For the second year in succession we have chosen to split our player by player review into sections by area of the team. We preface each section with a summary identifying the general strength and weaknesses.
One thing that the season has revealed is that whilst the squad is unbalanced, there is weakness in all areas now with the possible exception of the forward line. The state of the current squad is as a consequence of a number of factors; the passage of time seeing some players age without adequate replacements being found, older more senior players not stepping up or youngsters not maturing. With a new manager and new ideas we anticipate significant changes to the squad over the summer.
De Gea is the number one, and Lindegaard has had limited match time this year. Lindegaard may leave as consequence. If he does will United bring in a new back up keeper or look to promote from within?
David De Gea
De Gea has again improved. We have conceded more goals this year but largely because of failings in front of the goalkeepers. De Gea has continued to make a number of improbable saves, whilst rarely making significant basic errors, (Sunderland in the League Cup apart). When he has made an error it does not appear to have affected his confidence, which suggests that he has mental strength. Over the last three years he has become more assertive and developed the ability to command his area to the point that what appeared a weakness in his first few months at the club is now seemingly not an issue. Distribution has been an issue perhaps, but in this he is reliant on the people in front of him providing options. De Gea is now a strength of the team and has probably been United’s most consistent player over the full course of the season.
Lindegaard will be frustrated by his lack of match time, selected for only 3 first team games this season. In his most recent game against Newcastle he kept a clean sheet, pulling off a great but important save when the game was still 0-0. Is he likely to leave as it is clear he is good enough to be the first choice at most premiership clubs.
Last year we wrote “two ageing centre backs and three younger centre backs. We expect the younger players to assert themselves in the year ahead and the older players to play less”. Nothing has changed other than the fact that the older centre-backs have now left the club whilst the younger centre backs haven’t asserted themselves, with Jones and Smalling still being used as cover at right back on far too many occasions. The same could be said in respect of the fullback positions. Evra has continued to decline as age catches up with his legs and sense of positioning, Buttner has improved slightly but continues to be impetuous and on the right Rafael continues to miss too many games through injury and suspension (he too is impetuous). Last year we identified that the defence was an area that would need work that summer and it still applies. See our Tactical Thoughts: Defensive Frailties article: http://manutdtactics.com/?p=2210
Evra was one of three defensive players anticipated to leave the club this summer but the award of a one year extension suggests that van Gaal sees a role for him. He has been a loyal servant to the club and shows an appetite for the club’s traditions and history.
Time has caught up with him with his legs preventing him from getting back to form a solid defensive, often caught out of position. We would prefer to remember his contributions circa 2007-2009 as a world class talent both defensively and offensively (he can still be a potent attacking force at times). Perhaps the arrival of the new manager will see rejuvenation yet it seems more likely that a role nurturing a replacement is anticipated. Time will tell.
Jones was highly thought of by Sir Alex who sang his praises at every opportunity; “future captain” often bandied about. He is played in a variety of positions; midfield when needed to perform a disciplined one-off tactical role and at right full back. This is Jones’ issue.
He was bought to be a central defender and needs a settled run in that role to ‘kick-on’. He is a brave player and as a consequence is often described as a future leader on the pitch but this also leads to a lot of injuries. His judgment needs to develop. He remains a player of potential rather than consistent accomplishment and this leads to the coming year being a big one. The arrival of van Gaal may have come at just the right time for him and he should relish this opportunity.
Many people expected Rio to leave the club this summer but it still came as a surprise when he announced that he was to leave after the final league game with fans denied the opportunity to say goodbye; that might be no bad thing as opinion on Rio has always been divided. As part of a formidable central defensive partnership with Vidic, and a Champions League winning captain, few doubted his ability yet many were uncomfortable with his off the pitch persona. His relentless self promotion meant that many found it hard to forgive his self inflicted absence following a ban for forgetting to attend a routine drugs test. On the plus side he was a calm, imposing and assured defender who helped United, in addition to that Champions League victory in 2008, to 6 Premier League titles as well as that.
Jonny has missed periods of the season with injury, but even when fit he has been underplayed which in the light of the decline of the older centre-backs suggests that Moyes didn’t fancy him. What he needs, is to assert himself with a long run in the side; something he achieved in 2011-12 after Vidic’s injury. This continuous run appeared to improve Evans significantly and following Vidic’s departure he may get that run again; as with many things this summer it will all depend on the new manager. Last year we identified that the next 12 months were important for his future. This still remains the case.
Like Jones his development has been hampered by injury and being played out of position, (Smalling is often used as cover at right full back). Centre back is his better and preferred position but he needs to develop a nastier side to his game to become truly commanding in the air. Smalling is deceptively quick and this attribute is a key strength but again he is another player who needs to ‘step up’. Like Jones and Evans a critical year lies ahead and as with Jones he must relish the “van Gaal opportunity”.
Vidic has been a great player; a warrior-like defender from the planet defender. Vidic was United’s captain and leader at the back but has not played as often recently due to prolonged periods of injury, often blooded but never bowed he will be difficult to replace. When he was absent the defence always looked much less assured when he was a part of it. Nemanja Vidic helped to win 5 Premiership titles and a Champions League.
Whilst Rafael has improved over the years and is now the established right back he still has his impetuous moments; we’re still reeling from his sending off against Bayern a few seasons ago! Good but not outstanding when coming forward he doesn’t offer enough consistency when defending either to be a mainstay in the team. He is also another player prone to injury. In a strong United side he would probably be seen as a weak link, but this position is unlikely to be seen as a priority area for strengthening this season.
Buttner is strong and quick but impetuous and in some ways he is similar to Rafael (although perhaps not as astute in terms of his positioning) with a tendency to jump in and over-commit, often getting caught out, although he has improved in this regard this season. The question is whether he is good enough to become first choice left back ahead of Evra? This seems unlikely and if a new left back is signed it may signal an end to his time at the club. On the plus side Buttners’ crossing is an advantage as there aren’t many at the club who can get ‘whip’ on their crosses. These crosses, often low and quick, caused panic in the oppositions defence where United’s usual floated far post crosses did not.
We could write whole articles about the midfield, and in fact we have so all we will say is that there is a lot of room for improvement.
Anderson didn’t get much playing time and has spent the second half of the season on loan at Fiorentina. There appears no way back for the player who hasn’t progressed during in his time at the club.
It has been a good season for Darren Fletcher having returned from a prolonged illness, but doubts remain as to whether he can ever re-establish himself as a mainstay of the team. This is a great shame as his combative and neat midfield play would have been useful over the last few years. Time is not on his side and as such he is unlikely to feature significantly in the clubs long term plans. A good servant to the club who can still make a contribution, Fletcher’s medical history would perhaps make it difficult for him to move away from United and it is hoped that van Gaal can see his worth.
Last season we selected him as our player of the season yet Carrick suffered this season as a consequence of Moyes’ cautious approach, with both central midfield players staying deep and behind the ball, inviting the opposition to press. Carrick tends to struggle when pressed and needs a ‘shuttler’ in that central area to run at the opposition and push their midfield back. He has been the mainstay of United’s midfield for some time and as such a key member of the team and van Gaal may see merit in him and be able to strengthen his game.
Opinion remains divided on Tom Cleverley. A neat and tidy footballer who rarely gives the ball away, but he also rarely hurts the opposition. Too many of his passes fail to ask questions and does not have the robustness to hold his own against a significant physical midfield challenge. He is mobile and is at his best when running at people, taking the game to the opposition and taking players away from Carrick. This hasn’t happened enough and he hasn’t improved and like many others, is a player whose United career appear to be at a crossroads.
Powell has spent the whole year at Wigan on loan and with United’s midfield crisis it seemed odd that he wasn’t utilised, yet Powell is young with time on his side. He has acquitted himself well with Wigan in the First Division so hopefully he will return to United and continue his development in the first team squad. He remains highly thought of and one to watch and is the sought of young player for whom the arrival of van Gaal should be seen as a great opportunity.
Fellaini has had a difficult start to his United career. He appears slow and clumsy on the ball and is forever charging after a player who has just released the ball. Does he have the quality to deliver as a United player in a role in which United would deploy him? His body language towards the end of the season suggests he has lost a lot of confidence through the year and this cannot help. Fellaini will always be viewed by many as a last minute panic buy and for even more United fans he will always be associated with Moyes. Even if he were to improve significantly (there are no signs of this), he will never shake off those associations. Is he United quality?
Nani remains a frustrating player. As we have stated in the past he is gifted but he still hasn’t realised how to use his talents for the good of the team. He has looked disinterested recently and there have been rumours that he is to leave this summer. Is he beyond the the point in his United career where an improvement is likely to happen? His 5 year contract signing surprised many fans and stories that van Gaal has blocked a potential transfer out of the club suggest that Moyes was better than we thought.
Last year we stated that as a recent signing he was likely to be given more time, he is now no longer a recent signing and is another player whose United future is in doubt; in fact it hasn’t ever taken off. The frustrating aspect of his play is that occasionally you see glimpses of what might be (his goals against Stoke and Cardiff for example) but all too often these appear to be short cameo’s in games. When was the last time he gave a top class performance in a full match?
Generally a disappointing year for Valencia punctuated with the occasional good performance. He appears to have lost his way and is one of a number of players who have significantly underachieved. The arrival of van Gaal can be seen as a challenge and one too which he must rise if he is to continue at the club otherwise he is likely to be moved on this summer. He is undoubtedly a better player when running at people from deep so he may have a future as a right back with space ahead of him, something that has happened on a number of occasions.
Giggs is a class act who retires to take up a role as van Gaal’s assistant. He is a true club legend who has contributed so much over the last twenty years. The clubs record appearance maker who has averaged a trophy every 28.3 games!
For most United fans the season’s biggest plus point. Januzaj is quick, brave, good close control and full of youthful promise. He can read the game and should develop into a great player. His emergence in the Sunderland fixture where he scored two goals, one with his left foot and one with his right, was a joy. If he keeps his feet on the ground and works hard at his game he could become “a boy who can do anything”. He is already a marked man, and although he is brave he perhaps needs to develop his physique to ensure opponents can’t knock him out of the game.
Last year we labelled Tom Cleverley the missing man after he had virtually no match time in the second half of the season. This year Zaha is unquestionably that man. He featured in the pre-season and the Community Shield opener, thereafter it appears that Moyes didn’t fancy him and sent him out on loan for the second half of the season. We haven’t seen enough to form a definitive view, although he didn’t “pull up any trees” as Cardiff were relegated.
Last year we stated that the big question was Wayne Rooney and that remains the case. He knuckled down after his discontent last summer and had an improved season, but the arrival of van Gaal is a significant challenge with many predicting fireworks. The question in this area of the team is how do you integrate all the available talent into a cohesive whole?
It appeared that Moyes did not rate Shinji Kagawa (although he played more games towards the end of the season) but recent a recent quote attributed suggests that van Gaal does. One can’t help but feel that Kagawa hasn’t really had a fair crack of the whip at United and the signing of Juan Mata in mid-season poses significant questions. How do you fit all those number 10s into one team? Time will tell how van Gaal answers that question. He is a real threat playing in a high position as a classic number 10 between the lines. United have to find a way of utilising his undoubted talent.
Why did United sign another Number 10, a position which wasn’t (and still isn’t) a priority. Having said that, when a player of Mata’s quality becomes available, they should be the priority. Coming into the club mid-season we can’t have seen the best of him yet and he was played as a wide player far too often. He isn’t quick, but is industrious, has good vision, is comfortable on the ball and his subtle changes of position both in and out of possession change angles and open creative passing opportunities. He has made a good start to his United career at a difficult time and is to be commended for that. After van Persie’s injury in March he was played in a more suitable position behind the central striker. This suits him; he looked twice the player in that role and could be a key player for the club in the years to come.
It’s been another interesting year for Rooney and seemingly another interesting one lies ahead. Woodward and Moyes were determined to keep the player last summer despite the player’s apparent desire to leave. That desire unfortunately means that he is unlikely to be the legend he could have been. In fairness to him as the season began he knuckled down and played well in patches. The award of a new contract left a nasty taste in the mouth for many and questions remain about his role in the side and relationship with players around him. A recent observation from Paul Scholes has recently stated that he anticipates that Rooney peaked as a player about two years ago may have startled many United fans and you wonder how will Rooney react and fit into van Gaal’s tactical plans. One thing is certain, Rooney fell out with Sir Alex because he was asked to make positional compromises for the good of the team. It is believed that the player felt that at this stage of his career the team should be adapted to his needs. Van Gaal who famously places a significant emphasis on the “collective” will not accept that from anyone.
Robin van Persie
It’s been a difficult year for van Persie after being dogged by injury and stories of his discontent with new training methods and tactics. Looking from outside as supporters, we can never really be certain of the truth. There was much talk at one point of van Persie moving on but with the arrival of van Gaal and his statement that there are good times ahead for “my club” he’s going nowhere! Despite his problems his goal return of 18 goals in 28 appearances was good. All the more so as in many games with United’s slow and ponderous build up play he received virtually no service. Injuries aside United are not getting the best out of him, but at least the arrival of van Gaal seems to have cheered him up!
Recent speculation suggests that Hernandez will be leaving the club this summer and it may be the right time for him to leave if his career is to progress as he is too good a player to accept the limited match time he has had recently. Hernandez is a “fox in the box” player who, when he plays, will return a decent number of goals. The problem is that apart from his goal poaching exploits he contributes little else and the development of United’s strategic approach in the last few years has not suited his strengths. Hernandez is quick and looks to play on the shoulder of the last defender to run in behind when United need a more balanced forward who can combine that threat with an ability to work along the line and hold the ball up whilst others arrive; Welbeck or more probably van Persie is more likely to be that player. A good natured guy and loyal uncomplaining servant to the club, if he does move on we wish him well.
Last season Danny’s form was patchy yet this season he has improved without actually setting the world on fire. The same can be said about his goal scoring record where he has an improved return but perhaps he hasn’t scored enough for a main striker. Welbeck is strong, mobile and reads the game well. His weakness has usually been his composure in front of goal and is sometimes slow to get his shot away. One of the most valuable features of Welbeck’s game is his awareness of colleagues and space. This all means that he is versatile and can play a variety of roles in a variety of formations both for his club and country. His tactical discipline, intelligent movement could see him gain the most from the arrival of van Gaal. The new man will quickly identify his strengths and weaknesses and work to make him a better player.