Man United First Team Squad
No more crying without wings: Time for Louis to let us fly.
Defeat on Sunday came as a disappointment rather than any great shock. A decent defensive display was undermined by a blunt attack and a solitary goal was too big a challenge to overcome. As the league table shows, Southampton are a good side, but that doesn’t excuse a failure to register a shot on target in ninety minutes at Old Trafford. Sunday was a dismal failure.
I bloody love Louis van Gaal. He is everything I want as a United manager; but that doesn’t mean I don’t disagree with several of his decisions. As I’ve said many times on the pod; one of the reasons I was such an early advocate of bringing the Dutchman to Manchester was the guarantee of exciting, progressive football. We saw an approximation of this in the early season as goals flew in at both ends thanks to a diamond system that sparkled in attack but left a fragile defence exposed. In a nod to his illustrious predecessor (Moyes never happened) after shipping five at Leicester attention shifted to reducing the goals against column. It made sense and paid dividends. For all the criticisms from impatient fans, three at the back was a contributor to a long unbeaten run which saw the ship steadied and the team climb into a comfortable top four position. It was deemed a necessary evil for an injury ravaged squad.
Necessity is no more. Boasting of a near clean bill of health before the match; expectations rose of the football we expect from a van Gaal side. The reality was a ponderous in attack and little penetration down the flanks. The whole experience was deflating. United fans wants to be thrilled again and for that to happen some brave decisions need to be made.
Three at the back is very sensible for a counter-attacking strategy away to a difficult opponent. It should not be our default. On Sunday it provided greater security but crucially left us a man short in attack. Our two wing-backs give their all but are both makeshift in the role. Opponents have sussed this out and flood the middle rather than engage the wide players directly. We need fresh points of attack and for that to happen we must take the ‘gamble’ of removing a third centre back to provide an additional forward. If the trainer-coach’s mistrust in our central defenders really is too severe to risk a back four then the extra millions it might cost to bring in our summer options should be spent.
Shaw, Young and Valencia have put in commendable shifts and rebuilt their relationship with the fans as a result. However none are the quality of wide player necessary to threaten against the better sides. Teams are content to allow our wingbacks to have the ball whilst our talented but pedestrian midfield struggle. We are fortunate to possess a plethora of players who are happiest in central areas yet the inevitable consequence is a congested middle and a slower tempo. Look how often Rooney seeks to play his favourite diagonal ball – increasingly unsuccessfully going by recent games. The switch of play from a deep central position is the SOS of the central midfielder. The Dutch school of thinking is all about making the pitch big when we have the ball and to do that we need wingers. Let Di Maria be our Overmars! Let Januzaj be our Finidi George! Both players are far from conventional wingers but have that blessed ingredient we have so often lacked of late – pace. By providing wide attacking threat we increase the service to both the number nine (Falcao or RvP) and the number ten arriving from deep (Rooney or Mata).
Januzaj has been the subject of speculation over a possible loan move or even a permanent departure in the summer. This would be an error of Pogba proportions. Less football this season will do him no harm physically but it is a legitimate concern at his limited game time in suitable roles. Given the hesitant, lethargic nature of recent displays I see no rational reason not to restore him to the side. He is stronger than last season, is surrounded by better players and if given a run of games to find his rhythm can provide the missing spark to ignite our season.
We should have nothing to fear in this division. The Premier League is populated with good but not great sides. I firmly believe that the benefit of allowing our attacking strengths to flourish far outweighs the risk of conceding more goals. The ‘shock’ defeats will be an unpleasant consequence but the transformation of draws into victories will more than make up for it.
Time to let us fly Louis.
My line up for Saturday:
£50 million could prove to be a bargain
After a stuttering start to life at Old Trafford following his summer loan from Monaco, Radamel Falcao started his fifth successive game for Manchester United against Yeovil on Sunday, a feat the Colombian hasn’t managed since November 2013 prior to his severe knee injury in January last year. The striker, once one of the most prolific in world football, has struggled to find the net since his arrival in Manchester but he has also struggled to find fitness and thus a way into conditioning-stickler Louis van Gaal’s starting eleven.
Running the Rule Over the Defence
Kevin Levingston examines our defence and gives his views on which players may be on borrowed time….
The main narrative of our season so far has been a persistent struggle against injuries in the first team. Nowhere has this been more prevalent than in the Red’s back line. Putting aside all discussions about training process and the ability of our medical team to rehabilitate people capably; it is becoming clear that there are a number of players that Mr Van Gaal can no longer rely on to be consistently available. One thing is certain; new defenders will arrive before long. Whether it’s in January or in the summer, the boss needs players he can rely upon for fitness and form. The clock is ticking for our defence. Below is a rundown of our current troops and how secure their futures are based on performances and fitness.
Rafael Da Silva
Undoubtedly a fan favourite. The right-back is in his seventh season at Old Trafford now and on his day looks every inch the player we all hoped he could become. A particularly impressive 2012-13 season saw him put paid to what remained of his critics and prove that he could indeed be a fixture for us on the right hand side. Impetuousness had made way for a far more measured and methodical approach, without having lost the boyish exuberance that complimented his game so well. He had arrived. An interrupted (by injury) and inconsistent 13-14 season followed, but he was no worse than anyone else had been under David Moyes.
Fitness – Injury has restricted Rafael to just 3 appearances this term. Seems to miss a considerable chunk of every season.
Form – Probably hasn’t quite featured enough to make up Van Gaal’s mind one way or the other about his ability.
Verdict: Lack of depth in this position means the Brazilian will be retained and judged at a later date, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see another right-back brought in for competition. A summer move for Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne seems a possibility.
A £29million arrival from Southampton in the summer. The youngster was a revelation for Southampton last season and the Reds were just one of a number of interested clubs. For such a hefty price there is a certain amount of pressure on the left-back but there is a confidence that Shaw can go on to make the left back position his own for the next ten years. He has shown his quality in fits and starts so far this year.
Fitness – Unfortunately set to be out until the New Year with injury. Initial doubts about his conditioning and application in training were put to bed in the autumn; Louis Van Gall calling him an “example” to the rest of the team. There doesn’t seem to be any long term fitness concerns, though he will be looking for a long run of games in the New Year.
Form – Understandably still settling in, the left-back has done enough for fans and pundits alike to get very excited about his future.
Verdict: Has a massive opportunity to become the first name on Van Gaal’s team sheet each week. His future seems secure.
Now in his fourth season at the club, the player once described as “better than Duncan Edwards” has not lived up to expectations. An impressive enough first eighteen months has made way for a more interrupted last two years. On his best day Jones is a powerful presence at the back but his overall game has not improved as one might have hoped it would. A habit of making fantastic last ditch tackles has often distracted from the Lancashire lad’s inability to read the game, whilst a tendency to throw himself about like he’s made of granite has exposed the fact that he’s actually made of glass. He has missed far too many games over the last few seasons. Quite often as a result of his own recklessness.
Fitness – Made his return from injury (again) against Liverpool. Spends just as much time on the treatment table as on the pitch.
Form - So-so.
Verdict: His potential means Van Gaal is unlikely to get rid of him just yet, but the boss will be far from convinced that he can rely on Jones’ form or performances going forward. Expect him to stick around, but expect his place in the first team to be taken by a new arrival. After that, who knows?
A product of the academy and our most experienced centre-back; dating back to the heady days of partnering Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in turn and not looking out of place. The lad from Norn Iron overcame a lot of adversity in his formative years at Old Trafford and there was even talk in some quarters of awarding him the captaincy at the start of the season. Our only defender with proper experience of playing consistently at the peak of the British and European game. You would hope he could be an example for the rest.
Fitness – Currently on his way back from injury. Good for at least one medium-term injury per season. Usually more.
Form – Awful. Looks a shadow of his former self this season and has made a number of key mistakes.
Verdict: He should be worried. He has a massive affiliation with the club and being a home grown player will count in his favour, but he has shown Van Gaal nothing in games to suggest he’s the man for our defence going forward. Needs a massive upturn in form and fitness or he’ll be off in the summer.
Once heralded as the new Rio Ferdinand; a subsequent three seasons of shanking the ball into team-mates midriff, shins or into the stands has put paid to that particular theory, however the former Maidstone stopper is probably the most natural defender in our squad. It’s a good thing too, as he has very little to offer in an offensive sense. He possesses extremely capable reading of the game and is a strong tackler.
Fitness – Currently injured. Again. Brittle.
Form – Mixed. THAT mistake against City is fresh in peoples minds but it was flanked by impressive showings against Chelsea, Arsenal and Hull. Injury couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Verdict: Chances are that only one of Smalling, Jones and Evans has a long term future at Old Trafford. Before succumbing to injury against Southampton, Smalling looked set to ensure that it would be him. Still, you feel that his Manchester United story is not yet over.
A new arrival at United after an impressive World Cup showing and versatile enough to play at left back or in the centre of defence; Marcus Rojo is still very much an unknown quantity. Has impressed at times and looked an uncertain prospect at others. He is a left footer and the boss is apparently a big fan.
Fitness – Disolcated his own shoulder in a tackle for his second injury of the season. He had previously missed time with a knee complaint. Pulled out of the Liverpool game the day before. Three months, three injuries. One would hope it’s the exception rather than the rule.
Form – Steady. No worse than any of his colleagues in defence, but needs a run of games. Looks competent, if not a little weak in the air. Very much still adjusting to the Premier League.
Verdict: Shouldn’t be worried. Van Gaal is a hard task master but Rojo should get more than his fair share of chances to prove himself. Should be the least worried of our centre-backs. The boss will look for Rojo to become a fixture in his defence.
Paddy McNair & Tyler Blackett
In many ways the success story of Van Gaal’s tenure, particularly in the case of Paddy McNair. The youngsters have come in and done a job due to the sheer weight of injuries in defence. For the most part, they have exceeded all expectations and should be commended for that. It is too soon, however, to make any judgements on their future. For now they remain exciting prospects.
You can follow Kevin on twitter at – @KevinLevingston
Viva Ronaldo! – United Must Seize Any Chance to Sign Our Former Superstar
In response to a recent article on why Ronaldo’s signature should be avoided, Kevin Levingston extols the virtues of bringing our former hero home.
In an extremely well-reasoned article, fellow CanTheyScore contributor James has recently argued that the negatives of re-signing a certain Mr Ronaldo would outweigh the positives. Whilst I agree that this is a move which could have some negative repercussions; on a basic level I believe it is an opportunity too valuable to pass up. Put simply; Manchester United must sign Cristiano Ronaldo if he’s available. Below I will directly address some of the points James has made as well as share my own thoughts on the situation.
First things first, one of the most prevalent sentiments being shared across social media and in United circles is a concern about Ronaldo’s age. The former Red turns thirty in February and many would have you think that this would indicate his immediate decline and de facto end of his career. Logic would dictate that this is far from true. One does not go from arguably the best player in world football to “past it” overnight. For the past ten years Ronaldo has been a supreme athlete and there is little to suggest that this dedication to personal conditioning would relax once he turns thirty. If anything, the Portuguese forward owes his ascent to the top of the game to his complete dedication to self-improvement. If there were ever a player capable of standing the test of time (or adapting his game) in the vein of Giggs, Totti or Maldini it’s Cristiano Ronaldo There are understandable fears over the condition of his knee(s) but if there were any issues there they would be picked up in the standard pre-transfer medical checks. In terms of overall quality a thirty year old Ronaldo will still be among the top players in the world, let alone at Old Trafford.
One of the main discussion points has also been his character. Few can deny that Ronaldo comes with quite the opinion of himself which can often manifest on the pitch with displays of petulance or frustration at decisions made by his team-mates. I completely take James’ point on this and accept that it’s part of the forward’s game that sometimes leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Equally so; his “look at me” goal celebration in last year’s Champions League final upon scoring the far from decisive fourth goal. I make no attempt to justify or explain this type of behaviour but would point out three things. Firstly; very few players climb to the top of world football without a certain degree of arrogance – a belief that they are the best. The petulance and impatience with team-mates is an unfortunate symptom of this belief. Secondly, Ronaldo spent six years at United and his behaviour very seldom resulted in any detriment to the team or club. Thirdly; Real Madrid is rife with a culture that encourages a larger-than-life God-like perception of the individual. It’s understandable that Ronaldo (who had narcissistic tendencies anyway) would embrace this entirely as the main star at the most successful club in the world. Five years later, having achieved everything possible in Madrid, it seems he is ready to move on. Were he merely seeking another pay-day he could surely find greener pastures than Old Trafford. This smacks more of a desire to return home to a club that holds a deep emotional connection for him, and one would expect that the “superstar” behaviour so central to his time at Madrid would be turned down a notch too.
Undoubtedly financing a move for Ronaldo would result in a significant outlay, potentially in the region of the £59million spent for Angel Di Maria this summer. His wages will no doubt make the eyes water too. In short, I don’t see this being a concern. It’s not our money at play here and the club has the financial muscle to secure Ronaldo along with the central defender and central midfielder we need. Of course the club must set a limit of what they can conceivably pay for a player with limited resale value but any price paid is sure to pale in comparison to the money our beloved owners have already taken from the club. As long as the money is being paid in then so be it!
In terms of his arrival hindering the progression of Adnan Januzaj, one need only take a look at the state of our squad and the lack of strength in depth to see that this won’t be an issue. As it stands, we have just two players (Januzaj and Di Maria) that can actually play well as a winger and if we make the return to Europe as expected there will be far more games to play next season. Sheer amount of games and lack of competition on the flanks will see Januzaj get more than his fair share of games. If his ambition is to play through the middle then it is Mata, not Ronaldo that will prove the biggest obstacle in the prodigious attacker’s path to first team football. If anything, the presence of our returning hero will benefit Januzaj. A chance to learn from a player who has won it all and reached the very pinnacle of the game. A player who has made the journey from skilful yet inconsistent winger to world beater and surpassing all expectations. Ronaldo’s arrival would benefit all parties involved.
If United secured Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford it would be a spectacular coup for the club. We would be securing a player with many miles left in the tank who can still perform a level above most players in the league. It would represent a serious statement of intent from United to return to the top of European football, let alone the domestic game. We would be securing a player who knows the club inside and out and has a genuine love for the shirt, a player who would demand the best from his peers and brings a wealth of experience at the highest level. He would be a role model for our younger players regarding the importance of training, practice and a dedication to preparation. He would immediately improve our first team and would most likely be the difference in whether we win the title next year or not. The benefits for the club are many. For the player himself, it’s a chance to return to a family club where he still has many friends, where he could be happy again and play in front of fans who adore him. A chance to play a key role in restoring the Reds to their rightful place. A chance to add to his already sterling record and be remembered not only as an icon but as a true legend.
A chance to come home.
If a return to Old Trafford is truly on the cards for Ronaldo, the club would be misguided to the point of negligent if they didn’t make a serious effort to bring him back. In these situations it’s natural for us fans to protect ourselves, dismissing the possibility and attempting to justify why we “don’t need him” anymore. We’ve been burned before, after all. Nevertheless, I implore you to take a look back at our games between 2006 and 2009 and compare them to anything we’ve seen since. For that free-kick against Portsmouth. For the outrageous strike against Porto. For the decimation of Arsenal in the Champions League. For everything he did as the figurehead of the team in the most successful period in our history. It’s time to put aside the few negatives involved for the sake of everything he has done and could do for our club.
Far from “weighing up” a move; Ed Woodward should be chaining himself to the desk of Florentino Perez and refusing to leave without our boy.
Kevin Levingston is a regular contributor to CanTheyScore. All comments and discussion are welcome below or you can contact him directly on twitter @KevinLevingston
Five Reasons Manchester United Will Keep Spending in January (and Beyond!)
To follow Manchester United is to accept a level of scrutiny from the media bordering on bizarre. The picture painted by the national press (and often by our own fans) is very much an exercise in extremes. This summer, the declaration of choice has been that United are “losing their identity”. Please let us ignore the fact that United have broken the British transfer record on a consistent basis over the past 25 years. Please let us ignore even more determinedly that just 6 weeks ago the very same outlets were castigating the Reds for their lack of investment.
Must. Not. Question. The. Narrative.
The machinations of this particular trend have already been discussed and dismissed by others, so let’s not dwell on it. We shall have plenty of time in future to discuss it further as Messrs Van Gaal and Woodward plough on with the rebuilding project. Expect more feather-spitting. Here are 5 reasons Manchester United will keep spending in January, the summer and beyond!
379 appearances, 10 goals, 40 assists and 54 yellow cards.
Bought by Sir Alex Ferguson during the 2006 January transfer window, Patrice Evra took some time to adapt to the Premier League. Considered somewhat of a flop at the end of his first season, Evra and Vidic are the perfect examples that, sometimes, players need time to acclimatise themselves to new environments.
8 years on, and both players have left at the end of the same season as cult heroes in the eyes of the vast majority of the Manchester United fan base. However, there is a difference in the way both players left the club: Vidic’s decision to leave for Inter Milan midway through the season was seen by many as a player making a swift exit from a sinking ship; a decision the Serbian seemed to regret when saying goodbye to the fans. Manchester United’s ex-captain will always be regarded as one of the team’s greatest defenders, but there is something about Patrice Evra that makes his departure from the club that little bit harder to take.
First and foremost, he understood exactly what it meant to play for Manchester United. Many players have come and gone at this great football club without showing the professionalism or the passion that is expected from a player when he puts on that red shirt. Patrice Evra has.
“I got a load of DVDs, about the Munich disaster and the Busby Babes, about Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law, about Cantona. The whole story of the club. You meet these people around the club and I wanted to know who they were. What they had done for the club. Out of respect. All the young players here need to understand the history of the club. I realised I needed to respect the shirt. I needed to respect the story. Every time I play that is in my head. What a privilege it is to play for Manchester United. When you pull on the shirt you are pulling on history, and I say thanks to God that I play for this club”
Every time he spoke about the club, he always did so with great respect. His constant references to the club’s history endeared him to the fans, as they saw how proud he was to be at Manchester United.
On the pitch, the past few years weren’t the kindest to Evra. His reluctance to track back and his loss of pace hindered the team, and many fans made sure to voice their opinion on the matter whenever they could. However, the bond Evra had created with the fans was such that, whenever he spoke off the pitch, much was forgiven.
Patrice Evra is a born winner, something Sir Alex Ferguson quickly picked up on, meaning it came as no surprise when the former Manchester United manager made him vice-captain. The past year has been a great example of this. During one of the most disappointing seasons in the club’s recent history, Patrice Evra always voiced his support for the manager. He knew the fans were disappointed and so, in turn, this disappointed him even more. Evra became, to a certain extent, Manchester United’s spokesperson and said all the things the fans wanted to hear; something David Moyes seemed incapable of doing.
With his contract up at the end of the season, Patrice Evra could have done something similar to Nemanja Vidic and sign for a new team on a free in January. Instead, he waited until the end of the season and left after Manchester United triggered a clause in his contract, allowing the club to make money from his move.
The fact that Ferdinand, Vidic and now Evra have departed from Manchester United’s defence is a huge loss in terms of experience, but the new manager won’t be too bothered. As the Dutchman said in his first press conference, “I’m not always convinced by the experience of players”.
The fans will be forever grateful that Evra did not leave the sinking ship half way through the season, but stayed until the very end, ensuring that, when he left, his departure wouldn’t be missed. The signing of Luke Shaw certainly shows that Manchester United are thinking ahead rather than relying on the old guard for the coming season, and with Louis Van Gaal in charge, it’s almost as if Patrice Evra knows that the Manchester United ship has found its new navigator.
He can now leave knowing the club is in safe hands.
Sign Him Up! – A Case for Patrice Evra
With the departure of Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic confirmed, Kevin Levingston argues why the club must hang on to Patrice Evra…
This summer Manchester United are experiencing a season of upheaval quite unlike anything they have faced in the premier league era. The season is barely over and already, with the departures of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Ryan Giggs, United have lost more championship winning experience than many clubs have amassed in their history.
These are men that have embodied the club, season after season, and maintained a culture of professionalism, pride and success within the dressing room for all new arrivals and upcoming players to see. One word from Rio. One headfirst tackle from Vida. One look from Giggsy. Every action from these club greats drawing a line in the sand; “This is Manchester United…this is our club”. Like Roy Keane, Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson before them they made sure that any aspiring player knew what it meant to wear that shirt on their back, to wear that badge on their chest. They demanded performances from their colleagues, more often through setting an example than anything else. If you were a Manchester United player you better crawl off that pitch at Old Trafford having used up every bit of talent you have. All for the cause. Yes, these players knew what it was to play for Manchester United.
Their departure (or retirement) leaves quite a gap in the dressing room. It’s certainly quite the hammer blow to lose them all at once. Sure, the United team has quite an amount of experience in the remaining playing staff – Wayne Rooney has been with us for ten years – but by his own conduct has done little to suggest he can be the example for the next great United team.
And then there’s Patrice Evra.
To put it simply; The club MUST keep hold of him, for countless reasons.
Admittedly the Frenchman is a long way from the imperious form of 2007-12 when he was one of, if not the best left backs in the league and in Europe, but he still has a huge amount to offer. Quite often this season he has been rightly criticized for being irresponsible in defence, no longer having the legs to get back from his many forays into the opposition half. Such is the role of the modern fullback, though it could be argued that Moyes particular emphasis on wing play did not help Evra in this regard. Nevertheless he is a solid option, and you would struggle to name five leftbacks better than him in the league. Definitely worthy of a squad position.
Having played at least 45 games in all but one of the last seven seasons, Evra has racked up a staggering amount of appearances in his time at United. Combine this mammoth run with being comfortably on the wrong side of thirty and it’s no surprise his legs are not what they used to be. With a new left back almost certain to come in, there’s no reason why Mr Evra can’t benefit from the same rotation as Giggs and Ferdinand experienced towards the end of their time with us. A better deputy you will not find anywhere.
It seems increasingly likely that Luke Shaw will arrive at Old Trafford this summer, and who better to learn from than our wily Frenchman? Evra has played at the very highest level against the best players in world football and could certainly teach our next leftback a thing or two! Having such a player as your guide would be of undoubted benefit when dealing with the pressures of playing for this club.
He Gets It
Perhaps as important as anything else on this list. More than anything, Patrice Evra knows what it means to be a Manchester United player. This quote from the man himself sums it up best;
“Ever since I joined this club has been like a big family. It’s the most important thing for me. It would be difficult for me to ever leave this club. I think maybe I’m possessed by this devil. I could not leave. I’m happy here. This is the biggest club in the world and it’s a privilege to play for the best club in the world” – Upon signing a new deal in 2011
It would be a mistake to let a player with such passion for the club go. For his ability, for his leadership, for his complete dedication to the cause, Patrice Evra should be allowed to finish his career at Manchester United.
He just gets it.
Kevin Levingston is a freelance blogger and Shinji Kagawa enthusiast. He disappears quite a lot. When he’s around you can reach him on twitter @KevinLevingston
Fellaini is Better Off Elsewhere
I was in the theatre watching Blood Brothers with my family when the news broke late on deadline day that Manchester United had agreed a deal worth £27.5M to sign Marouane Fellaini. The Gentleman sat next to me – who was obviously a United fan given the way he was watching my phone – asked me whether we had signed anyone, and when I broke the news that we’d signed Fellaini, he shook his head and turned to watch the final rendition of ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ sung by by Mrs Johnstone. The song seemed apt.
Phil Jones- Evoking the Memory of John O’Shea Since 2010
Ever since he signed for Manchester United in 2011 for £17 million, Phil Jones has been a formidable presence on the pitch- regardless of his position. He has played both across the back line and through midfield. When there has been a hole to fill, Phil Jones has filled it.
How do you solve a problem like Fellaini?
When David Moyes first arrived at Old Trafford, one of his first tasks was to fill the gaping hole in central midfield that Sir Alex Ferguson had left him with. After continuously failing to address the issue, a lot of noise emanated from Old Trafford that the club were on the search for a new midfield maestro.