Due to Tom’s busy summer schedule, other writers from the Can They Score team will continue the MUFC class of 2013 end of term report. With Chris snapping up the easy job of rating the forwards in the team, I, Frenchy, have been left with the nightmarish duty of evaluating and grading Manchester United’s rather lacklustre midfield.
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. Read more…
In the build-up to their first leg encounter with Madrid, much has been made of Phil Jones as United’s key tactical agent in the battle to muzzle Cristiano Ronaldo. Secondary concerns have also been raised around Xabi Alonso and Mesut Ozil, with suggested solutions ranging from a dropping Wayne Rooney in deep to unsettle the Spaniard and unleashing Danny Welbeck or Ashely Young on the left to harry the German playmaker. Read more…
The summer of 2006. The balance of power in English seemingly shifting to London as Chelsea had secured their first back-to-back league titles in their history, while Arsenal had come within twenty minutes of their first Champions League trophy. Shevchenko and Ballack – both in their pomp – agreed moves to Stamford Bridge.
Manchester United appeared to be on the verge of turmoil as a solitary League Cup success was mere sticking plaster to cover the gaping wounds of no league title in three years – United’s longest barren spell since the Premiership was created. They had been eliminated in the group stages of the Champions League too. Ruud van Nistelrooy had become the latest high profile name to depart the club. Rumours were rife that Cristiano Ronaldo wanted out following the English media’s brutal and relentless witch-hunt of the teenage prodigy. Football pundits across the land were relishing in United’s apparent downfall and many predicted them to finish outside the top four, with Ferguson bowing out of the game. Read more…
After earning 10 points from 12 over the festive period, this week’s Can They Score podcast looks back at how we performed over the tough Christmas schedule and takes a wider look back at everything that has happened this season so far in our mid season review! We pick our player of the year, goal of the year, disappointment of the year and much more. Joining me in the studio today is Tom and we would both like to wish all our listeners a Happy New Year!
Every time Manchester United come back and win a game in which they looked no better than the opposition, it can be difficult to go back and criticize anything the team did.
In the end, the three points are all that matter and the three earned against a lively Newcastle United are especially important. Manchester City lost at Sunderland and United now lie 7 points off the Premier League summit. Manchester United had to win today, and win they did, after a persistent Javier Hernandez poked home Michael Carrick’s brilliantly weighted pass over the Newcastle rearguard in the 90th minute.
An act of genius or a slice of outrageous fortune? The strike which put the icing on the cake for Man United’s comprehensive 3-0 triumph at St. James Park on Sunday sparked much debate; but what cannot be disputed is the rise of Tom Cleverley, who is attempting to become a regular for both club and country. The Basingstoke-born midfielder – who has spent nearly half his life on United’s books – is desperate to make up for lost time, following a turbulent year which has been plagued by injuries.
It is easy to forget that the 23-year-old has only notched up 21 first team appearances for United, and only netted his first goal for the club less than a fortnight ago.
The central midfield problems that the club have endured in recent years have been debated to death in the media, in social networking sites and across various blogs. It would be blind loyalty to suggest problems don’t exist, but whenever an issue occurs within the squad at Old Trafford, it is commonly blown out of proportion. This is due to the intense – and somewhat unique – scrutiny that is enforced over all things Man United.
Sir Alex foresaw this upcoming potential glitch, and earmarked a number of players who would replace the ageing pair of Scholes and Giggs. He was not helped by two of his budding talents being led astray: Paul Pogba due to his agent and desire for instant money and fame, alongside Ravel Morrison, who despite a dazzling array of talent at his disposal, pissed it all up the wall due to his lunacy.
But these departures merely added to the headache Ferguson faced. One of his most trustworthy and dependable assets: Darren Fletcher, was forced into taking a prolonged break from the game. The industrious Scot was ruled out of action for ten months due to his suffering from ulcerative colitis. The problem was rapidly developing into a crisis, and it was exacerbated yet further by prolonged and consistent injuries to both Cleverley and Anderson. Ferguson had viewed Tom as Paul Scholes’ natural and home-grown replacement for upwards of two years; and it was his injury that prompted the end of Scholes’ brief retirement.
By this stage, it was becoming increasingly evident what had impressed the wily old Scot about Cleverley. Following an impressive two and a half years with the reserve side (in which he was often named as captain) he earned a loan spell at Leicester City, helping them on their way to the League 1 title. The following season he was farmed out to Watford; his goal tally for the year ran into double figures and he was rewarded with the club’s ‘Player of the Season’ award. Both these stints were ended a month prematurely, due to injuries to his shoulder (Leicester) and knee (Watford) – luck which has continued to blight his progress.
An impressive string of performances in United’s 2010 pre-season tour of North America led many to believe he would be in the first-team squad the following season, but Wigan snapped him up on a season-long loan deal. His first season in the Premiership was highly impressive; he showed both confidence and ability and made many finally sit up and take notice.
His exciting promise continued in the early stages of the following season, but this time it was at Old Trafford. Sir Alex described him as the ‘best player’ in a pre-season victory against reigning European champions Barcelona, and he once again excelled in the Community Shield against Man City, where he was involved in the superb passing move leading up to Nani’s equaliser.
That goal encapsulated what United’s early season form was all about: a youthful abandon of caution as free-flowing attacking football reigned. Quick passing and movement was the name of the game as United ripped opposition defences to shreds. This was a dream for Tom, who’s quick-thinking and precise passing made sure the team flowed to perfection – providing assists and key passes regularly. But, as was the case in his first two loan spells, his fun and fine form was cut short due to a typically robust Kevin Davies challenge.
He returned after a month in time to take the trip to Goodison Park, and his man-of-the-match performance was widely praised by all, including his manager, who had believed he had been capable all along. Again, he linked defence with attack seamlessly and ensured a commendable 1-0 win at a notoriously tricky venue.
However, his injury curse struck again. Appearances throughout the rest of the season were sparse and United’s midfield often got bullied out of games. The team often appeared disjointed, not being able to simultaneously offer an attacking threat whilst being solid at the back. A season which had started with so much promise ended in heartbreak.
Yet in all the anger and disappointment, Cleverley was forgotten about. The fans bemoaned a lack of investment in central midfield and the team in general. Five players were signed over the summer, but not one could be classified as a central midfielder. Complaints came that Michael Carrick was doing it all on his own, and that Paul Scholes could not perform effectively over a full ninety minutes anymore.
Quietly, Tom was getting back into the groove. He started all five games of Team GB’s short-lived existence, squashing doubts which lingered over his fitness, and being the team’s top performer in the process. He also earned his first England caps – excelling alongside Carrick in a fine 2-1 win in Italy, before starting both qualifying matches against Moldova and Ukraine. Manager Roy Hodgson lavished praise upon him, and this has improved his self-confidence which is bound to have been derailed by constant injury setbacks.
He took this fine summer form into this season – scoring his first goal for the club in the League Cup against Newcastle, before scoring against the same opposition with a belter this weekend. Having waited eleven years to score his first United goal, two came in quick succession.
His partnership with Michael Carrick is one that is worth analysing more closely. The two really complement each other effortlessly, their passing and movement is a joy to behold, adding zip and zest to a side which has been criticised of becoming stale and complacent.
This is a partnership which, despite its qualities, can hamper the Red Devils, especially in away matches. The one weakness is a lack of strength – the squad lacks a player in the ‘Roy Keane’ mould, or to put it more blunt: a bully. United fans have craved a signing in the style of Yaya Toure, Fellaini or Dembele, but this was not forthcoming. The closest United have to this type of battling midfielder is a toss-up between Fletcher and Anderson, and doubts still linger over the fitness of both.
However, Ferguson believes he has a variation of possible solutions. On Sunday, he deployed Wayne Rooney in midfield to give that injection of strength and energy to complement the skill and fluency of Carrick and Cleverley, in a 4-3-3 formation. Rooney was man-of-the-match as United put in their most impressive display of the campaign to date. Sir Alex also sacrificed width in the League Cup win over Newcastle, playing both Fletcher and Anderson alongside Tom to combat the physicality the Geordies offered in the shape of Tiote.
The Carrick-Cleverley partnership is one that must be allowed to blossom, but it may mean sacrificing Ferguson’s beloved 4-4-2 formation and wide-play, especially in games away from home. With an embarrassment of riches in attack, Rooney may make one of the midfield positions his own. The emerging Nick Powell has also been earmarked by the boss to fit into such a role.
Cleverley needs to steer clear of the injuries that have hampered his fledgling career. If he does, exciting times lie ahead of both United and England. He could be the answer to Fergie’s midfield dilemma and he could ensure that England’s finest player of this generation, and close friend of Cleverley’s, drops back into midfield permanently. It will be less revolution, and more evolution, but current signs point toward an exciting future for both Tom and United.
Bobby Hare – @BobbyHare – reckons United are like a supercar without the engine. Add a souped up central midfielder and watch them go…
It’s been painfully clear for three seasons that United’s central midfield is in urgent need of attention. That the club has still strongly competed during that period is testament to Sir Alex’s enduring brilliance and an underrated level of ability in other positions. Worryingly, the umbilical cord to Giggs and Scholes remains firmly attached, and while their class is indisputable, there is something worrying about these elder statesmen being such integral components of the United machine; by all rights, they should be clapped out by now.
It hasn’t helped that the likes of Cleverley and Anderson, on whom many of Fergie’s well-laid plans will have been premised, have grown so familiar with the treatment table. When Fletcher’s nasty illness is entered into the equation, it’s clear that United are woefully under resourced in centre of the park. 90% of the time, the old stagers are still capable of schooling those before them, but problems have arisen when facing the midfield aristocrats; United have been disparagingly cast as the paupers. For a club whose supporters have been brought up on marvels like Robson and Keane, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
Bobby Hare – @BobbyHare – assesses the state of United’s squad and concludes that, contrary to common opinion, there isn’t a great deal wrong with it…
With the Euros nearly finished, we can begin to focus all our attention on what really matters during the close season – transfers. It’s been a familiar tournament summer for United, with England crashing out and the club’s star turn getting it in the neck for the failure. United have already been active in adding to their squad, but transfer hungry muppets are already twitching like crack fiends, desperate for their ‘marquee’ hit.
As this campaign teased out to an exciting yet somewhat inevitable climax, United fans cant help but have a bitter taste in our mouth at how the season has gone.
After the superb, flowing football exhibited in pre season and community shield, as well as our first few performances against Spurs and Bolton particularly, not to mention the demolition of the Gooners on a glorious Sunday at Old Trafford, United supporters and pundits alike were no-doubt wondering if Sir Alex had spent his holiday at Hotel La Masia. It was exciting, exhilarating and most importantly full of promise.
Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck made instant impacts returning from loan spells at Wigan and Sunderland respectively. Almost instantaneously partnerships were struck up, Welbeck linking with Rooney and fellow new-boy Ashley Young who In turn seemed to have no trouble linking up with our dynamic midfield duo of Cleverley and the resurgent Anderson. Smalling too, looked very comfortable at right back and Phil Jones partnering the terminator Vidic. This young side looked as if it could not only be in contention for the title, but win it in a style of football that was, quite simply, enthralling.
Then the wheels came off. Key injuries to Cleverley, Welbeck, the prolonged absence of Javier Hernandez and most significantly the long term injuries to Vidic, Fletcher and Anderson come some way to explaining our struggles this year, however, deeper problems emerged. It was plain that without Cleverley, Anderson and Fletcher our midfield was terribly anaemic.
Trailing 2-1 from the first leg a week earlier in Rome, Wayne Rooney’s away goal gave the Red Devils hope that they could go out and finish the Italian outfit off on their own patch. Unfortunately, after the away match was marred by crowd trouble, the ever-intimidating presence of the Italian side’s Ultras saw a fierce stand-off between both sets of supporters before the match and set the tone the rest of the evening: revenge- on the pitch, not off it- the right way.
Ahead of kick-off, the major surprise in Sir Alex’s team selection was his decision to partner Alan Smith up front with Wayne Rooney. Many were expecting the usual 4-5-1 formation, that is so often preferred in Europe, especially considering that Smith had only just returned from a long injury lay-off. The rest of the line-up was as expected with the exception of John O’Shea who was preferred to Patrice Evra at left back.
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Nonetheless, there was an undeniable air of tension surrounding Old Trafford on that warm, spring night (April 10th 2007). Previous failings in Europe, such as the calamitous group stage exit the season before, remained fresh in supporter’s minds, making it essential that United set the tone early on and got at Roma from the off. Read more…