This season has been somewhat frustrating for United fans alike, sprinkled with little moments of brilliance to be excited about. David Moyes has replaced arguably the greatest manager the world has ever seen and has come in for some criticism over his selections and substitutions. So we ask, what is Manchester United’s best lineup?
Let’s start at the back, I don’t think it’s under any doubt that David de Gea is the clubs number 1, and should be the obvious choice for goalkeeping duties, as has been the case for the majority of the season. It seems a straight shootout between Anders Lindegaard and Ben Amos for the bench.
We’ve seen a variety of different combinations used in the back 4 this season with the majority of the clubs defenders getting minutes on the pitch already. But who should be first choice.
Well first name in the defence for me would be at Right Back, and that place should go to Rafael! He is by far the best in his position. Failing Rafael being fit, I believe his twin, Fabio should be given a chance. In recent weeks we have seen Chris Smalling and Phil Jones deployed at right back, and although both do a job, both are far more suited to the Centre back role. Against Stoke, Smalling was left in knots by Arnautovic – and going forward, he did little to get involved, after failing to overlap his winger which has become so important in the modern game.
It is at the heart of defence which is giving Moyes most of the trouble. We’ve seen Vidic, Ferdinand, Evans, Jones and Smalling all fighting for two places of recent years, and I think we are slowly seeing a changing of the guard. Vidic and Ferdinand may still be the best at the club, but have both lost a yard or two of pace. Alternatively you could pair 2 of the other 3 together and have more pace to hold a higher line, but slightly less quality and experience. Just one conundrum for Moyes to contend with. Personally, I think Ferdinand is slipping down the pecking order at the moment, and whilst Vidic isn’t the player he was, he would probably be in the back 4 of choice if fit. Partnered alongside Evans or Jones at the heart of defence, there should be enough quality to keep the door shut.
Left back is where we also have a lot of competition, with Evra, Fabio and Büttner all fighting for that one role. And the order in which I have listed them there is the order in which they should play in my opinion.
Well, this is one of the most contentious areas of the selection, because it’s where we are weakest in so many ways. We have Carrick, Fellaini, Cleverley, Anderson, Fletcher and potentially Kagawa all vying for 2 to 3 roles in the squad. However, with Fletcher’s illness, Anderson’s poor performances and injuries and Kagawa being a more attacking player it leaves the options significantly low.
Michael Carrick was the unsung hero for the last few seasons under Sir Alex, and was partnered alongside Scholes or Cleverley at times to reasonable effect. Carrick hasn’t seemed to be at his efficient best so far this season and it isn’t helped when the likes of Fellaini who was brought in for his combative style and tough tackling nature to break down play, are letting the game pass them by, like against Southampton.
Cleverley who was highly praised in his breakthrough season, also seems to have stopped in his progression. He is still good on the ball and has a eye for a pass, as well as being able to make the odd tackle, but he really must take another step in this development soon, otherwise he could become another average Premier League player.
It would be unfair to discuss Fletcher in any great depth due to his illness troubles. We all hope that he can make it back to his best but I fear we won’t be seeing too much of the Scot in the future.
So really, I have answered very few questions about central midfield at the moment, but I shall come back to it later.
Wingers are something the club are not short of. Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Nani, Wilfred Zaha and Adnan Januzaj are the main contenders but Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa have also played out wide this season. But who has earned the right to play?
Well on pre season form, you would have said Zaha would be pushing for a place, but in Moyes’ mind, he hasn’t warranted a single second of first team action since the community shield at Wembley. Why? Who knows but Mr Moyes himself. The boy did really well during the tour and the fans have been clamouring to see the first glimpse of what we thought could be the new Ronaldo. Hopefully he will get his chance soon, or be loaned out to a Premier League side in January to get minutes at the top level under his belt.
A lot of people will say Adnan Januzaj should be in there, and on current form, I would have to agree. Not only did he score the 2 goals at Sunderland to announce his arrival to the league, but he has positively affected games. Whether it be the defeat to West Brom, or the victory against Stoke, Januzaj’s presence and skill have had an affect on the performance. Despite not being an out an out winger, his ability and desire to run with the ball at defenders makes him useful on the flanks.
So if Januzaj took one position, who takes the other? Nani? Well he has the potential to be the best and the worst player on the field, all in a matter of moments. He made the first goal against Stoke but wasted so many opportunities by shooting wide from distance. I personally wouldn’t have Nani in my preferred starting XI.
What about Danny Welbeck or Shinji Kagawa. Whilst both do a job, Shinji especially is wasted on the left. He doesn’t have the speed, and forever wants to drift into a more central role. This leaves the left flank wide open. Fortunately for United, we have Evra backing up and always willing to hug the left touch line. But it doesn’t help matters if we lose the ball and leaves us short on numbers at the back. Likewise with Welbeck, he always wants to drift inside and is reluctant to cross the ball. He is however very quick and good in possession and able to do the wideman job if needed.
So that leaves Young or Valencia, and personally, it should be Valencia. Ashley Young for me hasn’t been good in a United shirt since the first few weeks of his career at Old Trafford. He does stay wide, and he does get crosses in with both feet, but so often, the end product isn’t there.
Meanwhile, whilst Valencia hasn’t hit the heights of 2 seasons ago, his performances have been of a higher and more effective standard to those of last year. Whilst he is so unbelievably one footed, his devastating pace and ability to get defences on the back foot is a talent. He also is willing to track back and assist the defending. With the right coaching and being reminder to get forward and take on his man, United could have a top winger back to his best.
Again, United have an embarrassment of riches in this department. Rooney, van Persie, Welbeck, Hernandez and once again, Kagawa.
Last seasons top scorer van Persie is often considered the first name on the teamsheet, and rightly so. The dutchmans eye for goal and linkup play is sublime.
Meanwhile, it is our resident scouser who has been the man of the season so far. Not only banging in the goals, but Wayne Rooney’s all round desire and determination in almost every game has seen him cement his position in the United lineup. Whether it is up top, behind the striker, out wide or even deeper into midfield, Rooney is dragging Manchester United along so far this season. I only hope that he will remain with the club past the end of the season following the antics of last summer.
So that’s it then? Lineup decided? Well no, not quite. Because I never actually selected my main midfield partnership and this is where it gets tough. Not only that, it is all dependant on the system that you play. More and more sides are opting for a 4-2-3-1 system. We’ve seen it in so many matches this season where teams have come to Old Trafford and played really well. A high pressure, counter attacking game, and it has paid off for a number of sides.
Most fans and pundits alike are of the same opinion, that Manchester United are an attacking side and have been throughout the ages. I think that we should be attacking more than we have done this season, and attack with more venom and purpose. The buildup has been too slow and lathargic, and whilst United have been playing a 4-2-3-1 system of sorts, It really has been more of a 4-4-2 with Rooney just in behind van Persie. The main problem has been the defence sitting too deep, and the midfield not pressing and getting forward enough, and then when they do, don’t get back quick enough. A difficult situation.
Carrick has been the best midfielder at the club for some time, whilst after paying £27.5m for Fellaini, you expect him to have a big future at the club, considering Moyes knows him better than any other player in his squad. Cleverley can have an impact but question marks still remain over his best position and if he can be accommodated. And throughout this post, I’ve mentioned Kagawa for 3 positions and haven’t selected him for any. And here lies the problem. Kagawa’s undoubted best position, as we saw in the last 15 minutes against Real Sociedad, is that in the ‘number 10’ role. But that is already occupied, by Uniteds number 10, Wayne Rooney. This has left Kagawa dumped out on the left where he is far more ineffective. I’d love to see a system where United were able to play with the 2 of them playing, still maintaining our attacking wing play yet a solid defence. I know, we could try play with 12 or 13 players, but failing that, why not try a system like this?
It allows both Rooney, Kagawa and van Persie play in their favoured and most effective positions, allows united to attack from the wings with overlapping full backs if needed, whilst Carrick does what Carrick does best and sits in front of the back 4.
As United attack, Carrick can hold, almost making a back 3 whilst the rest bomb on. Lose the ball and we aren’t completely exposed. Whilst defending, we make a 4-5-1 with Rooney dropping in deep as he so often does.
As I have stated above, these are my opinions, utilising each player in the position to which they are most suited, especially Kagawa. Should United need, Rooney can push forward and the Midfield can be more of a diamond 4-4-2 formation. Alternatively, we can continue with the 4-2-3-1 with Fellaini in the hold, but he MUST become more of a box to box midfielder, in a ‘Yaya Toure-esque’ role, picking up the ball deep, running with it and moving the play much higher up field, linking our strike force to our defence.
Either way, United need to play with more speed and vigour in the attack and move the ball at a far quicker pace to what we have been used to this season, as well as closing down the play quicker when out of possession, like the majority of our opponents have done to us.