Season Review 2012-13 – Player by Player

This year we have split this review up into sections by area of the team. We preface each section with a summary identifying the general strength of each area and whether we anticipate moves to address any weaknesses.

Goalkeepers

It would appear that there is unlikely to be much change here. De Gea is now clearly the number one, and as if Lindegaard does not challenge this he may move on next year, but that’s probably for the future.

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David De Gea

De Gea has continued to improve his year to the point where he can now consider himself to be the established goalkeeper. Always an excellent shot stopper, he still needs to develop his ability to deal with crosses. No one questions his bravery but he still elects to punch when a catch would relieve pressure. He makes seemingly impossible saves from time to time. See our recent article on De Gea: http://manutdtactics.com/?p=290

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Anders Lindegaard

Lindegaard is seemingly more self-confident than De Gea. Stronger and with a greater physical presence he is more prone to the occasional loss of concentration leading to a costly error. The frustrating thing is that those occasional lapses apart he seems fairly solid. His performance in the final league game of the season at West Brom will have given him plenty to consider over the summer.

Defence

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. We do not envisage reinforcements in this area now, although this may be an area where Moyes looks to strengthen next year. Rafael looks to have made the right full back position his own, with either Jones or Smalling able to cover if needed. Evra is still first choice left back, with Buttner as an understudy. Buttner would need to improve significantly to challenge Evra and if he does not do so this may also be an area Moyes looks to strengthen next year.

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Patrice Evra

Evra has never quite regained the level of performance of a few years ago and struggles to get the balance right between attack and defence. It’s a given that he will get caught out of position from time to time and this is often costly. Going forward he is still a strong attacking threat but has that tendency to play too high and too narrow.  Patrice will always be a favourite of many because of his feeling for the club; he always gives a good interview. He should be good for at least another season, as currently he does not appear to have lost any of his pace.

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Phil Jones

Jones is highly thought of by Sir Alex who has regularly sung his praises. He is really more of a defender than a midfield player (he often loses his way when he crosses the halfway line) but he is a versatile willing horse who has been selected for a key tactical role on several occasions, notably in the Bernabeu. Clearly someone who Sir Alex and his coaching staff trusted, he would now benefit from a run in a settled role/position. He is a player of outstanding potential – and a future leader on the pitch? See our recent article on Jones: http://manutdtactics.com/?p=282

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Rio Ferdinand

Last year we stated that if Rio could stay clear of injury he still had something to offer. He can’t play two games a week now and has been used sparingly. He has lost some pace and has adapted his game to suit, but has done so magnificently and as a consequence earned a place in the Premier League team of the year. He should be an asset for at least another year.

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Jonny Evans

A great year last year, he has perhaps not featured as prominently as he did in the wake of the injury to Vidic, but has been solid when called upon. He now needs to kick on and as Ferdinand and Vidic play less he can expect to play more. As the most experienced of the younger generation of centre backs he needs to step up and become the leader at the back. Next year should be a big year for Jonny Evans.

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Chris Smalling

This has been a frustrating year for Smalling who has again suffered from injuries. He has played at centre back and right full back. We feel that centre back is his better and more natural position, but that he needs to develop a nastier side to his game to become truly commanding. Smalling is still in the ‘promising’ category and is another player facing a potentially big year. He now needs to kick on.

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Nemanja Vidic

It’s easy to forget now, but back in the autumn United’s defence looked fairly shaky. It was the return of Vidic from injury that settled things down at the back. Like Ferdinand he now needs to be used sparingly, but when he does play he still looks solid, with only the occasional exposure to real pace a concern. Still the leader at the back when fit, you always feel confident when he is named in the team. Vidic rightly retains the club captaincy, he is a warrior.

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Rafael

Rafael is now our first choice right back. His performances these days are consistently of a higher standard and he is more disciplined than in his earlier days, (the late sending-off against Chelsea aside). He has generally cut out the impetuousness of past seasons. A solid and tenacious tackler he is also a real threat bombing forward and at times has seemed our greatest wide threat this year. Rafael is far less likely to be caught out of position than Evra over on the left. He has improved and if he continues to improve should have a long career as United’s right back. The signing of Valera should keep him on his toes.

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Alexander Buttner

A surprise signing last summer, Buttner is young strong and quick (although impetuous). He has a tendency to jump in and over-commit, selling himself and getting caught out. Going forward he is lively and assertive (he started life in Holland as a winger). He had a good debut against Wigan, but has had a couple of really poor performances notably against Chelsea in the league cup. He needs match time to develop. Will he get this as Evra’s understudy? He has recently confessed that he has suffered from homesickness, which may have affected his performances.

Midfield

The midfield is the area causing most concern to United fans. Scholes is retiring, Fletcher continues to suffer from his illness and Anderson and Cleverley have not progressed. Michael Carrick is the saving grace of this area; he has had an excellent season. The wide midfield players or wingers have generally had a poor season. United have already moved to strengthen in wide areas by signing Wilfred Zaha in January. We would anticipate reinforcements to the central areas as well.

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Anderson

Anderson is disappointing. He just hasn’t developed and looks overweight. He was a key player in the midfield diamond experiment in the autumn, but many feel his time is up. He may well leave the club this summer.

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Darren Fletcher

This has been another difficult season for Fletcher who made only 7 starts and a further 3 substitute appearances before again succumbing to colitis. Will we ever see him again in a United shirt? It’s all very sad, both for the player himself and also for the club. His combative midfield play has certainly been missed. He featured most regularly as the pivot in the midfield diamond experiment in the autumn. Since he has succumbed to his illness once again United have only played in this shape on one occasion.

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Michael Carrick

Carrick is now the senior midfield player and has had an excellent season, building on a very good year last year. His range of passing and direction of play from deep has been a significant part of United’s success. Robin van Persie and his goals have made the difference, but without Carrick steering the ship from midfield, would United have been so successful? They have certainly looked a lesser side when he has been absent. There were previously question marks about his ability to play alongside Scholes. This is of course no longer an issue, but getting his central midfield partner right is the key to getting the most out of Carrick. He benefits greatly from having a mobile forceful player alongside him, one who will play slightly further forward and take the opposition away from him, creating time and space to allow him to pick passes. Giggs can’t really do this as part of a midfield two and Anderson and Cleverley haven’t really mastered this role. Perhaps the club need to look beyond the current squad to find a suitable partner.

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Paul Scholes

As we said last year, what a player. His retirement this time round will be the real thing and it is sad to see him go. Hopefully United can find a role for him within the David Moyes regime although initially he has chosen to take a break. Perhaps the best midfield player of his generation, certainly the best midfield player in our time following the club. Thank you, Paul.

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Tom Cleverley

The mysterious case of the missing man, Tom Cleverley! Why did he get so little match time in the second half of the season? A promising young player and a key element in the midfield diamond experiment, he has not progressed to the extent we had hoped. He is a mobile midfield player at his best running at people, taking the game to the opposition and taking players away from Carrick. There is still plenty of room for improvement.

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Nick Powell

We haven’t seen that much of Powell in his first year at the club, certainly not as much as we would have liked. He is strong, has good close control and passing ability, confident and composed. He did not look at all out of place when he did get match time. We look forward to seeing more of him next year. Highly thought of and one to watch.

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Nani

Last year we wrote: “Nani is a frustrating player. Gifted without doubt, but he has never quite realised how to use his talents for the good of the team. At his best when selfless, he frustrates when he tries to do too much himself. If he mixed his individual efforts more equally with link play the resultant unpredictability would make him a far more difficult player to play against”. Nothing has changed and with rumours that United have tried to offload him on more than one occasion his time may be up.

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Ashley Young

It has been another disappointing injury-interrupted year for Ashley Young. Of all our non-performing wide attacking players he is the one most likely to be given more time, simply because he is still relatively new to the club. Not an explosive or dynamic player he often seems to take the safe option. We are underwhelmed and wonder if he is of the quality to make it as a United player. He needs a big year next season.

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Antonio Valencia

Good year, bad year, good year, bad year – the pattern continues. Last season we picked out Valencia as our player of the year, this year it has been like watching a different player. Injuries, a loss of confidence, being deployed too high up the pitch, his play just hasn’t had the same impact. Many point to his reluctance to take people on. We feel that he is a better player running at people from deep and the way he has been deployed this year has not allowed him to do this. What is certain is that he is a very one footed player and defenders have worked him out, showing him onto his weaker left foot. See our recent article on Valencia: http://manutdtactics.com/?p=115

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Ryan Giggs

Having reinvented himself as a central midfield player over recent years he has looked at his best this season when deployed as a wide player. In fact he has on occasions looked like our best wide player! He can’t operate in the central area as part of a Midfield two, having been found out in that situation on many times in recent years, but can still operate there in a three. There are rumours that he is to be offered a coaching role and he should make a great coach. Giggs is a class act who deserves at least another year as a player in our view.

Forwards

The big question mark here is Wayne Rooney. If he leaves we would expect United to look to bring in another striker. This may be the returning Ángelo Henríquez, the Chilean striker signed last summer and on loan this season at Wigan. Alternatively, with United looking to make a transfer splash to announce the Moyes era, they may bring in a big name anyway should one be available.

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Shinji Kagawa

This has been a promising first season from Kagawa. He was troubled in the mid-season by injury but has featured more prominently since his return. Stamina appears an issue, with the player fading after half time in many games; another issue is his lack of defensive nous. No doubt the coaches will be working on these things. Kagawa has played wide on the left on occasions, but even then has tended to come narrow and pop up to exploit space wherever it can be found. His best position is playing centrally between the lines of the opposition’s defence and midfield, directing the attack. He former manager Jurgen Klopp has stated as much, pointing out that he is wasted out in a wide position. Where would that leave Rooney? He has good close control and awareness of his teammates’ positions, can play in tight spaces and hardly ever gives the ball away. We expect him to blossom in the years ahead. See our recent article on Kagawa: http://manutdtactics.com/?p=142

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Wayne Rooney

Rooney has had a difficult year, at times seeming to be out of condition and distracted. In recent months it has appeared that his heart has not been in the task at hand. All this has seemed more significant since his omission from the team to face Real Madrid in the Champions League second leg game at Old Trafford and has ultimately culminated in the player making a verbal transfer request. This obviously casts doubt on his future at the club. On the pitch Rooney has seen a challenge from the emerging Kagawa, a player best suited to a role as a deep forward playing between the lines, a role similar to the one Rooney has fulfilled at times in recent years. Late in the season Sir Alex moved Rooney back into midfield for a couple of games. This has only been a partial success as the player is naturally attack minded and would need to learn the defensive side of the midfielder’s art if he is to excel in this role. When he has been asked to show defensive discipline in the past as a forward he has not always done so, for club or country. Where does he go from here? See our recent article on Rooney: http://manutdtactics.com/?p=257

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Robin van Persie

Oh Robin van Persie! He is a world class player, physically strong with good control and accurate shots, composed and ultimately the difference. It was a master stroke to sign van Persie who, despite a goal scoring drought in the New Year has still finished the season as the Premier League’s top scorer. Likes to start from the right and cut inside, links well with other players and causes defenders all sorts of problems. We could go on, let’s hope he does next year.

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Javier Hernandez

Hernandez’ goal return is good with 18 goals in 36 games, many of his appearances being as a substitute. He is the sort of player who doesn’t always seem to contribute a lot other than his goals. A 4-2-3-1 shape does not suit him; he functions better in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1. As last year he has stuck to the task and is an exemplary professional. One wonders if the player himself will look to move on if he does not believe he will get more game time, but on the face of it he currently appears happy enough to be part of a winning club.

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Danny Welbeck

Danny has had an in and out second full season. His presence and movement in the front line (as highlighted last year) are his strengths; his weakness is his composure in front of goal and the resulting goal scoring return, only two goals this year! He often gets into great positions but then seems to lack the skill and cool head to finish. He has been used in a variety of positions by Sir Alex and has often been selected to do a specific job against specific opposition. He had two very good games against Real Madrid. Ramos had seen nothing like him in the first leg and did not know how to deal with him. In the second leg he sat on Alonso, denying the Madrid man time and space to direct play from deep. The game changed when Sir Alex moved Welbeck away from Alonso after Nani’s dismissal. Would the result have been different if he had continued to do the job on Alonso? Welbeck needs more match time to progress and needs to work on his finishing. He stated desire to score more goals won’t be helped if he continues to be played in wide positions.