintain fitness), but this is a make or break season for him. If he struggles this year, then it is likely that he won’t be at Utd by the start of next season.
The most surprising thing about Nani is that he is still actually at Man Utd. There are a lot of rumours about where he could be going, but nothing has actually happened yet. With only a year left on his contract and out of favour at Utd, Nani is working on lost time and it is only a matter of time until he leaves. The real question about Nani is how much Utd will be able to sell him for, anywhere between £8 and 10 million would be fairly good.
Bebe (who I forgot about) is apparently still employed by Man Utd. He will go down as one of the worst signings Fergie ever made, to the extent where I really don’t know where he plays, although I believe he is a winger (no idea what side), so there you go.
Michael Carrick had a great season last year and has solidified the central midfield position as his own. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Carrick was the boo-boys favourite, and he has transformed himself into a fan favourite. Carrick is an excellent passer of the ball (when given time, less so when being pressed) and will take one of the starting roles for Utd in centre midfield. The question about Carrick isn’t so much about if he will play; it is more about who will play alongside him? The problem at Utd currently, is that nobody knows.
When Anderson joined Man Utd, it looked like he may play at the heart of the midfield for the next 10+ years. He had everything; he was fast, he could tackle, he was a great passer, he could marshal a midfield. However despite all this Anderson has never been able to progress to that next level. A large part of Anderson’s struggles have been his inability to stay fit, he has never had a strong run of games in a Utd shirt. I think he deserves another chance under Moyes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was not at Utd by the end of the transfer window.
Tom Cleverley (almost out of nowhere) looked like he was Utd’s saviour in the centre of the pitch at the start of 2011-12, but like many of Utd’s best central midfield talent he has struggled to stay fit since. Cleverley isn’t currently good enough to start first-team for Utd, but is a very useful squad player to have. The only negatives that I can come up with for Cleverley is his lack of goals and his lack of fitness, if he could fix both of these areas he could have a bright future.
Darren Fletcher would be the perfect man to partner Michael Carrick in the centre of midfield. He is great at breaking up play, is an under rated passer and has bags of energy. Sadly for Fletcher (and Utd) he has a chronic bowel illness and it has kept him out of consistently playing since 2010-11. There isn’t much you can say about Fletcher, if he were to be able to make it back then he would slot perfectly back into the first team, but sadly I also wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to retire, which is a shame because he has lost at least 2 years of his prime and could lose more.
Ryan Giggs is now very much a central midfielder, after all he is 39 and winger’s go off the boil at about 33. Giggs is a squad player now and once again showed at the back end of last season, that he is still very capable of making an impact, often keeping younger players out of the starting 11. Giggs made 32 appearances last season (an incredible amount for someone of his age) and finished the season very strongly; however his form in the first half of the season was so poor that it seemed that he may retire at the end of the season (looked like he had lost more than a couple of steps). The evergreen Giggs is now a player-coach, and his influence and experience in the dressing room is invaluable.
Shinji Kagawa started his first season at Manchester United with massive expectation on his shoulders. Not only was he the first Japanese player to play for Utd (massive Japanese fan base), he was also a star are Borussia Dortmund in both their Bundesliga winning seasons. To say he didn’t live up to expectations would be fair enough. However to be fair to Kagawa, he was often forced to play out on the wing (not his position), and had a couple of niggling injuries as well. Kagawa still managed to score 6 goals in 20 Premier League games, which is not a bad return. Kagawa has been the star of Utd’s pre-season tour of South East Asia & Australia, and has been playing in his more natural position of just off the striker. If Utd were to get this Kagawa, or the Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund then it will be as good as a new signing, and he could take the Premier League by storm. There were glimpses of Kagawa’s potential last season, it would be fair to assume that he will be a better player this coming season, and for me is the man to watch.
Nick Powell is the hot young thing which Man Utd bought last season from Crewe Alexandra. It will be interesting to see if he will play more this season than he did last year, only managing 6 games (and 1 goal). I was disappointed with Powell lack of playing time, and didn’t understand why he wasn’t sent out on loan to get more experience. He is a talented young player and is still only 19; it will be intriguing to see if he becomes a bigger part of the Man Utd plans this season.
There is no doubt in my mind, that Manchester United’s central midfield is their greatest weakness. Carrick apart, nobody currently at Utd sets the heather on fire or makes the heart race. If Fletcher were to come back, then he would slip into the role nicely, however it would be unwise of Utd to rely on Fletcher and should rather expect him not to come back, and if he were to, treat it like a bonus. It will also be interesting to see if Anderson or Cleverley will step up, I have my doubts. The man I expect to make the biggest improvement from last year is Shinji Kagawa. I expect Kagawa to have a breakthrough year and set the league on fire, although I think this will only happen if he were to play off the front (a position currently held mainly by Wayne Rooney). I would also say that the wings are an area of uncertainty. If you were to ask me prior to pre-season I would have said that Utd would have to sign at least 1 winger to replace Nani (and maybe Young), after pre-season (and I don’t like to read too much into pre-season) I have high hopes for Zaha (which I expected), Lingard (which I didn’t expect) and Januzaj (who I had heard very good things about).
Robin Van Persie was the Premier League’s top scorer last year and in some pundits opinion (not in mine) he was the difference between Utd and City last season. Van Persie is one of the greatest strikers in the world (maybe the best) and is Man Utd’s best and star player. The only blot on RVP’s copy book is his questionable fitness history. RVP has missed large parts of his career with injury upon injury; he has however over the past two years had better fitness. I fully expect RVP to be the starting striker at the beginning of the season.
Wayne Rooney was once the blue eyed boy at Utd, however after putting in his second transfer request it seems unlikely that he will be at the club by the end of the transfer window. As I linked earlier in the post, I have written previously about this and the points made are still valid. Even if Rooney were to stay, he would be unlikely to give 100% and would also likely be a cancer in the dressing room.
Javier Hernandez is the unluckiest man in Manchester. For the past three seasons it doesn’t seem to matter what he does, he doesn’t get given the chance to regularly appear in the first team. It isn’t because he doesn’t take his chances (he does), it isn’t because he doesn’t score off the bench (he does) and it isn’t because he doesn’t give his all (he does). I feel sorry for Hernandez, it doesn’t seem to matter how well he does, and he still can’t get into the first team. Last season, it didn’t matter how poorly Rooney played last year, he was still played in front of Hernandez. Hernandez would then score off the bench and occasionally get a chance in the first team. Inevitably he wouldn’t score and after one game was back to the bench, and the inconsistent Rooney was back in. In many ways it is a make or break season for Hernandez, and the best thing that could happen to him is if Rooney were to leave and Utd were not to replace him. Hernandez will either have a breakout season or another season of obscurity from the bench; I hope it is the prior.
Danny Welbeck is the bright young Manchester born youth system talent. There aren’t many players in football, who have the energy or give the effort that Welbeck does. He gives everything for the cause and never stops running. There is one problem with Welbeck’s play, and if you’re a striker it is pretty important as well; the boy doesn’t score enough goals. Two seasons ago he scored 12 goals in 39 appearances (not too bad for your first year); last year he scored 2 goals (yes two) in 39 appearances, which is not acceptable for a striker. Welbeck is great at playing in games where Utd are sitting deep and they need someone to stretch the pitch, Welbeck however is useless at games where the opposing team sit deep and Utd have to play tightly, sadly for Welbeck the majority of teams Utd play sit deep. If Welbeck were to become more prolific in front of goal, then he could make a large impact on the team.
Angelo Henriquez is a bit of a wild card in the Man Utd squad, it is unclear whether he will actually have an impact on the team at all or if he will be loaned out (like last season). If Rooney were to leave then perhaps Henriquez would be able to step up and take the 4th striking position in the squad (it is unlikely). It is interesting to note that Henriquez only managed to play in 8 games for a Wigan team that got relegated; it is also interesting to note that Henriquez is one of only four players in the Utd squad to have won the FA Cup.
Federico Macheda is another player in the Utd squad who id dead weight. One of the most surprising things about Macheda is that he had such an impact in the 2008-09 season, so much so that he looked like he was bound to become a star, he hasn’t. It seems that Macheda is doomed to live under the shadow of his two goals against Aston Villa.
If Rooney were to stay at Utd, then Utd would have the best strike force in the league. If Rooney were to go, then it would be interesting to see what Utd do. There are two options; firstly to keep the strikers they have and move Hernandez into a more prominent role, or secondly to go out and sign a high profile player to fill the gap left by Rooney.
Man Utd have great (and the best in the league) quality and depth in nets, defence and (currently, although I imagine not for long) up front. The major area of concern is in midfield, both in the centre and on the wings. The centre of midfield is the main area of concern for Utd, beyond Carrick there really isn’t much else there, and what is there lacks consistency. The wide positions are also a concern because of the amount of youth and the lack of experience which the players who are currently in the squad have. There is also doubt over left back, it will be interesting to see if Utd stick with Evra or decide to sign Baines. There is also the obvious concern over the future of Wayne Rooney, in a saga that seem like it will last the whole of the summer.
As far as rumoured transfers go, there has been serious talk over Fabregas, Baines, Fellaini and Bale. I think Baines will likely sign (which means the end of Evra). If you had asked me a few days ago, I would have said that Fabregas would be joining as well, but since Barca’s new manager started it now seems less likely. I do think it will still happen (for £35 million) and would be the perfect signing to fill a major whole in the heart of midfield. Fellaini to me seems like the fall back player in case Utd aren’t able to sign Fabregas. Much like Fabregas, Fellaini would fill a much needed whole in the centre of the pitch. I’d love to see Bale at Utd, it would be a dream. However I don’t think it is very likely, and if he were to join a team this transfer window I imagine it will be Real Madrid. There has also been some conversation about Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Man Utd, it is however unlikely (even if Real do sign Bale), and it is more likely that Ronaldo is just posturing to receive a wage increase.
It is important for Utd to sign new players to add to the squad (especially if Rooney leaves), a centre midfielder (could probably do with a holding midfielder and a technical midfielder) is a must and another striker (if Rooney leaves) would be nice. Beyond that the Utd squad is very strong, and barring massive injury problems should be able to handle the long season without any major problems.
I expect Man Utd’s current squad to line-up like this:
Rafael Ferdinand Vidic Evra
Valencia Carrick Jones Zaha
I hope that Moyes is looking to promote some of the youth players from the under 21 squad and give them their first chance at playing in the first team. A club, who brings their first team players through the ranks consistently, is a club that generally will have success (Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and Man Utd).
Overall I think Utd will have a good season, but this year is not going to be as easy as last year. With a new manager and their main competitors (Chelsea and Man City) becoming better teams already, Utd will need to get off to a quick start to keep the media off their backs. To win the league and compete in Europe though, Utd must sign at least one central midfielder and if Rooney leaves, another striker is a must as well.
Leave a comment on what you think of the current Utd squad, what you think of the Utd’s potential transfer targets or how well you think Utd will do this upcoming season. All comments are welcome and fully appreciated.