Manchester United’s title capitulation in the past fortnight has been a long time coming. United’s 11 defeats in all competitions a measure of the side’s inconsistency in the face of key player departures, injuries and an aging squad. While talk of a complete squad overhaul is wide of the mark, Sir Alex Ferguson’s crucial end-of-season planning begins now.
That planning will, of course, be hampered by the stringent financial environment fostered on the club by the Glazer family. It will also take into account revised ambitions that now extend – as Ferguson admitted on Friday – to “maintaining the current level.”
As a minimum United’s owners need the club to qualify for the Champions League in 2010/11. United’s supporters want a 19th title and a genuine assault on the Champions League.
It is with no little irony that United has amply replaced the goals scored by Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez this campaign. Wayne Rooney’s outstanding form, together with an even spread of goals around the squad means United has scored nine more goals in the Premier League to date than in the entire 2008/9 season.
But the side’s reliance on Rooney, who has scored 34 per cent of United’s Premier League goals this season, has come to haunt Ferguson in the title run-in.
Over the season’s course United’s defensive injury crisis has hit home in key matches; defeats to Aston Villa and Fulham around the New Year are strongly linked to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic’s long-term absence at that time.
Given that seven defenders and Edwin van der Sar have missed at least part of the season it is a minor miracle United can boast the best defensive record in the Premier League.
But the suspicion at the season’s start that United was just a bit too short in quality to win either the Premier or Champions League this season has been born out. There is absolutely no satisfaction in it.
If United is to regain the Premier League title in 12 months time and mount a serious challenge for the Champions League, Sir Alex should consider the following questions:
- How to solve a problem like Edwin – Edwin van der Sar will play one final season at United. The great Dutchman’s presence and largely error-free application of the goalkeeping art provided additional security through the winter just when Ferguson side needed it. But is that good enough? Beaten at the near post by Samuel Eto’o in the 2009 Champions League final, van der Sar could also have done better for Bayern’s goals home and away in this season’s quarters. Formerly a world great, van der Sar is now showing his age. Ferguson is reportedly interested in Schalke’s Manuel Neuer at around £10 million. Olympique Lyonaise ‘keeper Hugo Lloris is the fantasy choice but at huge expense.
- Offering Wayne Rooney support – growing evidence suggests that United will not buy an established international centre forward to offer United’s talisman either support or back-up. Dimitar Berbatov’s unsuitability for the role of lone forward – ditto Michael Owen – means Ferguson will enter the new season still reliant on Rooney’s ability to play the role in the biggest games. Commence praying for an injury-free season in 2010/11.
- Seven into one won’t go – Unless Ferguson changes his current thinking about United’s tactical formation Rooney, Berbatov, Owen, Federico Macheda, Mame Biram Diouf, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández will compete for one spot in the side. Cynics might say that Ferguson’s current tendency to stock up on unproven talent above established class is Benitez-esque.
- What formation? – Ferguson’s apparent devotion to the 4-3-3 formation in United’s toughest fixtures mirrors tactical trends around Europe. The formation is anathema to many United supporters but a decision made by the Scot many years ago. But if United heads into the season bent on playing Rooney alone up-front, is disaster is an injured ankle waiting to happen?
- The dearth of midfield creativity – For 15 years Ferguson’s team selection boasted the outstanding talents of Paul Scholes as its creative heartbeat. Widely regarded as the best of his generation by fellow pros, Scholes’ contribution is now hugely fitful. Yet United without a youthful Scholes is a side without central midfield creativity. To replace Scholes at his peak will cost United upwards of £30 million that Ferguson doesn’t have. To match Barcelona’s midfield brilliance might cost £60 million.
- Planning for injury inevitability – 12 senior United players spent a month or more in the treatment room this season. The unprecedented level of injury at the club can, in part, be written off as bad luck. But injury to certain players is utterly inevitable next season. Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville, Scholes and Ryan Giggs will break down. Age and a tendency to injury effects each.
- What now for Berbatov and Carrick? – Two years of Berbatov at United has taught fans that the Bulgarian record goalscorer is a wonderful talent who cannot deliver on the biggest stage. Few United supporters now believe that Berbatov is the answer to the club’s redemption next season, even if like Rant they are huge fans of the former Tottenham Hotspur striker. Meanwhile, Carrick has suffered his worst season in a United shirt by some distance. The pair’s future at United is surely in doubt.
- What of the supporting cast? – Are Anderson, Darron Gibson, Jonny Evans, Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Macheda and Park Ji-Sung good enough to haul United through another injury crisis next season where they failed this time around?
- Trust in youth? Rafael da Silva, Macheda, Gibson, Anderson and Evans offer much promise, if fulfilled to differing levels in the first team to date. Ferguson trusts the quintet and each is likely to play more than less next season. But with key members of United’s squad aging Ferguson must also decided how to blood the next generation of youth – look for progress from Joshua King, Tom Cleverly, Will Keane, Davide Petrucci, Paul Pogba and – hopefully – Ravel Morrison. It is worrying that just four players in the past decade have made it out of the academy to become regular starters for United.
- The wide men – Antonio Valencia has delivered a highly impressive first season at United, despite the pressure of ‘replacing Ronaldo’. The Ecuadorian’s increasing confidence in the United shirt bodes well for a solid career at Old Trafford. Meanwhile, Nani’s post-Christmas form offers promise of a bright future. At one stage few thought Nani would make it through the winter. But with Giggs now too old for the wide positions and Park a level in quality below, United is short of options in wide areas.
- Transfer strategy – United’ stated strategy to acquire players who retain a resale value limits the club to players under 26 years of age and commits the club to selling those players who successfully make the grade. The Glazers’ debt mountain means that United cannot spend heavily without first selling or piling yet more debt on the club’s books. This is the Rafael Benitez route to League and Cup ignominy.
- The coach – Ferguson’s testy manner this season may well be a factor of United’s sporadic form but the level to which the manger has intensified his war on both the FA and officials is counter-productive. Yes the FA has an anti-United agenda that is beyond doubt but Ferguson’s insistence that Alan Wiley was ‘unfit’ to referee invited a backlash that has resulted in a series of inexplicable decisions against the Scot’s side in big games. For example, United suffered horrendous decisions against Chelsea home and away and Liverpool away that had a material effect on the results. Ferguson must ask himself whether the war is worth it?
11 thoughts on “Where do we go from here?”
Ive been saying since we signed him that Carrick does not cut the mustard. I mean what does he do? Does he get loads of assists? No, does he protect the defence and break up the oppositions attack? No. Complete and utter water carrier of a player decent at most things, great at none. And please anyone thinking about it spare me the “every team needs a player like that” crap, every team needs a complete and utter passenger? Nope. Bit different with Berbs as the guy is amazingly talented but his performances are just not good enough for United. He simply cannot do it for us and for my money has no bottle whatsoever.
All good points, well made. I’m not convinced about some of our backups.
Is Darren Gibson being an adequate replacement in midfield? He does have a pile-driving right boot, but he’s a poor passer, not a great tackler and can’t boss a game. Perhaps he’ll blossom later like Fletch, but I doubt it.
Likewise, Jonny Evans is promising but I don’t think he’s made as much progress as Gerard Pique, for example, even though they’re of similar age.
Anderson? Needs to score goals if he wants to be a regular.
Park? Can do a good tactical job but can just as easily go missing for long spells in games
Have to say i feel sorry for Anderson. Having seen footage of him in his earlier carreer i would have bet my life that he would turn into a supestar. He looked slimmer, faster and had a great future ahead of him, but injuries in his Porto days have hampered his progress. He was the sort of exciting player in the middle of the park we needed with his quick direct running. We have had glimpses at OT but for me he has never looked quite healthy enough, carrying too much weight, and i think Fergie has stifled him somewhat by deploying him deeper in midfield. Like I said its a shame because out of everyone bought in the last few years it looked like this was the boy who would make it big, but as yet it just hasn’t materialised, but you never know so fingers crossed.
We spent the first half of the season adjusting to life after Ronaldo, and have spent the last few games exhausted and spent. What came between offers great promise for the future, however.
Our injuries in defence were freakish and probably will never be repeated, but one thing for certain is that Fabio needs to progress next season – John O’Shea’s absence has been felt more keenly than most people would have imagined, and the lack of any cover at left-back has meant that Evra has played every game and is as a result playing on autopilot at about 70% right now.
However, our problems in midfield could have been foreseen. Should Hargreaves return to fitness and form, the midfield should be absolutely fine, but in his wholly predictable absence, our reliance on Fletcher has been ridiculous. Scholes, Carrick and Anderson (until his unfortunate injury) can all impress alongside Fletcher but all wilt when forced to play without the energetic Scot alongside them. Carrick has had a poor season, but he is worth keeping in the squad as he may come good again.
I don’t think that huge signings are needed, except possibly in goal – the first eleven has already showed that it can beat anyone (except maybe Barcelona). However, the squad needs a little bit of extra strength, and another midfielder is needed. For my money I’d stick close to home and sign James Milner from Villa. He’s had a great season and ticks all the boxes – he’s young, keen, works hard, is feisty and scores goals, and can play anywhere across the midfield. He also probably needs the move upwards to fulfil his potential.
Cover in the full-back positions and possibly another striker (maybe with Berbatov moving away to fund this) would help. As well as a top class goalkeeper.
Remember, though, that a lot of these young squad players will be a year older. Rafael has already shown his worth, but there is enough to suggest that any of Fabio, Welbeck, Diouf, Gibson and Obertan could really blossom next year.
On Gibson; give hime time and he might surprise us, on Anderson; the fool has never had a summer off since he joined us – no wonder he’s in and ouit of form all the time, on Will Keane; this is a very exciting player coming down the line – if he makes it all the way he could have a big influence on the team – deffo one for the future!
The best way to describe Berbatov’s situation is of an architecual design gone terribly wrong. He came to the PL in 2006 which gave Fergie and Quieroz enough time to evaluate him and think in terms of bedding him in with the their present lineup. I doubt very much despite what Fergie has said, that they knew Ronaldo was leaving, and especially so soon. I’m also pretty sure that they never intended to have Tevez depart as well leaving just Rooney and Berbatov to gel together. Take away the brains of this whole operation in Quieroz and you’re left with a structure that is only half constructed with an ageing foundation in the form of Neville, Giggs, and Scholes and no time for young players to improve.
Lets get it straight i love the great man (sir ALEX), however youve got to question his judgment. Playing Rafael from the start was the right decsion, not taking him off at half time after the yellow card was not. We cleary need support for Rooney, UTD is obviously to much for Berbatov and he has got to go. Unless changes are made, we are in trouble, ther are obvious parells with what happened after Sir MATT left,Lets hope that history will nor repeat itself. So who do we need ? Answers on a post card please. UTD FOREVER/
Every year we hear the perils and downfall of United. We heard it when Beckham left, when Ruud left and now it comes through again when CR7 left. This was a year of transition and many clubs would be happy with a year like we had. I know I shouldn’t be satisfied because expectations of our squad every year is high but Rooney played amazing football this year and we learned Nani and Valencia are pure class. I dreamed of a Double this year and almost got it. Sir Alex will know what to do with our current squad. You will see…
United’s squad is perfectly fine. What is required is for Sir Alex to give younger players more opportunities. Some may not be ready just yet but there are several who could become awesome players for us very soon; take a look at the transformation of Nani since the turn of the year.
Get rid of Berbatov, give preferential treatment to Welbeck, Macheda, Diouf and our new Mexican rather than Micheal Owen; whoever delivers gets to replace Rooney when he’s unavailable. Rafael and Anderson to start next season. Obertan as back-up for Nani/Valencia. Gibson over Scholes (if he stays another season). Give Evra enough rest that he’s not totally exhausted come March/April time.
I think manctilldead has it spot on. With all the comings and goings, the loss of Carlos Quieroz has perhaps been the largest blow to Manchester United.
In the 07/08 season, we played some amazing football. Strong in defence, and lightening quick in attack. Berbatov was the only major addition that was discussed, and I think Quieroz had designs for his use. I think had he stayed as assistant manager, we would have done even better last year and this year.
I actually think he was making a lot of the playing decisions at the time. Because we’ve changed fairly drastically under Phelan. We don’t have the same flair.
We should definately give the younger players every oppertunity in the first team, but its all about getting the right blend. We need a top qualiy no 10 to ease the burden on Rooney, i agree that this was always going to be a season of transition ( Ronaldo was always going to go sooner or later) but we cant afford to tread water. That first half against Bayern at OT shows that only minor
adjustments are required, but imagine how much better it could have been, if we had had a Benzema or a Milner on the bench. Im sure Sir Alex knows what we need, im just not sure that the yanks will invest in the squad for the highest calibre players. UTD FOREVER