Analysis Opinion Insight

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Maturation and Stagnation

With the season competitively done and dusted with Sir Alex Ferguson's side securing the title with 4 games to spare, many fans' mind's have turned to summer mode. Following in the the great manager's lead, United fans across the globe have taken time to assess the side's performance over the previous 51 games of the season, which saw the side reach the FA Cup Quarter final stage, the 4th round of the Capital One Cup, the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League and a 20th Premier League title.

Carrick and Van Persie combined for some very productive football, with Kagawa finding space, time and form in between the lines supporting RvP.  
This season's stand out performs were without a doubt Michael Carrick, Robin van Persie and Patrice Evra, with notable mentions to De Gea, Ferdinand, Evans,  Rafael and Rooney. In contrast, the form, fitness and fortunes of Vidic, Young, Valencia, Nani and Anderson have concerned professional onlookers and supporters alike. The fact that the wingers have had such below average, underwhelming seasons is a cause for concern, not just due to our subsequent reliance on central creativity to score goals- but because their poor performance has also decreased the goal scoring threat of Welbeck, Hernandez and Rooney, who prefer chances being created for them from wide positions over intricate or direct passes from central positions, a style which Carrick, Kagawa, Cleverley and van Persie all enjoyed playing and proved fruitful and effective. 

Could all four of these red devils be on their way out?
As such, improvements need to be made, with Anderson, Nani, Hernandez and Rooney all being touted in the media for moves away from the club, with various players being linked to big money moves to United. With Nani, Anderson and Rooney having all served more than 7 years at the club, there is talk that, given their individual form, fitness, lifestyle and potential, it may be time to build from a position of strength and "trim the fat" from the squad by selling under performing players and replacing them with some  proven performers such as Gareth Bale, Kevin Strooman,  Lewandowski, Falcao, the out of contract Frank Lampard as well as up and coming talented youngsters like James Rodriguez, James McCarthy, Cristian Erikson  and Victor Wanyama.   The big deal that has been rumoured for a long time though, is the potential return of our former player Ronaldo.  

3 to leave and 1 to return?
With many United fans hoping to see  him back, I'm sure that most wouldn't mind seeing a deal struck that brought Ronaldo back to United with one or two players + cash going the other way, even if it were to mean the loss of Hernandez or others. Personally, I don't think United will get such a deal done, as Madrid are more likely to want a straight cash deal, not wanting to force players on a new manager (with Mourinho showing not too subtle signs that he'd like to leave), and United, unless they secure the cooperation of a principle sponsor such as Nike, AON or Chevrolet, are unlikely to want to spend all their transfer budget on a luxury player in a section of the squad that is already full, unless they plan on selling 1 or more winger and a striker, given the special position Ronaldo likes to play. (Such an arguement can also be made for the signing of Bale- where would Sir Alex (or someone new) play him? )

I'd add Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia to the aforementioned sell list, with the aim of generating enough cash to fund the purchase of a few younger talented wingers. No doubt the members on my sell list  are talented players, but I fear that in aiming to gain consistency and defensive tactical responsibility, they have eroded their strengths. While Anderson and Nani secured big money moves to United after showing signs of immense talent at an early age, Valencia and Young earned their moves my frequently showing skills that directly attributed to goals for Wigan and Villa, with both of them becoming a reliable source of goals in their final seasons at their respective clubs. 
Valencia's burst of pace that took him away from midfielders and past flat footed defenders to either shoot or cross, a move that set up a large proportion of Rooney's goals in the past, though it now seems that he either doesn't trust his body to be able to do make those runs, with it now more likely to see him dither around the 20 yard line waiting for Rafael to catch up and provide a safe passing option than dart into the box and attempt a shot or a dangerous cross across the face of goal for an arriving striker. The evolution of his game has seen him become much more aware of his defensive responsibilities and his tactical positioning when the side don't have the ball. In my opinion, this facet of his game is what is keeping him in the side ahead of Nani and Young, who are more attacking players, but aren't as much help to Rafael. Ashley Young as an inside out winger, has been worked out and his threat has been blunted by defenders who know to show him to the left corner, from where they can pressure him off the ball, intercept a backwards pass to Evra or cut out a left foot cross that he eventually delivers. Being most dangerous on the reverse diagonal run/dribble/cross/shot, he is in effect attempting to overcome potentially 4 players to have a clear sight of goal, and to be honest, he is no Messi. 

Whether through injury or lack of form, all 4 of them have not matured into the players fans had hoped, with inconsistent moments of brilliance book-ended with frustrating periods of mediocrity and wastefulness. There is only so far a hard working player with limited talent can go, and having bought Valencia and Young, players how sustained form above their base level of talent for multiple seasons, it could be argued that reversion to the mean was always going to happen. Even those blessed with extraordinary talent must possess the mental capabilities to make use of it. Nani and Anderson fall into this category, with neither player able to consistently deliver performances that allow them to command a starting position. 

Yes, the United hierarchy could go on with these players, challenge for league titles off the brilliance of the central midfielders and striking talent and hope that another upturn in form from these 4 could propel United to a Champions' League title ( given that Nani and Anderson played small but crucial roles in in the 2008 victory), but it would be a big risk not to move for other players who may possess the necessary combination of talent and aptitude to surpass their exploits. The likes of Zaha, Januzaj and Tunnicliffe need to be given time to prove themselves either way, for there is no point limiting their exposure to the big league by keeping them in the reserves, then becoming annoyed when they prove a hit elsewhere. 

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