Defeat to Basel can only sow the seeds for more United success

Author: Doron

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As the reality of failing to qualify beyond the group stages of the Champions League sets in; now is as good a time as any to reflect and consider what might happen next for United.

No offence to our opponents but…

…not qualifying from a group that contained Basel, Benfica and Otelul Galati is unacceptable and embarrassing. Whatever I go on to say, that stands. United have been way too casual and confident in this competition and ultimately got what’s been coming to them. That stems from the manager down, even he has been too arrogant and recently ended a press conference early when asked if United were struggling. The bottom line is we’ve made an easy group appear difficult.

Injuries and rotation

Injuries are something every side has to deal with but United seem to be going through an unfortunate spell at the moment. All six strikers have been injured at some point so far this season whilst similarly at the back, only Jones has been forever fully fit. However, more pressing is the CM area – Cleverley and Anderson injured with Carrick suspended saw the unfit pairing of Fletcher and Gibson benched against Basel in favour of Jones and Giggs. More on that to come though.

As eleven individuals, most United sides should have been able to qualify through from that group but the weekly team rotations surely cannot help to create a settled side.

Central midfield

This could be a blog entry in itself. The thing to make clear is there is no obvious answer – the midfield lacks imagination but then it also lacks bite. I’ve blogged before on why I believe grit and balls should come before creativity – and then suggested a solution. In short; just because other sides play a ‘creative’ CM (note in a 4-5-1) that doesn’t mean we have to follow their lead. United’s midfield has traditionally been built upon winning the ball and being effective; allowing the wide players and forwards to take the lead on more creative parts of the game.

It seems incredible that United entered into a game, let alone a Champions League game with a 19 year old centre back and a 38 year old former winger as the central midfield pairing. Even so, United created 22 chances away from home and scored one goal; similar to the 29 created vs. Newcastle recently. So to what extent is the problem in the central midfield area anyway? The lack of movement up front isn’t a central midfield issue and seemingly neither is creating chances.

However there is real klout to having someone like Carrick available. He, like Parker and Lucas is somewhat unfancied because he’s limited in the final third of the pitch. Yet his ability to help prevent goals being conceded is just as vital as being able to create goalscoring chances as I shall explain…

Why can’t we score?

So far in the PL this season, United have gotten 35.7% of their shots on target and scored 12.9% of total chances. Last year, United got 34.7% of their shots on target and scored 12.2% of their total chances. So if anything, chances being created and goals being scored are both slightly up on last year. Unlike last year though, United are no longer conceding less than a goal a game. Importantly, teams seem to be understanding that they are quite likely to get a chance to score against United and then be able to put everyone behind the ball to see a game out. For this reason, United need to stop the leaking of goals as much as they need to score more.

A dose of reality is needed too – Welbeck has been largely injured; Hernandez missed pre-season and took time to get his fitness back; Owen’s injured; Macheda’s been injured; and Rooney’s had to drop deep to help cover in the midfield. There’s been a real lack of a strong regular centre forward, not allowing any kind of ‘instinctive relationship’ to build between midfielders and strikers like Valencia and Rooney in 2009/10 or Nani and Berbatov in 2010/11.

I believe we need to stop giving teams something to defend and in turn, need a bit of luck with injuries – Welbeck and Rooney seems a tasty pairing to run with.

Do we need to spend?

Buying players isn’t always the answer. Coaches talk a lot about finding the right player for a system and more frequently are making out personality to be a key factor. However, United certainly aren’t as competitive as they once were in the transfer market. In the last 5 years, seven clubs including Stoke, Aston Villa and Sunderland have a higher net spend than United whilst Spurs, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City are spending on average between £4m and £75m net a year more than United on new players.

Whether the manger has or is being denied the funds is not something we’ll ever know but it’s hard not to marry up United’s yearly interest payments with the drop in net spending. It might be the case that actually the staff are very happy with the squad and genuinely fail to see how it can be improved; but the pursuit of certain midfield players this summer suggests otherwise.

It is of course true that United, along with other clubs are not able to compete with Man City financially in the transfer market right now. Only City can afford to make a 12 month loss of -£197m. If they want to continue to spend and build their team then so be it; it’s just something we’re going to have to accept for now and hope that the FFP rules do their job in the future.

Ultimately, United probably should spend something. Fresh competition in certain areas can do no harm and there is a precedent set for January spending; but, there is always an alternative too.

When’s this happened before?

In 2005/06 United failed to get out of a group containing Benfica, Lille and Villarreal – losing two games, enduring three nil-nil draws and winning just the once. It prompted two January signings – Vidic and Evra; but importantly it was a wake-up call for a team that had gotten somewhat stale. Van Nistelrooy was shown the door and Rooney and Ronaldo became the focal points for a new United side.

The new United combined youth with the likes of Carrick, Evra, Vidic and Fletcher to form the core of a fresh side who’d go on to reach three Champions League finals and four semi-finals in the next five years. They were a team moulded by the feeling of disappointment having gone out of the Champions League criminally early and against AC Milan in 2006/07 at the final hurdle in the semi final.

Starting a new squad cycle

The idea of squad cycles should be something United fans know about only too well. Fergie has built at least four successful United teams already and is now embarking on his latest one. Maturity and know-how take time to ripen – a lot of the current squad are seriously young footballers in the grand scheme of their careers. The transition from one squad to a new squad can take time to get right – in the past it has seen relatively barren spells for United before the league has been regained.

The problem this time is that this ‘new start’ may take longer than others have previously. Last year’s winning FA Youth Cup team were crowned champions of the U18 age range not by chance but based on their ability. It’s very unsurprising to see so many given both squad numbers and debuts this season. Fergie will be acutely aware of the problems of throwing them in too soon but they do provide a genuine long-term alternative to signings which is causing something of a dilemma. Take Paul Pogba for example, a very talented young player but he’s not really ready for regular action yet. However, compare his progress into the first team with those before him. These players got to 3 first team United games aged:

Darren Fletcher – 19 and 7 months
David Beckham – 19 and 5 months
Nicky Butt – 19 and 3 months
Paul Scholes – 19 and 11 months
Darron Gibson – 21 and 1 month

Paul Pogba – 18 and 9 months

You see, the signs are there that Fergie knows he has a bunch of talented kids so maybe we’ll have to now be patient for 18-24 months in order to properly reap the rewards of their progress. Oddly enough, when Fergie recently celebrated 25 years in charge I considered whether the starting line up in 2015/16 could represent his best ever United side once the current young players had matured.

Have faith

Finally, it seems apt to point out that the man in charge knows what he’s doing. We’ve had a lot of success lately and cannot always be the best team in the country or Europe. We have some very talented kids and now have to be patient and let them blossom. It might even take 2 years to bring them through but however long it takes, it’s likely to be worth the wait. United have come a long way in the past 35 years, from playing seriously awful football right up to today where the expectations are for constant success. As fans, we’ve been spoilt lately and whilst it’s great to always expect to come first, we have to be somewhat realistic. What happened against Basel has been on the cards for some time; it was no less than we deserved and as embarrassing as it feels right now. However, if it triggers some squad changes for the better and for the long-term then that can only be a good thing.

In the meantime, if the Europa League is treated as a second Carling Cup and Fergie decides to go with some of the younger players; then that’s an added bit of experience and competitive game-time for them that can’t hurt. Best off that we just pool all our resources into the league again and hope that we somehow manage to overachieve again this year. The future though, whenever it arrives, is bright – United will rise again.

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19 Comments on Defeat to Basel can only sow the seeds for more United success

  1. Very eloquent Doron, agree with you about the midfield needing grit rather than creativity. Sometimes we can seem quite nonchalant and placid compared to the energy drive and determination of previous times.

    Also you highlighted injuries which have played a huge part in our season already and with Vidic looking to be out for some time, you do worry.

    We will bounce back, we always do, but as you said there is much embarrassment in going out of what will be looked at as a weak group.

  2. Its weird because I have handled this (and the 6-1) a lot better than I thought I would. I’ve had people trying to goad me and tried not to get into slagging matches but I guess United and how it affects us will always be more important than how outsiders perceive it.

    I’d prefer if we used the Europa League for fringe and younger players and if we go out we go out, it’s all part of the learning.

    SAF has demanded a response and if it kicks off a cycle like the one we’ve had recently we can look back on this a lot easier than we are looking at it now.

  3. You have no idea how nice it is to read an article like this. It helps to put some perspective on the day rather than over-reacting and calling for serious changes everywhere. Tonight I actually had someone claim to me that it was Evans fault we went out tonight! Such “fans” really irritate me.

    At the end of the day, this is the team that, at the beginning of the season, people were raving about. We had lots of youth and pace and creativity. Fact is that, when fully fit, and on top form, we still have these things. It just so happens that injuries and rotation have taken it out of our squad.

    I still remember that horrible night we went out in ’05 and I feel more content that our future is in good hands this time around. We have many players on the fringe of breaking through that could be special players for years. What excites me more, is that most of them are from the UK and are less likely to want to leave for Madrid should they make it big!

    Have faith in Fergie, he’s done us well this far!

  4. I really enjoyed this article. When I watched the game today, I thought the world was going to fall into the sun, but this article gives me great reason for hope. While I, like most hope that they spend some money in January, I agree that there is a great crop of young players coming up. Between Fryer, Morrison, Pogba, Cole and both Keanes, there is a solid nucleus of talent coming up, but there seems to be a lack of defensive reinforcements coming in the midfield.

    I’m hoping that this will rejuvenate the fire in the bellies of some of the players, and encourage some of these young players to progress into the first team, while they also spend some money to bring in a couple players to fill some of the gaps where they are lacking now, and in the up and comers.

    Twitter: @RangeRooney

  5. I think that today’s performance is unlucky one to take defeat because we cannot finish mainly.

    The main problem is young inexperienced players will make more mistakes for while. Conceding FIVE goals against Swiss team bury United. There is no way we always claw back 3-4 goals per every matches. My head feel like get hammered when I saw those stupid goals.

    We can allow to concede one goal per game not any more, it is simple as. Conceding timing is worse, you concede early goals because you are not concentrate, it is very simple symptom. Mentally, some of our players are not ready.

    Huge toughen up is required.

  6. If we dont sign anyone in Jan, do you think that will be a sign fergie’s showing us with his trust in youth players?

  7. Very accurate analysis. The team will learn from the defeat and do the right thing. Our fans will also learn that winning is not guaranteed. Some of us older supporters know what it was season after season with no trophies..the younger fans found United winning, I can understand their disappointment, but this team will rise from the ashes.
    The article was a great read.

  8. No words are going help the pain and embarrassment caused by last nights horrific defeat! This is an absolute piss take! We were simply not good enough from day 1 of the group stages and for a club like Man United to go out in the 1st round especially against mediocre competition is honestly catastrophic! Football. Bloody hell.

  9. I have to say as well that last nights defeat has to be one of the worst in history for MUFC! I’m absoltely GUTTED! I’ve never been this upset after a loss before! I simply can’t come to terms with what happened! WAZZA missed 2 absolute sitters to put us through but it was just not to be. Disgraceful!

  10. Phil Jones is NOTTTTTT a fukin midfielder! Why not play Fletcher, someone with experience in such a MASSIVE game! I can’t understand it! Not saying Jones had a bad game or anything like that. He’s a good young player but to be honest he’s just not a midfielder! Ashley Young had a mare last night! I’ve always had my doubts about him and last night he was just nowhere! We missed CARRICK dearly I have to say! Giggs was decent, u can’t fault the man. Nani was our best player by a mile. Simply different class! He’s grown so much over the last year its incredible. He put a ball in for Rooney on aplatter and Wayne just coulnt put it in the back of the net(only g-d knows how he missed that) and was a constant threat the whole evening. Impressed with Smalling last night and this season. Terrific player! GUTTED FOR VIDIC WHAT A BLOW IT HAS TO BE SAID!!!! Hopefully now Jones will go back into CB alongside Rio. I feel sorry for Wolves on Saturday. They’re in for the hiding of their lives! Mick McCarthy watch out u muggy cunt! United r coming for u!!!!! We’ll still win the league and I’m convinced of it! We’ll never die! MUFC

  11. very well written doron and exactly what i have been saying about for months,we havnt dominated games for the last couple of years,our midfield is very easily by passed thus creating pressure on the back four reguarly.we are lacking spark in a lot of areas,our strikers dont seem to want to shoot from outside the area only take that extra touch into the area.what has happened to taking shots on from20yards or so.our defence has not been steady because of the injuries sustained,smalling is very good although caught out for 2nd goal last night,jones will be a very good player when settled in his right position which is defence,evra gets caught out of position too often,i fear for vidic at moment as that was a bad injury,evans is not a utd player,sorry but his awareness is not good,his distribution is worse,in short a liability.young,smalling,jones even wellbeck will benefit from the europa league where there are some tasty teams.this was their first season in c/l so a very big learnig curve, i like de gea he will develope as will this squad,we are in transition and it will take time,yes s.a.f is sometimes baffling,stubborn but he does deliver at the end.i dont think we will win the league this season so prepare yourself for city to triumph,they will do it sooner or later.united will come through this setback but thursday night football will greatly affect the season/injury crisis.

  12. Great stuff!

    “It seems incredible that United entered into a game, let alone a Champions League game with a 19 year old centre back and a 38 year old former winger as the central midfield

    I actually wrote the exacte same to a friend after the game last night. Additionally I added the fact that Park more or less operated in a “nr. 10 position”. Quite scary to be honest.

    My biggest concern is the backroom staff. I’m not impressed by the current setup of assistant managers. Their job is to assist the manager, occasionally disagreeing and arguing against the managers toughts. I’m not sure if this is the case when it comes to the current ones. What’s your thought?

  13. We have a manager who is acting his age–overwhelmed with caution,complacancy and timidity.

    Park in the hole with Welbeck on the bench,Giggs in midfield with a real inability to influence the game and Fletcher on the bench,out-of -form Evra at left back with Fryers left in England (look at Tottenham and Kyle Naughton)–and Pogba /Morrison left behind–and Lindegaard obscurely left out.

    We need an assistant to SAF whith independent opinions and a move to youth–and a policy of playing individuals in position not out-of -position—–and is there any other team with such a bizarre rotation policy??

  14. @Max – hold on a minute.. everyone is entitled to their opinion. I find myself agreeing with Robert with regards to rotation. Our obsession with tinkering even when not forced through injuries is somewhat strange.

    @Robert – Fryers travelled with the squad; he wasn’t left in England. Zeki’s performed well so far but he’s nowhere near ready to be taking that spot from Evra. Pogba plays for the Reserves tonight and I can only guess that Ravel isn’t allowed to travel outside the country until his 12 month suspended sentence ends.

  15. “Transition” is often used to describe this year’s UTD team – and last year’s, too, for that matter. Winning # 19 and getting to the CL final was a triumph, considering how many of the players were quite literally on their last legs.

    By the end of this season, five or six of the very best players from the last twenty years will be gone – Paul Scholes, RedNev, SirRyanGiggs, Edwin, and maybe Rio and Dimmy. While I’m no fan of Berbatov, his talent is exceptional even if he hasn’t put it to good effect in his stint at UTD. That’s a lot of “replacement” that is needed in short order. So, to my way of thinking, it’s not surprising that TheLads have fallen short in Europe AND the Carling Cup. They are “struggling” in the EPL, too – I know they’re second but they’ve been dire in far too many matches.

    Injuries (and suspensions) to key players haven’t helped but – honestly – UTD’s second-string should have had enough to beat the Young Boys of Basle. If you review their two goals, it’s tough to stomach – the first one happened after Captain Vidic smacked Chris Smalling and drew blood THEN the Shaquiri’s cross was perfectly redirected by De Gea to Streller who finished it off; their second goal was the result of an “After you Alphonse; no after you Gaston” routine from Chris Smalling and David De Gea. Bad luck and inexperience which is understandable since neither one is over 21 and both are learning to play together.

    However, while those two goals should not have been conceded, what was really disturbing was the truly inept “attacking play” of the veteran presence: SirRyanGiggs, Ashley Young, ThreeLungPark, and TheWayneBoy. This quarter just weren’t contributing – how little defending from the front ? how many mis-hit passes ? how many times did they run into blind alleys ? how many missed chances ? THAT was just embarrassing.

    We’ve seen this before – and we’ll no doubt see it again this year and maybe next year as SAF turns over a goodly portion of the squad. Giggs should be given the heart-felt hand-shake and sent to join the GingerNinja in training the kids; Rio might last another year but he’s now fragile and so unreliable; Antonio Valencia and ThreeLungPark are valuable squad players but must be used judiciously and not expected to shoulder a burden. If I was making personnel decisions then Dimmy and Ashley Young would be off-loaded so that they don’t take playing time/experience away from Danny Welbeck, KikoTheKid, Ravel Morrison and Chicharito (when he returns).

    These out-goings would still involve a significant change in the squad/first team that will only fully reveal themselves in about 12 – 18 months. SAF has played a high-wire act – without a net – and he won that gamble last year; this year it doesnt look like he will be able to break his fall but I’d expect that the medium-term planning will possibly come-good next year (or the year after that). The alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

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