The Summer Clearout – Who Stays and Who Goes?

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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

United 1-1 Bayern – Moyes succeeds where many have failed

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Manchester United, having gone into the match tasked with avoiding further humiliation in this most abject of seasons, produced a hugely spirited display and will be disappointed to head to Munich next Wednesday with merely a 1-1 draw to show for their efforts.

That the Red Devils produced such a result against the odds attributes a lot to their counter-attacking game-plan. The approach drew criticism from many experts and fans alike, who claim that United’s rudimentary and direct style flew in the face of the maverick qualities instilled in the club by Sir Alex Ferguson. However, the recently retired Scot used the same rearguard action in big European games himself.

Despite boasting soon to be World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks, the focus of United’s 2008 Champions League semi-final triumph over Barcelona was stopping Lionel Messi and maximising their limited opportunities to counter-punch. The knockout blow was duly delivered by Paul Scholes, Old Trafford erupted, before the trophy was secured in Moscow. That similar organisation and tactical discipline was sorely lacking was a major factor as Tuesday’s adversary Pep Guardiola later twice led the Catalans to the trophy with the Big Ears at the expense of United, within the space of three years.

Nevertheless, Ferguson appeared to have learned his lesson from those final defeats during last season’s encounter with Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid. A carefully constructed counter-attacking ploy, which utilised the pace of Danny Welbeck to ease the pressure on aging centre-halves Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand (sound familiar?) looked set to create a famous European night at Old Trafford, until Nani was wrongly dismissed. Moyes tweaked this successful template and summoned the same intensity and selflessness from his players, inspiring them to a result that has proved beyond even the most accomplished sides in world football.

Last season, en route to an unprecedented treble, Bayern thrashed the Barcelona side Guardiola built 7-0 over two legs; the world’s best team in terms of retaining ball possession, led by Lionel Messi were outplayed comprehensively. Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp features on most fans’ shortlists of replacements for David Moyes, but his side’s high intensity pressing game was unsuccessful against FC Hollywood’s 2014 vintage – BVB succumbed to a 3-0 home defeat in the sides’ November meeting. Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City outfit have irrefutably had a better campaign than their neighbours, but even they were comprehensively beaten when Bayern came to town. An Arjen Robben-inspired 3-1 victory made a mockery of the Citizens’ reputation as the country’s great entertainers.

The limited options available to Moyes make this result even more impressive. It is likely that, with a full complement of players to choose from, the Scot would have selected the more mobile Phil Jones and Jonny Evans at centre-half, flanked by Rafael and Patrice Evra. A combination of injuries and Evra’s suspension meant that Jones had to re-locate to right-back, with the aging Vidic and Ferdinand joining the erratic  Alexander Buttner in the back-line.

Consequently, United were forced to concede a great deal of ground in the midfield area, where Bayern are so strong, as they sought not to leave their centre-backs exposed the pace of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. Not only that, but Brazilian right-back Rafinha was allowed to maraud forward, linking with Robben to over-load Buttner, but this was with good reason.

In the first half Ryan Giggs, and in the second, Shinji Kagawa were dragged inside to match-up with their opponent’s midfield three, seemingly obligating either Danny Welbeck or Wayne Rooney to come out to the left-hand side and track back. However, Moyes took a risk and told both his front-men to stay central and occupy Javi Martinez and Jerome Boateng, neither of whom looked comfortable throughout the evening. The 50-year-old has been criticised for his excessive caution since taking on his new role, and Tuesday night’s game was held up by some observers as further evidence of it, but to do so would be to do Moyes a huge disservice.

Not only is a defence-based strategy more risky than many people realise – one defensive slip-up and it’s very hard to recover, especially in a tie governed by the “Away Goals” rule – but the decision to give his side two central outlets outlined Moyes commitment to attacking where possible. He identified Rafinha as Bayern’s weakest link and was quite prepared to let him have the ball, especially when shorn of a crossing target for the game’s first hour.

In truth, he may have been too brave; a 1-0 advantage and the introduction of Mario Mandzukic as Bayern’s attacking spearhead probably rendered Welbeck’s aggressive positioning too risky, as evidenced by the roles of both Rafinha and the Croatian striker in Bastian Schweinstiger’s cruical equaliser.

Moyes combined pragmatism with endeavour – he knew his team would be defending for long periods (when Bayern are so good at keeping the ball, what else can you do?) but also hatched a plan – something sorely lacking too often this season – to hurt Bayern when in possession. Had Welbeck found a corner with a low and hard shot five minutes before half-time, the approach would have seen United travel to Germany with a slender lead.

Prior to Tuesday’s encounter, the concern for the majority of United followers was how their side could keep the score down. At its conclusion, they had legitimate grounds to feel their side should have won the match. David Moyes’ game-plan, so effectively executed by his players, is responsible for the shift in perspective, which gives rise to the faint hope that Manchester United can complete their Mission Improbable.

Bayern Munich will be without Martinez and linchpin Bastian Schweinstiger for Wednesday’s return clash, while David Moyes should have more defensive options to call upon. With a 1-0 win enough to secure a place in the Champions League semi-finals, some fans may dare to dream. Although, whatever happens in Munich, David Moyes has already experienced a resounding success, where many of Europe’s elite have tasted bitter failure, before him.

 

 

Replacing Wayne Rooney would indeed be expensive – but Manchester United have already done it

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The recent announcement that Wayne Rooney had signed a lucrative five-year contract with Manchester United, rumoured to be worth around £300,000 per week for the Liverpudlian, indicated the club’s determination, or maybe desperation, to prove that Old Trafford remains an attractive home for the most stellar names in football. The extension keeps Rooney at United until he is 33, which is undoubtedly a gamble, but it is one that Ed Woodward clearly felt the club simply had to take, as David Moyes sets about transforming the fortunes of his under-performing side. However, despite being one of United’s best performers in a hugely disappointing campaign, Rooney isn’t as indispensable as such a bountiful contract; which stipulates that Moyes must discuss transfer activity with the striker, and that he will become a club ambassador upon his retirement, suggests.

According to tabloid mathematics, the extension will cost United around £86million. Yet those who claim such extortionate figures mean the club should cut their losses have generally been met with one rebuttal; it would cost even more to replace Rooney. Gary Neville recently defended the club’s stance by stating, The question you’ve got to ask is how much does it cost to replace him? And the market is demanding, for a player that has scored the goals he has scored in his 10 years at United, you’d be talking £50-£60m”.

The England coach, and others who share his view are indeed correct, replacing Rooney would be very expensive. The thing is, Manchester United have already done it. Having splashed out £37million on Juan Mata, three years the Scouser’s junior, and two-time Chelsea Player of the Year and £24million on Robin van Persie, the Premier League’s top scorer in the past two seasons, the void that would have been left by Rooney’s departure have been filled.

It has long been, rather lazily, stated that ‘Manchester United are undoubtedly better with Wayne Rooney in the side than without him’ but the purchase of Mata, whom many supporters wish to see occupy a more central role, in any case, provides a serious challenge to this theory.

If it seems bizarre that David Moyes followed the club-record acquisition of a world-class playmaker, most comfortable in the Number 10 position, by making an older man, who wishes to occupy the same role, the highest-paid player in English football, a closer look at Mata and Rooney’s respective credentials only serves to make the Scotsman’s decision look more foolhardy.

Having been to the European Championships and Olympic Games, last season saw Juan Mata play 64 games for Chelsea and his haul of 20 goals indicates the Spaniard’s ability to avoid burn-out and maintain his performance level. The former Valencia man is of slender build, but has adapted to the rigours of the English game, while staying remarkably clear of injury. By contrast, Rooney’s bustling style leaves him susceptible to spending time on the treatment table, which has been a feature of nearly every one of his eleven seasons at Old Trafford.

In addition, last summer saw Sir Alex Ferguson express what was already clear to many observers; that Rooney’s ‘stocky frame [means] he must be worked very strongly to [maintain] his edge’. The England striker admitted as much himself in his latest book, stating “I’m stocky. I’m not like Ryan Giggs, all bone and muscle”. The constant struggle to reach maintain his fighting weight has had an adverse effect on Rooney’s ability to perform consistently throughout his career. It has played a major part in his inability to shine at multiple major international tournaments, and saw the striker benched for a considerable part of Ferguson’s final season.

Consequently, tying Rooney down until he is 33, by which time there is no telling how much of a handle he will have over his physical condition, while marginalising Mata, a more natural athlete, with an injury record David Moyes should feel a greater deal of confidence in relying on, doesn’t, on the face of it, appear a particularly shrewd move.

Even without the fitness concerns, there is a strong argument to suggest that Juan Mata is simply a better footballer than Wayne Rooney. That Jose Mourinho ousted the Spaniard due to concerns over his defensive diligence has seemingly caused many observers to forget just how good Mata’s performances since his arrival in England have been. 12 Premier League goals and 18 assists saw the World Cup winner nominated for PFA Player of the Year last season, while Rooney played a bit-part role as United strolled to the title. This season, while Mata warmed the Chelsea bench, and prior to his most recent injury, the 28-year-old was enjoying a fine run of form. This is likely Moyes’ justification for Rooney’s deployment in a more pivotal role than Mata, but the striker’s goal in last Saturday’s win over Crystal Palace was his first in seven apperances.

This relatively baron run is nothing out of the ordinary for the notoriously ‘streaky’ Scouser, but the startling dip in his performance levels when he isn’t in form are a worry for many United fans. All sorts of things can go wrong for players down on confidence and luck but, for a player so involved in his side’s build-up play, the way in which his sharpness and first touch can seemingly desert an off-form Rooney casts aspersions Moyes’ desire to rebuild his Manchester United empire around him. The striker’s atrocious display as England limped to an abject 0-0 draw with Algeria at the 2010 World Cup demonstrates the depths his performances can plumb, and Roy Hodgson waits in hope, rather than expectation, for a marked improvement, four years on.

In short, despite his resurgence this season, Rooney remains a loose cannon, equally liable to produce the woeful as the wondrous. Meanwhile, Mata is one of the most gifted players in the Premier League, with fantastic technique, tactical intelligence and an eye for goal, yet it is the former Everton man that David Moyes has entrusted with leading his Old Trafford revolution.

David Moyes’ stubborn insistence that Wayne Rooney would not leave Old Trafford, followed by the exceptionally generous contract afforded to the 28-year-old suggest that the Scot thought that securing his signature was an imperative part of his quest to rebuild Manchester United; a sentiment clearly echoed by Ed Woodward and the club’s directors. However, having sanctioned £37million to add Juan Mata to a squad already containing Shinji Kagawa, Adnan Januzaj, Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, Woodward had unwittingly ensured the White Pele’s erratic concoction of perspiration and inspiration wouldn’t be sorely missed at Old Trafford. The deal showed that world-class players are still interested in joining the Red Devils, without the club being held to ransom over personal demands, all while providing Moyes with an upgrade on his creative fulcrum. It has been said that retaining the service of Wayne Rooney exemplifies the on-going strength of Manchester United, but in actual fact, letting him leave the club would have sent out a much more powerful message.

To replace Wayne Rooney with a one-in-two striker, goals-wise, over a long period of time would have cost them £50million with a five-year contract [for the player] on top of that.
Read more at http://talksport.com/football/exclusive-gary-neville-rooneys-no-more-obscene-alan-shearer-14022280884#h2FoLJrHIfI1lHPk.99
To replace Wayne Rooney with a one-in-two striker, goals-wise, over a long period of time would have cost them £50million with a five-year contract [for the player] on top of that
Read more at http://talksport.com/football/exclusive-gary-neville-rooneys-no-more-obscene-alan-shearer-14022280884#h2FoLJrHIfI1lHPk.99
To replace Wayne Rooney with a one-in-two striker, goals-wise, over a long period of time would have cost them £50million with a five-year contract [for the player] on top of that
Read more at http://talksport.com/football/exclusive-gary-neville-rooneys-no-more-obscene-alan-shearer-14022280884#h2FoLJrHIfI1lHPk.99
To replace Wayne Rooney with a one-in-two striker, goals-wise, over a long period of time would have cost them £50million with a five-year contract [for the player] on top of that
Read more at http://talksport.com/football/exclusive-gary-neville-rooneys-no-more-obscene-alan-shearer-14022280884#h2FoLJrHIfI1lHPk.99
To replace Wayne Rooney with a one-in-two striker, goals-wise, over a long period of time would have cost them £50million with a five-year contract [for the player] on top of that
Read more at http://talksport.com/football/exclusive-gary-neville-rooneys-no-more-obscene-alan-shearer-14022280884#h2FoLJrHIfI1lHPk.99

A cross-examination of Manchester United’s tactical approach

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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.