In England it is the time of year when teachers begin to reflect on the performance of individual students since last summer; have they met their targets? What went well? What could they do better? In a blatant act of procrastination I’ve put my own reports on hold and instead turned my attention to reflecting on the last nine months of Manchester United’s first team squad; starting with the back five.
I have evaluated every player who made a minimum of ten appearances over the season. For each I have followed a standard school report format: identified what I considered a realistic objective for the start of the season (OBJ), identified what went well (WWW) and even better if (EBI). Each player has also been graded. The judgments are based on performance against expectations and in no way should be considered a hierarchy of ability.
David De Gea
OBJ:Establish himself as first choice keeper.
WWW: Ended the season lauded as amongst the best in the league. Produced performance of the highest level on the biggest stage against Madrid. Responded well to targeting by physical opponents.
EBI: Despite massive improvement, command of his area is still a work in progress. Unconvincing punches under pressure have yet to be totally eradicated from his game.
OBJ: Establish himself as first choice keeper.
WWW: Promoted to first choice keeper during November.
EBI: Car-crash performance against Reading destroyed reputation as ‘dependable’ alternative to De Gea. Needs to regain his confidence – particularly on dealing with crosses – if he is to stay ahead of the promising Amos and Johnstone in the pecking order.
Rafael Da Silva
OBJ: Establish himself as first choice right back.
WWW: Excelled defensively, shedding myth of the ‘attacking full back.’ Only Zabaleta could legitimately claim to have outperformed him domestically. Particularly impressive given poor performance of wingers in front of him. No longer considered a risk against quality players. Amongst United’s most consistent performers.
EBI: Despite impressive consistency, the potential for rash decision making remains. Clever opponents will continue to seek to exploit his fiery nature. Difficult first half in Madrid confirmed work ahead to be considered amongst the best around.
OBJ: To prove he wasn’t finished.
WWW: Returned to form of 2010/11. Proved wrong those who called for Baines to replace him. Unaffected by non-football issues. Added goals to his game (at last!)
EBI: Despite reversing the apparent slump of previous two seasons, failed to return to his best performance level. Lapses in concentration and positional errors still need to be eradicated as his physical ability to recover diminishes.
OBJ: Establish himself as a regular starter.
WWW: Recovered well after first half written off through injury. Emerged as a player capable of executing disciplined tactical role (in marked contrast to recklessness of debut season). Demonstrated improved anticipation and distribution.
EBI: Yet to establish himself as first choice in any one position – the arrival of a new manager could be a turning point in his career. Susceptibility to injury continues to be a worry.
OBJ: Prove he could be relied upon to perform for a full season.
WWW: Only five players started more fixtures proving his injury issues had amounted to a dip rather than decline. Regardless of armband, returned to prominence as leader of the team. Instrumental in defensive improvement in 2013 and helped bring on development of younger players around him.
EBI: Despite consistent excellence, physical limitations exposed on occasion. Capacity to play in a team holding a high line could come into question.
OBJ: To break up the Vidic-Ferdinand partnership.
WWW: Established key partnership with Ferdinand. Impressed with distribution and positioning. Now team’s finest front foot defender – as proven by selection away to Madrid. Added goals to his game.
EBI: It seemed possible at start of season that injuries and age would see the end of Vidic/Ferdinand yet in the run-in they were clear first choice. Evans needs to change that. Concerns continue that lapses in concentration creep in during less important fixtures.
OBJ: Prove his injuries had not diminished his ability to perform.
WWW: Looked back to his best as United took on a more defensive approach to secure title. Regained position as a first choice centre back for important domestic fixtures.
EBI: Necessity to manage his injuries meant his game time had to be managed damaging his status, selection of more mobile Evans in Madrid suggests his time as first choice could be coming to an end. Must demonstrate physical capability to perform consistently or accept reduced role.
OBJ: Establish himself as a regular starter.
WWW: Continued to feature in the squad regularly (when fit). Selection at international level indicates his reputation has survived a season of struggle.
EBI: Needs to respond to undoubtedly falling behind on the pecking order both at full back and central defence. A weakness when facing physical forwards needs to be addressed. Must show mental toughness to recover from a difficult second full season at the club.
OBJ: To prove he is good enough for this level.
WWW: Won over many doubters with exuberant goalscoring performances. Proved an able attacking understudy to Evra against lesser teams.
EBI: Never looked capable of making a claim to be a regular at this level. Anarchic positional sense offered little to suggest he has a future as a defender. Enormous amount of work ahead to convince Moyes he should be part of his plans.
Has Tom been too generous or even too harsh? Share your views by leaving a comment. Tom will be assessing our midfielders and strike-force next so subscribe now and receive the next installment in your inbox.