The Summer Clearout – Who Stays and Who Goes?

Standard

Much has been made of the urgent need for David Moyes to bring in new recruits as he looks to return his Manchester United side to its former glory, but there is likely to be a fairly major exodus, as the Scot looks to free up funds and squad spaces for the incoming players. Here, I take a look at who should survive the cull and who should be shown the door…

Goalkeeper:

David De Gea has been United’s best player this season, looking every inch the long-term successor to Edwin van der Sar, and Moyes will be desperate to keep him. However, with the goalkeeping situations far from clear at each of the top three clubs in the Spaniard’s homeland, United may have to brace themselves for a big-money bid for the 23-year-old, this summer.

Anders Lindegaard’s experience is useful when called upon, but there is no chance that he will overtake De Gea as the Reds’ first-choice Number One, so he is certainly expendable, at the right price. If the Dane does depart, young Englishmen Ben Amos and Sam Johnstone would share deputising duties, but one or both may look for employment elsewhere if their game-time remains so limited.

Right Back:

After showing signs that he has matured over the past two seasons, Rafael has taken a backwards step this season, as exemplified by a ludicrous two-footed challenge at Stamford Bridge in January. Nevertheless, the 23-year-old adds much-needed bite and attacking thrust to the United line-up, and deserves to be retained for next term.

The sale of brother Fabio has left the Brazilian short of a specialist understudy, with Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Antonio Valencia each deputising throughout the season. However, the rotation of positions has hampered the form of all three players, and this is an area Moyes needs to address. Since his arrival, the Scotsman has overseen the purchases of two young right-backs – Guillermo Varela and Saidy Janko – so he may decide to promote from within, due in no small part to the difficulties with recruiting a player who knows they will be second-choice.

Centre Back:

Captain Nemanja Vidic has already announced that he will be swapping Manchester for Milan this summer, and some woeful performances this season mean long-term defensive partner Rio Ferdinand should be also searching for alternative employment, come May.

That joint departure means Jonny Evans will be United’s most senior defender, and the Ulsterman’s performances over the past three seasons show that he merits a place in the Old Trafford ranks. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have encountered a great deal of criticism this season, but the aforementioned positional rotation, combined with multiple injuries have certainly impacted the pair’s form. Nevertheless, that both men look set to form part of Roy Hodgson’s plans for Brazil is an indication of their talents, which, in the absence of injury, should see them well-equipped to form part of another Old Trafford defensive dynasty.

The struggles of Martin Demichelis and Kolo Toure at north-west rivals indicate the perils of making a cheap but experienced acquisition to fill the fourth centre-back slot, so United would be wise to dip into their youth ranks in their search for a deputy. 21-year-olds (the same age as Jones) Tom Thorpe and Michael Keane both have England youth and senior Championship experience, which will stand them in good stead, as they look to make the leap into the first-team.

Left Back:

Undoing the good work of a stunning away goal in a Champions League quarter-final takes some doing, but Patrice Evra managed to do just that with an awful defensive contribution having put United 1-0 ahead in the Allianz Arena, in April. Too easily out-jumped at the far post, not close enough to block a cross nor stop a winger getting a run at goal, the Frenchman’s failings, which have been evident all season, were clear for all to see, yet again. The decline Evra has encountered in the past three years surely sees him destined for the Old Trafford exit door this summer.

Having spent months trying to replace him with both Leighton Baines and Fabio Coentrao, it is somewhat surprising that David Moyes has selected Evra on 41 occasions this term. However, the fact that the former Monaco man has been a virtually ever-present owes much to the poor standard of the Scot’s other options. The sale of Fabio means the inconsistent Alexander Buttner is Moyes’ only other senior left-back. In truth, the Dutchman isn’t really Manchester United standard, but a dogged display when faced with Arjen Robben, combined with the previously mentioned issues with signing back-ups, mean Buttner will likely survive this summer.

Wingers:

This is arguably the area of Moyes squad where he will look to facilitate the most departures; due partly to years of substandard contributions from United’s wide-men and also the fact that the outgoing players may raise substantial funds, as the Scot looks to bring in top-quality reinforcements.

It would be startling if Juan Mata, United’s record signing, left the club, and the same goes for Adnan Januzaj, after a promising debut season.

The future of the other wide-men is far from guaranteed, however. Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Nani have offered little in recent years, and all three may be moved on, if the right offer comes in. Young guns Jesse Lingard and WIlfried Zaha both impressed in pre-season, and their exuberance may add a degree of unpredictability to an area of Moyes’ side which has been one-dimensional on too many occasions, this season. Sir Alex’s Ferguson’s purchase of Bebé was widely ridiculed, but this season’s loan spell at Pacos de Ferreira has seen the former Portugal Under 21 man net 10 league goals. That’s no mean feat considering his side have netted just 39 in total, and Valencia, Young and Nani have scored 12 combined, over the past two seasons. If money can be raised via the sales of other widemen, the Portuguese might be worth having around.

Then there’s Shinji Kagawa. The Japanese star has been the feature of much discussion this season, and some good recent performances might yet see him start next season at Old Trafford. However, it is clear that David Moyes, just like Sir Alex Ferguson before him, has struggled to find a role for Kagawa and the January purchase of Mata has merely pushed the 25-year-old further down the pecking order, and further towards the left flank. Moreover, a return of 0 goals from 26 appearances this season hardly gives weight to the (in my view, startlingly) popular argument that Shinji needs freeing on a more regular basis.

Kagawa’s quality is not in doubt, but some players just aren’t good fits for certain clubs – Juan Sebastian Veron, Diego Forlan and Gerard Piqué are among those who have flourished away from Old Trafford. Also, considering he could considerably swell David Moyes’ transfer kitty or be a hugely useful makeweight in any potential deal for one of Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund stars, the play-maker’s days at Old Trafford should be numbered.

(P.S. I’m not saying Bebé is better than Kagawa – just that there are probably more benefits to keeping Bebé and selling Kagawa, in the long run)

 Central Midfield:

This is the area of the side David Moyes needs to most urgently rejuvenate, and part of that process includes clearing the decks prior to bringing in reinforcements. Ryan Giggs has reinvented himself superbly, but this season must surely be the 40-year-old’s last. Marouane Fellaini clearly wasn’t Moyes’ first choice target last summer, and the Belgian has looked out of his depth at Old Trafford. United would have to take a loss of Andy Carroll proportions if they were to let the former Everton man go, but the Red Devils could do with the extra funds, and without the reminder of previous failings in the transfer market.

Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher are both the wrong side of 30, but their experience will be vital given the amount of old hands set to leave the club. Tom Cleverley has shown admirable bravery by partaking in a number of high-profile interviews in the past year, but not enough on the pitch to earn a slot in next year’s squad. Even if the England international does feature in Moyes’ long-term plans, a loan spell away might be best; regular first-team football and time away from the glare of Old Trafford could revitalise the academy graduate, but in truth, Cleverley would be lucky to still be a Manchester United employee, come September 1st.

Having seen his Number 8 shirt handed to Juan Mata, Anderson looks to be all but out of the exit door, but his dynamism is exactly what United are lacking, and, if fit, merits a place in the squad. Nick Powell has impressed during his loan period at FA Cup semi-finalists Wigan Athletic, and should be retained to add flair and versatility to the Old Trafford ranks. The addition of two top-class central midfielders would leave Moyes with a blend of youth and experience, solidity and guile, the likes of which have been lacking at United for far too long.

Strikers:

The purchase of Juan Mata has created a dilemma for Moyes; how does he fit the Spaniard into the side, with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie? Mata is best in the Number 10 position, and Rooney looks more at ease further forward, so where does that leave the Dutchman? This season, his demeanour has been that of a discontented man, and he has expressed his surprise at the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, and the tactical struggles he has faced under Moyes’ stewardship.

Consequently, Moyes might just be tempted to sell, if the chance to award van Persie’s considerable wages to a midfield acquisition arose. Given more regular game-time up front and some more work on his finishing, Danny Welbeck will prove to be a very adept understudy, but the frustration of being third-choice may become too much for Javier Hernandez. A failure to improve his all-round game has stagnated the Mexican’s development at Old Trafford, and a big offer would probably see the Little Pea depart.

The lone-striker system means Sir Alex Ferguson’s circa-1999 desire for four top-class strikers can be reduced to the need for three. Therefore, if Hernandez did stay, Moyes doesn’t need to spend. Even Chicharito’s departure may not force the Scot into the striker market, given the form of James Wilson (who was on the bench at Newcastle) in the Under 21 side, and Angelo Henriquez on loan at Real Zaragoza. Federico Macheda has impressed at Doncaster Rovers and Birmingham City, but some shocking performances for United suggest that the Championship is really his level.

As evidenced by the shambles that has unfolded at Tottenham Hotspur this season, signing several players for big money isn’t necessarily a sure-fire way to revitalise a football club. Therefore, David Moyes may be looking to bring in quality rather than quantity, with the major surgery on his squad being executed in the form of departures.

A ruthless approach that proves nobody is safe from the axe, and uses hungry young talent to put pressure on more experienced counterparts, while returning an air of unpredictability to the Old Trafford ranks may be David Moyes’ best chance of using this summer to turn Manchester United around.

DEFINITELY STAYING:

David De Gea

Rafael, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Michael Keane, Tom Thorpe

Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj, Wilfried Zaha, Jesse Lingard, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Anderson, Nick Powell

Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Angelo Henriquez, James Wilson

POSSIBLE DEPARTURES:

Anders Lindegaard, Ben Amos, Sam Johnstone

Alexander Buttner

Tom Cleverley, Nani, Shinji Kagawa, Bebé

Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez

EXIT DOOR FOR SURE:

Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra

Ryan Giggs, Marouane Fellaini, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia

Federico Macheda

Advertisements

A cross-examination of Manchester United’s tactical approach

Standard

The modern football observer has access to a wealth of statistical data, on which to analyse the performance of both players and teams. Thanks to the incredible accessibility of such figures, nearly everyone with an affliction for the beautiful game – even those who didn’t watch the match – will know that Manchester United succeeded with just 18 of their whopping 82 attempted crosses in drawing 2-2 at home to Fulham on Sunday. With “all United do is cross it” becoming the new “Arsenal always try and walk it in”, David Moyes has two options; stick with his current approach and improve his side’s efficiency in carrying it out or change his tack.

The struggling Scot’s loyalty to crossing from wide areas has been maligned for most of the season, and the criticism has greatly intensified following Sunday’s draw with Fulham. However, such a tactic can be very effective, but if Moyes wishes to persevere with it he must improve literally every aspect of its execution by his new charges.

First of all, Moyes must take steps to improve the quality of the delivery from wide areas. One of the main criticisms of United following Sunday’s match was that they set over so many aerial balls (15 of which were cleared by the head of 6ft 7in Dan Burn) but setting that aside momentarily, the Old Trafford side simply need to ensure more crosses land in dangerous areas. A failure to produce consistently dangerous deliveries – often the same match, nearly always from match to match – has undermined Moyes’ approach all season long.

On matchdays, Moyes looks desperate to change his side’s fortunes; apoplectic gesticulations have become almost commonplace in the United dug-out. However, if his current approach is to succeed, his real work must be done on the training ground. The Scot oversaw the development of a successful crossing-based strategy at Everton, where the most consistent delivery came from the left-boot of Leighton Baines. The fact that Moyes’ new ranks don’t currently contain a provider anywhere near as cultured as the Liverpudlian suggests the introduction of regular crossing practice should be his first step if United are to perfect their crossing-based game, as Everton did.

It seems absurd to suggest such a simple remedy, and obviously there is no way to prove that United don’t work on crossing every single day. However, their delivery from the flanks has yet to improve, and Moyes seems to have taken the view that once his strongest players return to the side, United’s fortunes will transform. It has been said that crossing is a lottery for which David Moyes is wrong to buy a ticket, but a consistent failure to put the ball into dangerous areas – within the width of the goal-posts – means that too often United don’t even get to the shops.

Returning to the issue of 21-year-old Burn’s success on Sunday, which led him to tell the BBC he “hadn’t headed that many balls since the Conference”, United must change the positions from which they cross the ball. While Messrs van Persie, Rooney, Welbeck and Hernandez are by no means poor in the air, Moyes’ squad does not contain a striker of truly frightening aerial prowess, capable of transforming high, floated crosses into goals. Therefore, to maximise the capabilities of his front-men, Moyes must find a way of getting his wingers and full-backs to the by-line on a more regular basis, to cut the ball back low into the box.

Returning the lottery analogy, the odds are stacked in defenders such as Burn’s favour when competing for a floated aerial ball, but United’s dynamic strikers would fancy their chances of outmaneuvering him to slot home a fizzed low cross around the penalty spot.

fulham

However, United’s failure to consistently get their wide players into such positions has numerous roots. The Red Devils are ponderous during the transition between defence and attack, during which they could exploit the ever-increasing space modern full-backs leave behind when they join the attack. Also, the speed of United’s build-up play is pedestrian, and opposing sides now have more time than ever to get into shape and close up the gaps through which a killer through ball could be threaded.

Even so, it’s debatable whether (with the exception of Michael Carrick) United possess a player capable of playing such a pass. Given the limitations of the central midfielders, the onus falls on the wide players themselves to outwit their marker and make the space for themselves, but the predictable Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are among the players who have shown precious little inspiration this season. All these failings have led to the skepticism regarding Moyes’ clear belief that United’s most effective attacking approach should be built on wide-play.

Nevertheless, despite the current criticism, a more dynamic midfield duo, coupled with the recruitment of reliable wingers who are stronger in 1v1 situations could see Moyes’ crossing-based strategy supply some of the league’s sharpest strikers with the necessary ammunition to fire United back up the league.

However, such major surgery is obviously only possible in the summer, and the Scot has already spent £37million on Juan Mata, who, as United legend Gary Neville immediately identified, isn’t well suited to the current approach. Therefore, as many observers are suggesting, it might be best for Moyes to abandon this strategy, and explore other options.

Upon his arrival at Old Trafford, it was suggested by many (including myself) that Juan Mata would line-up alongside in-form Adnan Januzaj and the returning Wayne Rooney, with the trio interchanging at will and creating chances for Robin van Persie. If you were to place this line up on a diagram, the Spaniard’s name would almost certainly be on a flank, but the intention would be to give him freedom to roam inside, with Rafael and Patrice Evra charged with providing the side’s width.

The former Chelsea man is most effective when roaming free, able to pick up the ball and run at the heart of defences, but has surprisingly found himself isolated in a wide area for much of his early United career; his majestic left-foot predominantly being used to supply high crosses. Giving Mata much more license to move inside, as well as a recall for the bafflingly ousted Adnan Januzaj, would see United overwhelm opponents in central areas.

Given this foundation, the Reds’ full-backs could marauder forward into acres of space, while whoever is deployed at centre-back would have more passing options when they look to start attacks. Fulham’s defensive unit at the weekend was extremely deep, but, given the confidence with which opposition sides approach encounters with the Old Trafford’s 2014 vintage, United will usually come up against a higher defensive line. The prominence of Mata, Rooney and Januzaj should provide the lone centre forward – van Persie, Welbeck or Hernandez – with an abundance of through balls to use their clever movement to latch onto.

Also, granting total attacking freedom to the “three number tens”, would necessitate United’s stagnant central midfielders to occupy the deeper positions they appear more comfortable in; especially if both full-backs bomb forward. While the need for a dynamic midfielder, who can link the defence and attack is still pressing, simplifying the attacking roles of the central pairing would certainly be beneficial. Merely being charged with supplying Mata, Januzaj and Rooney short passes would ease the burden on the men who are currently operating in the area of the pitch receiving the most scrutiny, as well as allowing them to provide better protection for a currently vulnerable defence.

The redeployment of Mata and Januzaj would benefit the entire side

The redeployment of Mata and Januzaj would benefit the entire side

Such an approach would also suit Shinji Kagawa and even Welbeck if he were to be deployed in a deeper role, given the pair’s clever movement and link-up play, meaning that the new approach need not be defined by the presence of the aforementioned creative trio on the pitch. The change would represent a major diversion from the traditional United “philosophy” outlined by “G-Nev” on a number of occasions, but would return an air of unpredictability to the Red Devils’ attacking unit, and rectify some of their current issues.

Whichever of his options he selects, David Moyes must act quickly if he is to realise the faint hopes he still has of salvaging a degree of success from his debut season in the Old Trafford dug-out. While his employers have made all the right noises with regards his job secruity, the Scot must surely show signs of how he intends to rebuild the Manchester United empire between now and May, if he is to be granted the necessary time to do so. And, despite the barrage of criticism he has faced following Sunday’s emergence of that damning 18 out of 82 statistic, in all likelyhood, he will rely on a strategy based on wing-play to achieve this aim. Dynasties can be built on the flanks – think David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, 1999 and all that – but David Moyes must bring improve the quality and change the angle of United’s deliveries if his is to be another.