AUTHOR: – Bricki
The season is over and already we are looking to August and the start of the next journey. What shape are United in as we look ahead and what changes could or should be made to keep competing at the top of the table in the next 12 months?
With the retirements of Messrs Van Der Sar, Neville and Scholes it already looks to be the most important summer for United since 1995. Back then it was the sales of Ince, Hughes and Kanchelskis that had everyone writing the team off after the promotion of the class of 92.
What needs to be done in the next 8 weeks? Who’s going and coming? What youngsters will make the next big push for first team involvement?
Many saw 2010-11 as a somewhat transitional season for United, the team was written off as one of the weakest since the inception of the Premier League. With the departures of Ronaldo and Tevez never truly replaced plus the complete loss of form of Rooney post Munich injury it looked like being a tough season for United. With Rooneys’ injury and poor World Cup seriously affecting his form it put pressure on Berbatov and Owen to step up in his absence. The excellent form of Hernandez at the World Cup also raised expectations of how quickly he would settle into the team.
It would be fair to say over the season that the team has performed at a higher level than maybe we thought and a League Title, Champions League Final and 90 minutes from an FA Cup Final is fantastic for a team that is still finding its way in some areas.
So what about the players currently at the club and what can we expect from them next season?
Following the retirement of one of the greatest, if not the greatest keeper we’ve had in Van Der Sar, this is an area that needs care when assessing for next season.
Thomas Kuszczak – The jittery performance of Kuszczak away against Blackburn summed up his time so far with United. He has never truly proven himself to be a truly serious candidate to replace VDS as the number one and after several seasons in the back it looks likely he will move on to another Premier League club. Whilst a good keeper in a Premier League team he has never appeared to be the special keeper you need to be at a very top club.
Anders Lindegaard – Due to injury has had very few opportunities since arriving at the turn of the year. Clearly bought as one for the future, his status in the squad appears secure. Will be expecting more opportunities next year and despite the almost certain arrival of another keeper he may challenge for the permanent number 1 spot.
Ben Amos – Will no doubt step up to become the permanent number 3 option behind Lindegaard and the other keeper that will arrive (most likely De Gea). Would not be a surprise to see him have another loan period at a lower league club, similar to his time on loan at Oldham last season.
The retirement of Gary Neville has lost us a wealth of experience at the back but it is one area of the team that is still looking solid and well stocked as we move into a new era of defence.
Patrice Evra – Patrice has admitted himself that this was not his finest season since joining United. The fallout from the French World Cup debacle, which Evra suffered the brunt due to being Captain coupled with niggling injuries and the habit of being sick during games seemed to contribute heavily to this. A new contract during the season showed he is seen as a vital member of the squad for some time yet.
Nemanja Vidic – Club Captain and could have potentially been player of the season last year for the Premier League. A mainstay at the heart of the team and only 1 year into a new contract, it’s safe to say he will look to continue his superb performances for sometime yet and has warranted his status as Captain.
Rio Ferdinand – Despite having a more successful season in terms of appearances than the year before, Rio still only appeared in 29 games over the season and was saved where possible for the more important games. With the emergence of Chris Smalling and the potential for Jonny Evans to rediscover the form he showed previously it could prove to be a difficult season ahead for Rio. With stability and understanding vital in a central partnership it may be that Ferguson starts to look ahead and Rio is seen as more support to the players coming through.
Jonny Evans – A loss of form and the arrival of Chris Smalling limited Jonnys’ appearances to 18 appearances last season. He started to show signs of finding his feet again towards the end of the season and things look positive heading into a new campaign. Jonny should be looking to kick on and start to pose more questions to the established starters next year, aiming for a minimum 25 appearances.
Chris Smalling – After signing from Fulham it was expected that Chris would be integrated into the squad steadily with appearances in the Carling Cup and ‘dead rubbers’ in the Champions League. With Rios injuries and Evans loss of form he was catapulted into the starting line up sooner than most expected but did not disappoint. A shackling of Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko in the Manchester Derby cemented his status as a player with bags of potential who will look to build on a fantastic first season by challenging for more starts next term.
John O’Shea – Mr Versatile, the always dependable John O’Shea did his usual role of filling in all across the back line as well as in midfield on occasion. He also had the honour of leading the team out in the 2nd Leg of the Champions League Semi-Final. Can we expect any more from John going forward? The retirement of Gary Neville would suggest he could make a solid run at Right Back, yet in the final weeks of the season Rafael, Fabio, Smalling and even Valencia were able to play there successfully. Would be no surprise if he were to move on in the summer to find a regular starting spot in another side.
Wes Brown – Injury concerns and some poor performances when he was given the chance restricted Brown to a handful of appearances. The fact that Brown was unable to get enough games in to ensure a League winner’s medal more than likely tells you his time at the club could now be at an end. Very likely to move on in the summer to pastures new.
Rafael – Another strong season from Rafael has seen him firmly establish himself in the first team setup and a genuine contender for the permanent Right Back spot. Moments of recklessness, such as the red card at Tottenham, still blight his play at times but are slowly being controlled. Performances at home including keeping Gareth Bale and Samir Nasri shackled have emphasised the large improvements in his defensive game. The emergence of his twin Fabio, as rival for the Right Back role promises some interesting battles (and likely confusion) next season.
Fabio – Fabio appears to have gotten over the injuries that blighted the start of his United career and has started to put pressure on players in the first team for a regular place. The up and down form of Evra and the lack of a genuine full time Right Back has given Fabio chances on both sides of the back four. His good form at Right Back led to him starting the Champions League final ahead of O’Shea and his twin Rafael. It looks the likely player to start at Right Back next season unless a specialist is brought in.
An area of the team which provokes intense debate at times, the midfield has performed admirably yet still misses that one true player that stands out and makes everything tick. With the retirement of Paul Scholes and the departure of the seldom seen Hargreaves this appears to be an area that will require some development and change over the summer.
Anderson – The boy still flatters to deceive in the Premier League, Injuries again limited his playing time in the midfield and the next 12 months will define if he has what it takes to be a true star at United. 22 starts was an improvement on the previous campaign but he must now look to be making 30+ in order to establish himself in the side. The goals are starting to flow slowly but surely and the last 2 months of the season showing a good understanding building behind the strikers. With the retirement of Scholes, Andersons eye for a pass and link play needs to shine through next season to confirm the potential he clearly has.
Ryan Giggs – It was another exceptional year for Giggs, who at this point of his career has no right to be starting a Champions League final. Giggs will turn 38 in November and realistically Sir Alex can not expect to rely on him as much as last season. 27 starts and 11 substitute appearances over the year was a great return for a player who has provided sterling service for the club. May be a more peripheral figure next term as the new generation start to dominate.
Ji Sung Park – Parks’ importance in the team has grown year on year. With injury ruling Valencia out long term, Nanis’ move to the right and Giggs being used more centrally, Park has been a valuable asset on the left side of midfield. Where he has lacked before in goals he has produced more this season with a total of 8, his highest return in a United shirt. The dynamic play and his tireless ability to run means he is an important squad member and will be vital again over another long campaign next year.
Michael Carrick – A player who divides opinion hugely amongst fans. 39 starts over the season should highlight the value Ferguson puts in a player who has at times struggled for confidence and form over the season. In a deeper role providing defensive support and cover, Carrick has excelled in linking play and using ball retention in order to find the gaps for the forward thinking players to exploit. A new 3 year contract signed in March has secured his place in the United midfield for the time being.
Nani – A genuine season of two halves for Nani, he found himself on the bench at the start due to Valencias’ excellent form. When Valencia was injured in October Nani shone on the Right Wing, producing his most effective season yet for the Reds with 10 goals and 18 assists. Nani was back on the bench for the title run in due to the return to fitness of Valencia who offered more defensive support and a direct threat down the right. Nani has been unable to replicate his form on the left side of attack and his situation is an interesting one for the summer. Rumours have persisted of Nani being unsettled and if a sufficient offer was received it may not be a surprise to see him go.
Darren Fletcher – Fletchers importance to the team has grown more as each season has passed. Along with Park you could guarantee that if fit, Fletcher would be a starter in every major game the team has. Illness ruled out Fletcher for a large part of the title run in and cost him a place in the Champions League final, making it three finals that Fletcher has missed out now. Will no doubt be central to the team again next season and provide the drive needed in the middle of the pitch.
Antonio Valencia – A horror injury meant Valencia missed a large part of the 10-11 season, suffering a broken and dislocated ankle against Rangers in September. It was a cruel blow for a player who had started the season in fine form and was building on the solid first season he’d had. Intense treatment and rehab led to Valencia returning to the first team in March with a quite stunning impact. A string of superb performances cemented his place in the starting line up and resulted in making the Champions League team when it had seemed he would miss the whole season. More of the same on the right next season…
Gabriel Obertan – In his second season at the club its fair to say more was expected of the Frenchman. A promising start on the pre-season tour of America was punctured by injury at the start of the season. Once recovered chances were few and far between, yet when he was given a chance the occasion appeared to affect Obertan and nerves resulted in poor performances. A player with plenty of skill and potential it seems the stage at a club like United may be too much for him to handle, likely to move on at some stage.
Darron Gibson – Struggled to fully establish himself as a first team player this season. A steady influence that breaks up play in the middle of the pitch and has an eye for linking play together, a run of games is needed to see how good Gibson can truly be. With the potential for a good run of games at United limited it’s possible that Gibson may look to move to another club to establish himself as a first XI player.
Bebe – A surprise signing at the same time as Hernandez and Smalling, it was clear from the start that Bebe had not received much in the way of professional coaching. Raw pace and a big strong frame suggest that with an increased knowledge Bebe could become a useful squad player however it is process that would clearly take time and reserve team football appears the norm for him right now. A possible loan spell may prove useful in his development.
The goals were shared out amongst the 3 main forwards over the season with each player shouldering the responsibility at different times. Whilst Rooney struggled with Injury and form at the start of the year and Hernandez was still being fully integrated into life as a United player, it was Berbatov who led the way with goals to keep us in the title race. Hernandez and Rooney both discovered form after Christmas and dragged the team through games to cement the 19th title and a 3rd Champions League Final in 4 seasons.
Dimitar Berbatov – Under pressure to impress and deliver in his 3rd season with the club, Berbatov started the league campaign in fine style plundering goals in the league including 4 against Blackburn and a sublime hat trick against Liverpool. Finishing the season as joint top scorer in the league was a fantastic achievement for a player who had flattered to deceive at times. That stat though hid the real story with Berbatov, struggling for form and goals after the turn of the year he found his starting chances limited by the great partnership that Rooney and Hernandez struck up. His stock fell to the point where he missed out totally on the Champions League Final squad with bit-parter Michael Owen put on the bench in his place. 21 of Berbatovs 22 goals came in the league and despite starting 6 games in the Champions League he was again unable to find the goal. Going forward its a concern that one of the main strikers in the squad struggles so clearly in Europe and cannot be relied on when it comes to the big games. Whilst it would appear unlikely, the potential for a move in the summer could happen if the money was right for United.
Wayne Rooney – From hero to villian and back again, its been a genuine rollercoaster season for the England forward. Starting the new season the effects of a poor World Cup campaign and still not fully recovered from the ankle injury he sustained in Munich the previous campaign he was a shadow of the star of 12 months previously. Struggling for goals and form he dropped a bombshell in October by announcing that he would not sign a new contract and didn’t believe the team had what it took to challenge at the very top. A major rift between Rooney and the fans developed which despite seeing the error of his stance and signing a new contract several days later festered for much of the campaign. Rooney went out to America to recieve treatment on his ankle and returned looking sharper, ready to rediscover his goalscoring prowess. As Berbatovs form dipped after Christmas it was the link up between Rooney and Hernandez which invigorated United and helped Rooney reconcile with the United fans. His return of only 16 goals was the lowest since signing for the club but almost every goal was vital including a brace against West Ham after being 2-0 down, the truly stunning overhead kick to win the Manchester Derby and the goal at Chelsea that won the first leg of the Champions League clash. He also scored the goal that secured the League title against Blackburn. To look at only his goals though is to neglect the fact that in a slightly more withdrawn role behind Hernandez Rooney has excelled delivering a masterclass of creative link up play and passing. It would appear that Rooney has now found more balance in his life and play, which should mean we can expect another productive season next year.
Javier Hernandez – Could Hernandez have enjoyed a better debut season for the Reds? An unknown when signed Hernandez produced promising displays at the World Cup for Mexico suggesting that Fergie had again unearthed a real gem. Hernandez didnt disappoint with 20 goals in a debut season that ended with him first choice striker over Berbatov. His raw pace, magical movement and ability to be deadly in front of goal are something that United have been missing in recent years up front. After a fluke ‘face’ goal against Chelsea in the Community Shield his appearances in the first few months were sporadic and mostly from the bench but his knack of finding the net was clear to see. At the turn of the year Hernandezs’ goals were difficult to ignore and he began to appear in the starting line up. Forging a great playing relationship with Wayne Rooney, Hernandez has improved each and every week. Goals against Chelsea, Everton and Marseille at vital times showed his value to the side. The fact that Hernandez scored in every competition he took part shows a player able to adapt to differing situations on the pitch. The second season is almost always more difficult for a player in a new league but with what we’ve seen of Hernandez so far its fair to say he may just take it all in his stride.
Michael Owen – A combination of the fine form of the other 3 main strikers over the season plus his now constant injury concerns meant it was another season on the outside looking in for Owen. 4 starts and 15 substitute appearances over the season is not the sort of workload expected for a 3rd/4th choice striker. A new 1 year contract was a surprise as many expected Owen to be moved on but with the return of Welbeck and Macheda it could be more of a support role behind the scenes for Owen going forward. The word out of Old Trafford over the season has been that Owen has helped develop parts of Hernandezs’ game and if the same can be done for the other strikers coming through he could prove to a valuable member of the squad.
Departures and New Arrivals
So what can we look for over the summer as the squad under goes the change and evolution that the great sides must do?
It is likely that Tomasz Kuzckzak will depart the club as it is highly unlikely he will become the new number 1 and has stated his preference for regular first team football. A new goalkeeper to become the number 1 or to at least compete for it is required. The loud noises now coming out of the club is that Athletico Madrids’ David De Gea will be the man to replace Van der Sar. Its important to note however that De Gea has only been in the first team for Madrid in the last 18 months, so the purchase of Lindegaard is important as its possible that De Gea may need withdrawing at times over the season.
The retirement of Gary Neville will not be felt as much as it may have 18 months ago. The development of Rafael and Fabio plus the ability of Smalling and Evans to cover on the right would suggest a new specialist Right Back is not required. Sir Alex has already been spending for the future with the (protracted) transfer of Phil Jones from Blackburn for around £17million. It’s widely acknowledged that United moved 12 months earlier than planned with Jones to avoid missing out on the England Under 21. The ability to play in either central defence or midfield as a holding player suggests we may see Jones move about a little at first. An offer from Sunderland for both Brown and O’Shea was accepted, this would make sense in Browns’ case as he struggled to even get on the bench last season and the chance for a regular starting role at this later stage of his career. The potential transfer of O’Shea is a surprise to many however if you look at the adaptability of several players in the team now, the Da Silvas, Smalling, Evans and Jones, then it makes sense that O’Shea looks for a role at a team like Sunderland. A bid for the French Under 21 defender, Raphaël Varane from Lens has been reported in the press on several occasions. With potentially 5 defenders in front of him a loan move back to France or even staying with Lens next season may happen.
The need for a creative midfielder is even greater now following the retirement of Paul Scholes. A like for like replacement for Scholes is not an option (no player can tackle quite the way he did) but the expected names are being discussed, Modric, Sneijder and Samir Nasri of Arsenal. The player most likely to arrive at this point could be Modric with both Ferdinand and Berbatov being mentioned as makeweights in the deal. A potential departure mentioned in recent weeks is that of Darron Gibson, who has struggled to impose himself when given opportunities to play. The Ireland manager, Giovanni Trappatoni spoke publically of Gibsons needs to move on in order to get more regular play and this does seem the case. A run of games may show how good a player Gibson can be but he’s unlikely to find it at United. One player already on the move is Bebe who has joined Besiktas on loan for the season. Whilst the club line may be that this will aid his development its more likely that he could make the move there permanent if he does well or could he be sold next summer as he hasn’t shown the development needed to play a role in our squad. Rumours also persist of a move away for Gabriel Obertan possibly back to France, as he hasn’t produced anything like the form or performance needed to be a squad, despite promising efforts in the reserves. It appears from the media that Ashley Young signing for the club is pretty much a done deal and will be signed once he returns from holidays. Whilst it would appear that Young may be used more as a forward as opposed to a ‘traditional’ midfielder, this has again raised doubts about the future of Nani at the club. We have heard on several occasions this season that he is either unsettled in the city or looking for a new challenge at a different club. This has been backed up by clubs such as Juventus, Milan and Real Madrid allegedly making enquiries to his availability. Loss of the right wing role to Valencia and the lack of impact he has shown on the left suggest he may look for pastures new.
A surprise new deal for Michael Owen and has left a few questions unanswered in the forward department as we look to the potential changes for next season. The return of now England International Danny Welbeck, after a very successful season at Sunderland would suggest he has at minimum earned the right to a chance at being a United player this year. That makes 5 strikers fighting out for 2 places next season without including the return of Macheda from loan at Sampdoria. The solution to this could see Macheda again going out on loan at some point this term as well as seeing reserve team action; this could all however depend on the future of Dimitar Berbatov. Despite being top scorer last season and at times before Christmas the driving force in keeping the team in touch at the top, he has again failed to hold on to the starting berth and dropped down the pecking order dramatically. Heading into the last few years of the contract he signed when he was bought from Spurs, it could be the right moment for Berbatov to move on and secure a longer contract somewhere where he can be more of a focal point that has eluded him in his United career. The form of Hernandez and Rooney at the end of the season suggests that long term this is the partnership we will see most of in the future. It is difficult to see a new striker coming in unless it is a truly World Class forward, the foundations for a young and dynamic forward line is there if you include Young, Welbeck and Macheda as part of the United future.
Academy and Reserve Prospects
Doron has blogged several times over the season regarding the promise of the young players in the United Academy. The team won the FA Youth Cup against Sheffield United in some style at Old Trafford and the future looks bright for several of the players going forward. Whilst it would be far too early to suggest that any of the players will be competing for squad places next year, it is likely that several may get games in the Carling Cup and possibly other Cup games dependant on opponents. An emphasis on youth has been pushed a lot in the last few years and this is reflected in the amount on players in the reserves who at 18/19 years of age. The reward of First Team squad numbers for the likes of Nicky Ajose, Joshua King, and Oliver Gill suggest we may see such players integrated in First Team duties more next season. From the Academy side its likely that the impressive Paul Pogba, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Ravel Morrison will get at minimum League Cup outings and could put pressure on the likes of Obertan, Macheda/Owen and others for places on the bench in the First Team.
Overall the first team squad is going through a revolution with players that have been at the heart of the team for the last 6/7 years now moving on and for the first time since 1995 we could be seeing a major change in the team and its dynamic. The influx in the 95 season of Beckham, The Nevilles, Scholes, Butt, coupled with Cole, Giggs, Keane becoming established leaders in the team brought a new style from the team of Bruce, Robson and Hughes that had won the first few league titles of the Ferguson reign. With a work ethic and team spirit forged from growing up together this set of young players set a new standard for the club over the following years and showed a template for how United needed to operate to bring through players after this team had run its course.
With the development of youth team players you will very rarely see a large number of one Academy team graduate to the first team of the same club. Since that Class of 92 was thrust upon us in 1995 we have seen several players graduate to the first team including O’Shea, Brown, Fletcher and Evans, however with the strength of the playing squad in this time we have not seen the need to blood more players or had a class as gifted as the 92 team to challenge the established First Team. We have reached a stage now where the last of the 92 side are almost gone with Giggs the sole survivor and the current batch of youth players proving more than any other since 92 that they could be the real future of the club. It may explain the transfer policy of Sir Alex Ferguson in the last 2 seasons, the acquisition of younger players still developing coupled with the Academy and Reserve players gaining more experience suggests Ferguson is building his last great team that he can bring through and then sign off, knowing the future of the club he has built since 1990 now secure.
Manchester United as a club are not used to lots of transfer activity over a summer break and you usually see 2/3 arrivals as a maximum. After the purchase of Jones from Blackburn though we are likely to see possibly up to 4/5 other arrivals as a squad that contained players from 3 different generations of teams, 92-98, 98-2006 and 2006-2011 are trimmed down due to retirement and players no longer providing the tools the club needs ala Brown, Gibson and Kuszczak.
Due to the retirement of Paul Scholes it’s highly likely that we will see a big name signing come into the club as well this summer. This will be someone who can have an immediate impact on the team and provide creative focal point in the middle of the park to compliment the emergence of the younger players. Names such as Modric, Sniejder and Nasri fit the mould of what is required at this stage however it is interesting that in all three players cases’ are of an age where they will mould into the squad that Ferguson is creating and are long term solutions rather than a big money player who is for the now. The balance of being ready to step up now as well as provide a long term solution is important as the players will gel in the next 18 months as a squad, then next summer may see the likes of Pogba, Morrison and Tunnicliffe pushed firmly into the spotlight to compete with the likes of Hernandez, Welbeck, Cleverley and Jones.
It might not be a Summer the fans are normally used to but what happens in the next 2 months may show the direction of the club for the next decade as Ferguson puts together the team, squad and style of play that be the final team we see from the great man. The majority of the players being purchased or brought through can become the heart and soul of the club for the next 10 years plus.
Vive la Revolution…
AUTHOR: – Bricki