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The United Way

When Adam Lallana somehow scrambled the equaliser into the goal yesterday in the 89th minute, it brought back memories of what Manchester United have been in the past many years. Albeit on most of those occasions, it was Manchester United that did the late scoring to level or win matches. It is a strange feeling as a Manchester United supported to be on the receiving end of a punishment that we have inflicted upon countless teams and their supporters over the past years. But those are things in the past and if we want to learn anything from Liverpool and their army of supporters it is to not rest on one’s past laurels. At the end of last season, after the last home game of the EPL season against Swansea, the outgoing boss spoke to the Manchester United supporters for the last time as the club manager. He made a very telling statement, “All my staff stood by me, the players stood by me, you stood by me, and your job now is to stand by our new manager.” Moyes, “The Chosen One”, arrived from Everton and he has big shoes to fill. The first few months of his reign have not been easy on the incumbent and the latest last minute draw against Southampton has put United in the 8th place in the Premier League table with only 3 victories and 11 points from 8 games. This includes a solitary home win at home at the hitherto fortress that was Old Trafford. Indeed the times have changed and one is led to believe that with the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson the “fear factor” associated with Manchester United may be waning if not gone completely. West Brom and Southampton kept their heads up while playing away from home and were rewarded with a victory and a draw respectively. City destroyed United and Liverpool practically walked the ball into the goal when they played us earlier in the season. Things are not that bleak elsewhere where we have defeated Liverpool in the Capital One cup to progress to the Round of 16 while in the Champions League we won our home game against Leverkusen and drew a difficult away game against Shakhtar Donetsk. However, there is a panic setting in amongst supporters. While the more plastic have already or are preparing to jump ship even the staunchest supporters are wavering in their support for Moyes and his frankly inexplicable tactics. He refuses to play a high line against teams we should be dominating, he refuses to push forward for the second goal and his substitutions bar Januzaj early in the season, have been simply confounding. So I will try to discuss here the general tactics and team combinations that seem to be the best option going forward for United.

Formation and Tactics: Moyes has largely stuck to the 4-4-2 formation in his short United career so far. If he wants to ensure that his career at Manchester United is not remembered as a short one, he needs to adapt quickly and switch to a more contemporary formation like a 4-3-2-1 or a 4-3-3. Our wingers are slightly off their game right now so he may even consider a diamond formation like a 4-1-2-1-2.
Squad: This squad is practically the same squad with which Sir Alex Ferguson won his last Premier League title by an astonishing 10-point margin. Now while I don’t expect Moyes to be able to repeat that, the squad is not the reason why the team is capitulating with such alarming regularity against lesser opponents. We need to take a serious look at the players and use this transformational period to literally and figuratively get rid of the flab. How can he do that? Well lets go through the individual squad members.
David De Gea – It took him two years but finally it seems as though the young shot stopper has come of age. He already had the skills when he arrived and he has worked hard on them and his physique and is turning out to be great between the sticks for us. David has started every game this season for United and it is through no fault of his that he does not have more clean sheets against his name. His display so far means that you would always put your money on him to make acrobatic saves to keep us in the game. He is a keeper (pun intended) and we need to secure a lengthier contract for him than he already has. David de Gea will still have two years on his contract at the end of this season but with the vultures (and probably suitors) circling, Ed Woodward would be an intelligent man if he could get the player to renegotiate a longer contract that could keep him at the club for at least 5 more years.
Rafael – The young Brazilian dynamo who plays on the right back for United joined the season late due to injuries. He is however a feisty little customer down the right flank running at opponents twice his size. He also has the footballing skills that every Brazilian kid seems to be born with and is not shy to take a shy at the goal himself if a chance presents itself. Rafael is our best option down in RB right now and we should look to hang on to him. Depending on how well this season and the next go for him, we may even want to extend his contract that expires in Summer 2016.
Patrice Evra – The United vice captain has put in solid performances year after year for us at left back. His utility however may be coming to an end. While Evra is still a force to reckon with down the left flank and one of the best left backs while going forward, his defensive work over the space of the last 2 odd years has been questionable. You never know whether Evra the defender will show up for a game or not. He is often caught up the field when the opponent counter attacks and subsequently struggles to get goalside of the ball. Even when he can manage it, he often switches off and allows the attacker through on goal. The French pro has barely a year left on his contract. It may be too premature to let him go so soon. United should look at getting a one year extension on his contract and then dividing the time of left back between Buttner and possibly Fabio. United chased Baines in the last transfer window but failed to land him. It may not be prudent to go after him again because at that price and his age it would shore us up for only a few years at most. Instead, as rumoured, United would do better to go after Southampton’s young LB, Luke Shaw. The English U-21 International has recently agreed a 5 year deal with Southampton but with an estimated transfer price of 7 million quid, United may be able to pry him away from the Saints. This also means that one or both of Buttner and Fabio may consider leaving the club to look for more regular first team football. The duo rarely feature on Moyes’ bench and their age means they are about to hit their prime soon.
Phil Jones – The new United No. 4, who has been favourably compared to the legendary Duncan Edwards, has hardly put a foot wrong this season. Jones is the kind of player that Sir Alex loved. He has a tremendous work rate, never fears from getting into a tackle, has good positioning sense and most importantly is hungry for the ball. You will hardly see the young defender lose an aerial tackle or a ground ball and when he does, he tracks back immediately to rectify his mistake. Jones is making somewhat of a partnership with Johnny Evans at the back in central defense and in my opinion should be our first choice CB if he is fit to play a game. He is young and he needs match time. With a contract that expires in summer 2016, we can wait a year or so before renegotiating his contract extension.
Rio Ferdinand – Rio is most definitely a United legend. His partnership with Vidic at the back in the 2008 season laid the foundation for the double and is part of United lore. He has commanded respect in the CB position not only in United but in the English team. He remains one of the best readers of the game and that is what has helped him out of many a sticky situations this season whenever he has played. Rio’s age is catching up and his clear lack of pace when a younger midfielder runs straight at him is there for all to see and with his contract expiring at the end of this season, I see it a very remote possibility that he would be offered another contract extension. The choice would most definitely lie with the player whether he wants to retire or play elsewhere. If he wants to leave we need to sell him in January itself before his contract runs out and he goes as a free transfer. If, however, he does decide to retire, he would be a valuable addition to the United backroom as a member of the coaching staff. His joining the United coaching staff could also mean that we can sell Evra in the January transfer window to avoid seeing him go as a free transfer when his contract expires.
Johnny Evans – After a couple of indifferent years, Evans has matured really well to become a dependable CB for us. While he may not be as good a reader of the game as Rio, he makes up for it with his speed of tracking back. He tackles cleanly and sweeps up danger quickly. His partnership at the back with both Vidic and Jones has flourished over the last two seasons and with a contract till summer 2016, he’s one for the future for the club.
Anderson – The Brazilian midfielder arrived with a lot of fanfare but flattered to deceive. After a somewhat decent first season, Anderson has only brought disappointment to Sir Alex and now Moyes. He has put on weight, his reflexes have slowed down, he is injured too often and in general is a shadow of the player who transferred to OT in 2007. It may be time to let Anderson go now. He’s 25 and I am sure one of the other lower league sides could have use of his skills in their squad. He has a contract with us till 2015 so we can still sell him for some money. Time surely has run out for Anderson at OT.
Wayne Rooney – The mercurial one. The prodigal son. There are too many epithets to describe United’s talismanic forward. Rooney transferred as a kid from Everton to United in 2007 and is one of the few players whose tantrums Sir Alex tolerated. Even after handing in multiple transfer requests in the past 2 years, he remains one of the first names to be put down on the matchday team sheet if he is fit. Rooney is the closest one can get to the complete footballer on the pitch. He has an exceptional work rate, tracks back often to help out in defence and most importantly has a very good footballing brain. He has also been in a rich vein of form this season so far and with 203 career goals sits on fourth place in United’s all time goalscorers’ list. I know I am about to make a very controversial statement here but I believe we should consider selling Rooney next summer. Definitely not to one of the clubs in the Premier League where he would be too dangerous but to any other European clubs interested in bidding for the 45 million pound rated striker. I say this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Rooney’s contract runs out at the end of the next season when he would go away as a free transfer. Secondly, Rooney’s new playing position is preventing Kagawa from getting any real playing time. The Japanese playmaker played in the No. 10 role for Borussia Dortmund where it paid rich dividends. Currently Rooney occupies that spot and thus Kagawa is restricted to appearance on and off the bench.
Ryan Giggs – Giggs is a legitimate Manchester United legend, no doubts. He has played at the club for the entirety of his professional career spanning over 20 years and is one of the few one club men around at the moment. Ryan, is however, in the twilight of his career. He is just over a month away from turning 40 and yesterday substituted Nani. He was however shown up for speed on the flanks and had to be moved to central midfield alongside Carrick. His contract expires at the end of this season and it may be time for Giggsy to hang up the football cleats and take over in the backroom, alongside old pal Phil Neville and hopefully Rio Ferdinand.
Chris Smalling – The English International has blown hot and cold over the last two seasons. Smalling gives us a clear advantage in aerial tackles because of his height but he is not as assured as out other centre back options of Evans and Jones. At best, he can be used as a foil for these two for substitutions or match starts if one of the two is injured. He has potential but is yet to realise it on the football pitch.
Anders Lindegaard – The shot stopper transferred to OT the same year as DDG where they were both meant to be replacements for the retiring legend Edwin van der Sar. In their first season, Lindegaard gave more assured performances than his younger Spanish rival but then last season DDG turned it around becoming the automatic first choice keeper. Lindegaard is almost 30 and I am sure he would now be looking at other clubs to get more first team football. As such, we should consider letting him go, especially if we can find a youngish goalkeeper to act as understudy to DDG and Ben Amos.
Javier Hernandez – Chicharito, as he is fondly called, must be a very confused man right now. He was rewarded for a match winning goal with a place on the bench in the next match. Danny Welbeck has been given repeated chances over me and it is getting more baffling now with every passing match. Yes Welbeck does track back and help defenders but that’s not a striker’s job. A striker is supposed to score goals and that’s where the Mexican beats the Englishman fair and square. Hernandez has a striker’s sense for the goal and a poacher’s instinct for converting half chances. He was compared favourably to ex-United striker Solskjaer but now is relegated to bench appearances at most. Even yesterday, Moyes decided to substitute Rooney with Smalling instead of Hernandez who was also on the bench. Chicharito may be really discontented with his current situation and I would not blame him if he looks for another team as early as January. It is in our favour to hang on to him especially when he still has almost 3 years on his contract. Kagawa or Rooney feeding the ball to RvP and Chicharito up front could be a really delicious prospect if it ever materialised.
Nemanja Vidic – The Serb has been the bedrock of our defence for the last 7 years. His partnership with Rio in the 2008 season is the stuff of legend and helped us win the double. He has a commanding presence on the pitch and is a very physical opponent not shying away from a rough tackle. You would always have your money on him to go into a bone jarring tackle and coolly walking away with the opponent writhing on the mat. His contract however runs out at the end of this season and while he has been a shadow of himself since the last season post his knee surgery, Vidic is still a very valuable player and presence on the pitch. Juventus have expressed interest and United (and Ed Woodward) must move quickly to seal a contract extension to keep him away from prying eyes.
Michael Carrick – One of our most consistent midfielder, Carrick has rarely had an off day over the past eighteen months. When he has, the team has lost the game miserably. Carrick calmly took over the onus after the departure of Scholes and Fletcher and has more than once carried the midfield single handedly. He has a whole array of passes at his disposal and is a dependable player when it comes to keeping possession. He has a good footballing sense and a mean long ball to match. With one of the highest pass completion rates in the EPL last season, Carrick has established himself as one of the senior midfielders of the side. We just need to renew his contract now before it expires at the end of this season and I doubt the player would refuse to do so either.
Nani – The Portuguese winger was slated to follow in Ronaldo’s foot steps but he has had too many false starts since then to make any such legitimate claims. Nani can be devastating or frustrating and it totally depends on which Nani turns up for the match. He has been at the club for 6 years now and has recently signed a new contract for the next 5 years. The recent loss of form of Valencia and Young may be a blessing for Nani who is getting another chance to prove that he can be a regular first team player. Before his substitution, Nani was effective down the right flank, overlapping well with Rafael and sending in a few venomous crosses that the strikers failed to convert. Nani’s position is currently under threat only from Valencia and youngster Wilfried Zaha.
Ashley Young – The English International had a stellar first season at Manchester United where he overlapped well with Evra with devastating effect to provide us a sharp bite down the left flank. Ever since that however his performance for the club has been a downward graph as he has appeared to be a one trick pony. He has been in the news for diving multiple times and while Sir Alex may have put up with his antics, Moyes, who has a no nonsense disposition towards diving, has taken exception of this. Young has not featured in a United game since the 1-4 capitulation to Manchester City in September. While Young’s contract is till 2016, I would not be surprised if the club offers him up for sale as early as January. United would be ready to hear a bid in the region of 18 million pounds for the winger.
Danny Welbeck – The young English International forward belongs to a rare and dying breed of players who perform better for country than club. His current scoring rate for England is almost 1 goal per two matches and he has often scored more than one goal in a match for the country. For United, however, Danny Welbeck scored only two goals in all competitions last year. This when he was given ample opportunity by Sir Alex. I know the kid is a very hard working player but it may be time to demote him in the pecking order of strikers in favour of Chicharito. Henriquez, Sir Alex’s last signing for United, will also return at the end of the season to fight for a place in the side.
Robin van Persie – Sir Alex pulled off a coup of sorts when he successfully poached the Arsenal captain last season. The Dutch striker repaid the faith placed in him by scoring prolifically for United netting more than 30 times. RvP is a very skilled footballer and at the peak of his skills. He has formed a dangerous partnership with Rooney upfront and loves to take on defenders with the ball and come out of it still in possession. RvP is most definitely our first choice striker and there is no indication that that is about to change any time soon.
Fabio and Buttner – I have clubbed the players together because of their similarity if analysis. Both the players prefer the LB role, both are of a similar age and playing style. With Evra being the first choice in the LB position. it also means that there is only enough space for one of them to stay. Given that Fabio’s contract expires at the end of the season, it may be a better decision to sell or loan Fabio to another club where he can play sustained first team football. Buttner in the meantime can take over from Evra for a more regular appearance at LB while the latter receives reduced game time instead mentoring the youngsters on and off the pitch.
Tom Cleverley – For almost two seasons, Cleverley was billed as the most talented youngster at Manchester United’s youth academy but he has disappointed so far. This is slightly unfair to the extent that Cleverley favours a short, crisp passing game as opposed to long crosses. That, however, also means that he has been slow to adapt to United’s playing style and has thus lost his starting spot to new joinee, Marouanne Fellaini. Cleverley still has two years on his contract and the onus is squarely on him to prove to the club why they should give him a contract extension.
Darren Fletcher – One of the best central midfielders we saw at OT in a very long time, Fletcher unfortunately was stricken down by illness and has since struggled to return to playing form. His intermittent performances for the reserve side are not good enough to earn him his place back in the side and as cold hearted as it may sound, it may be time for the club to cut its losses. It does not seem like Fletcher would be match fit anytime soon and we should let him go.
Antonio Valencia – The winger had two brilliant seasons for us before he was handed out shirt No 7 for his efforts. That however proved to be his downfall as his performance nosedived and today he is a shadow of the player he was two years ago. Valencia has two more years on his United contract but unlike Young, he may not be a lost cause. He will however have to fight for a first team place against Nani and Zaha.
Shinji Kagawa – The Japanese playmaker arrived from Borussia Dortmund with a lot of fanfare last year. Kagawa was coming off back to back trophy winning seasons when he joined the OT club but ever since his stock has dipped. While Rooney’s new midfield position play is the main perpetrator for this, I would also like to put some blame on Kagawa himself. Kagawa came from the German league where you would get penalised if you even so much as breathe heavily at an opponent. The English game in comparison, is far rougher. DDG realised this and bulked up to hold his own in a crowded penalty box. Kagawa however failed to do so and therefore in spite of being an exceptionally talented midfielder, is often muscled off the ball. Even the world’s best midfielder needs the ball to work his magic. He has good positional awareness but loses out in crowded situations where he lacks the physical presence to fight on equal terms. Kagawa has a contract till 2016 at United but I would not be surprised if he looks for a prospective team as soon as January in search of first team football. It may be in United’s best interests to try and hold on to him and utilise him more frequently, especially in tandem with Rooney. Moyes has systematically ignored Kagawa as an option in midfield. Even yesterday, Moyes inexplicably substituted Rooney with Smalling instead of Kagawa who was also on the bench. This must change if the Japanese is to stay at Old Trafford for any length of time.
Federico Macheda – Macheda is a striker who is clearly lost in a squad particularly rich in players in that position. I have no doubt that the player and the club will part ways at the end of this season. At the very least we can send him out on loan in January and hopefully the same club would buy him outright in the subsequent summer transfer window.
Wilfried Zaha – The young winger arrived from Crystal Palace this January when he was promptly loaned back to Palace for some playing time. Zaha has impressed on his appearances for Palace and in United friendlies ever since. However, inexplicably, he has been unable to even make it to the bench in Moyes’ short reign. While the player is on contract till 2018 with us, suitors have already started flocking as his obvious talent has not gone unnoticed. In the face of the abject failure of United’s seasoned wingers, throwing in the youngster into the mix may just be the shot in the arm that the campaign needs. Whatever it is, Moyes needs to make a decision quickly if he hopes to hang on to Zaha at the end of this season.
Marouane Fellaini – The big Belgian defender was always the most likely candidate for a move from Everton to Old Trafford once Moyes had been confirmed as the club’s new manager. However, with Woodward’s frankly queer bidding tactics, Fellaini was more of a last minute panic buy than anything else. Fellaini was supposed to bring to the table his dominating physical presence in midfield and his marauding box to box runs that made him such a devastating character in Everton’s midfield. He has, however, been none of that. His late arrival means he missed all the friendlies that United played at the start of the season and he is still not on the same wavelenght of his teammates. He is clearly off the pace, he has been sloppy in possession and muscled off the ball far too often to be justifiable. He is now nursing a wrist injury that would require a surgery and time away from play of at least 4-6 weeks. Moyes would have vouched for Fellaini when United bid an extravagant 27.5 million pounds for him and it is time the Belgian reposed this faith placed in him by his manager. He may have a contract till 2018 but if his lacklustre performances continue, Moyes may not have a choice but to cut him out to make space for other midfielders coming through the academy and reserve ranks.
Ben Amos – The young goalkeeper is an academy product and has put in good consistent performances for the reserve side. He has however been restricted chiefly to bench duty in first team action. This is not set to change anytime at least until both DDG and Lindegaard are at the club.
Adnan Januzaj – One of the most exciting young players in world football, the young Januzaj has grabbed attention and headlines across the world. He put in a couple of good performances coming off the bench before being handed his first start of the season against Sunderland. Januzaj immediately repaid this fatih by belting two goals in that game. Januzaj does look a player with a lot of potential. He runs directly at players with the ball and has a lot of skill on the ball always backing himself to keep the ball in a tight spot dribbling merrily past multiple defenders. Januzaj has pace at his disposal that he puts to good effect, using it to beat the closest defenders before sending in vicious crosses. His 50 yard cross yesterday split the Southampton defense and eventually resulted in RvP’s opening goal. Januzaj has signed a new five year contract only yesterday and the future is bright for the young winger if he continues in the same vein.
Nick Powell and Jesse Lingard – Both the young midfielders are on loan currently at Wigan and Birmingham respectively. They are having a great season on loan and once back, they could very well be challenging some of the older players for a starting spot.
Moyes has his task cut out for the time being. I concur with Sir Alex that even winning one trophy this season would be an achievement for Moyes. However, Moyes needs to make sure the ball doesn’t slip so far that United become permanent mid table fixtures. United have never finished poorer than 3rd since the start of the Premier League Era and Moyes would not want to buck that trend. The season is as yet young and there is still enough time to cover the gap between our current 8th position and Arsenal at 1st. But the window of opportunity is very narrow since soon the gap may become too big to cover. I leave you with the following video by Aditya Rathod and a thought from it: “We are not champions because we win! We win because we are champions!”. This side has the DNA of champions much like the club. It just needs to be awakened.
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