In what was a truly dismal season considering the standards Manchester United have set over the past quarter century, there have been a lot of murmurs that they need up to six or seven players in order to compete next year. But how does a side that won the league at a canter in 2013 need a complete overhaul in 2014 to even be considered as competitors? We break it down.
What Went Wrong
In order to fully address what United need next season, you have to first look at why it went so very wrong in the 2013/14 campaign.. If you’d asked even the most pessimistic United fan this time last year where they would finish the following May, the very worst you would have heard was fourth. And you couldn’t blame them. Why would anyone in their right mind think United would drop out of the top four?
Sure, old whiskey nose was leaving but they’d just won the title and the lowest position they’d ever finished since the Premier League’s inception was third. That’s third. Uno, Dos, Tres… third! It would be tough for Moyes but he was being handed the champions. How bad could it really get? Well, very.
As time dwindled on and defeats to City and Liverpool became losses to West Brom and Stoke, the levels of pessimism began to rise. By February, a sort of dazed acceptance began to creep into the minds of the fans.
“This was always going to be the way.”
Moyes was reducing expectations with each single press appearance calling for new players and telling the fans that worse was yet to come.
But why? Why were the players suddenly so bad when only a few months prior they were swatting opponents aside? The answer is that they weren’t. It wasn’t that the players were suddenly woeful. That doesn’t just happen. Champions do not go from walking to the title to seventh with the same squad. Champions do not become also-rans in 12 months. The same players were there, it was simply the manager who had changed. The simplest answer is usually the right one yet many pundits would have you believe that these champions just miraculously became mid table players.
The cold fact of the matter is that Moyes did not have the ability to manage the personalities, select the correct tactics, choose the right personnel or (most importantly) motivate the squad. He just wasn’t up to it. Sceptics and ABUs will roar that Moyes is a top manager and the players should motivate themselves and it’s not his job to get the players up for it… but they are wrong.
It is his job. It is one hundred per cent his job. It is in fact the definition of his job. To manage.
And to those who claim that it is solely the players who are at fault, let me put it this way, had Mourinho and Moyes been given inverted roles last summer, with the special one storming into Old Trafford and the ginger one stuttering into Stamford Bridge, does anyone think the table would have turned out the same way this season? I very much doubt it.
David Moyes picked 51 unique lineups during his 51 games in charge. He never once picked the same 11. If that doesn’t strike a nerve with those who believe he needed more time, nothing will.
United’s squad should not be considered as defunct based on what was a season of exceptional circumstances and obviously poor man management. Most of these players are proven champions. So how many players do they really need?
What is Needed
Goalkeepers: De Gea, Lindegaard, Amos
Analysis: Right as rain. We’re grand there, thanks.
Players needed: Zero.
Defense: Rafael, Smalling, Jones, Evans, Keane, Evra, Buttner
Analysis: A starting defense of Rafael, Evans, Jones and Evra should not at all be scoffed at. However, despite his recent contract extension, Evra is sadly coming to the end of the road and Vidic’s departure will be felt. Hummels and Shaw are the current hot favourites to come to Old Trafford.
Players needed: 2. (Aside: although a new left back is desirable, paying 30 million for 18-year-old Luke Shaw simply because he’s British is beyond baffling in this humble scribbler’s opinion. Someone a little cheaper and a centre back built like a sh*t house please. Does Vidic have a brother? No? A sister with short hair?… Maybe?)
Midfield: Carrick, Fletcher, Cleverley, Nani, Mata, Kagawa, Young, Valencia, Januzaj, Fellaini, Powell, Zaha.
Analysis: This is where the problem lies and if Van Gaal can find a functioning midfield next season then top four should be the least of United’s concerns. Carrick and Fletcher are getting past it (being kind) and the less said about Cleverley the better. The key may lie in United’s great enigma that is excluded from the list above; Wayne Rooney.
Paul Scholes recently blogged for Paddy Power and spoke of Rooney’s potential to slot into midfield. Given the fact that Van Gaal likes to play a 4-3-3 and that United have great options in number 10 and on the wings, the only real issue is the centre. If Rooney is willing to take up the hole left by Paul Scholes then all United really need is a holding midfielder. William Carvalho from Sporting would certainly be one to push for.
Players needed: If Van Gaal can get Rooney to play where the rest of his career should lie; 1. If not: 2.
Forwards: Rooney, Van Persie, Hernandez, Welbeck.
Analysis: Again, Van Gaal will play a 4-3-3 with RvP as his main man. Hernandez and Welbeck are perfectly adequate in terms of back up. Rooney is more than adequate and as such should not be wasted in this role. Stick him in the centre and watch him go.
Players Needed: Zilch. Zip. Zero. Nada.
Taking all that into account you’re looking at 3 to 4 signings to have the following starting XI:
That would see the likes of Nani, Valencia, Jones, Carrick, Hernandez, Welbeck and Lindegaard on the bench. Not to mention players like Zaha, Fellaini and Powell who will be very interesting to watch under the Iron Tulip’s leadership next year.
Three new players. Champions do not become also-rans in 12 months. Football pundits like Robbie Savage would love to have you believe that United are history and that a complete overhaul is needed to see them challenging again but sensationalism is pointless. And the simplest answer is usually the right one.
The manager did not work out but these players were good enough last season and the backbone is still there. Expect a top four finish next season.
John Murphy, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Steve Collis from Melbourne, Australia (Manchester United (HDR) Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.