Matt Hurst explains why the new United boss faces an unenviable challenge in the months to come.
The new Premier League campaign is fast approaching and pre-season is well underway. Clubs up and down the country are preparing for yet another year of excitement and disappointment, yet Manchester United have failed to make any considerable improvements beyond the training pitch. This season is the clubs biggest in recent years, for the first time in 27-years Manchester United are going into a campaign without Sir Alex Ferguson. Many thought the club would invest heavily the year Ferguson retired in order to ease the transition, as of yet this has failed to occur and looks less likely by the day.
Starting from the back, the Red Devils are well equipped in the goalkeeping department. After a rocky first season, David de Gea has established himself as Manchester United’s number one. Arguably the best shot-stopper in the league, he has gone from flop of the season to one of the top goalkeepers in England. Anders Lindegaard came under heavy criticism last season, the goalkeeper involved in the remarkable 5:5 game with West Brom at the end of the last campaign, although Ben Amos looks set to become an able backup for the senior squad.
The defence is a worrying area for the club, with 43 goals conceded last year – the most out of the top four clubs, their problems with the back four have been well documented. Whilst Vidic and Ferdinand could be argued as Manchester United’s best defensive partnership they’ve had, they’re now on the wrong side of 30 along with Patrice Evra. Some may point at Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to take over the clubs defensive capabilities although they have had their own injury problems to deal with. Alex Büttner came in last summer however he is very rash in defence and has had problems with home sickness; it doesn’t look like he can replicate Evra’s transition to the Premier League. Fabio is now 23; the ‘young’ Brazilian fullback needs to step up after a relatively underwhelming loan spell with QPR. An aging and injury prone defence isn’t what a title challenging side ought to be entering a new campaign with.
The club are seemingly well equipped in attack although Fergusons claims that this current squad are stronger than the team of ’99 sound like the ramblings of a man attempting to pull the wool over fans eyes. The quartet of Sheringham, Yorke, Cole and Solskjaer are not bettered by the current offerings. Youth may well be on Danny Welbeck’s side however his goal tally is not. Welbeck scored just two goals in 39 appearances. The situation is problematic as it’s not a situation where he hasn’t been given the chances; it’s often his poor final decision and finishing that has let him down. One of Moyes’ first actions was to talk up Welbeck, an evident sign that the club aren’t looking to sign a striker. Robin Van Persie may well be the best current striker in the country however the current circus surrounding Wayne Rooney is casting an extremely dark cloud over Old Trafford. It’s evident for all to see that the club want Rooney off of the wage bill; this was started by Sir Alex’s comments at the end of last season. Manchester United now find themselves in a difficult position, it appears no other club rate Rooney as highly as the Red Devils themselves so they now have an unhappy player which no club is willing to offer decent money for. Perhaps the club believed that if Ferguson stated Rooney handed in a transfer request, the player would fear speaking out against him however this is not the case. Rooney has spoken, Ferguson lied and now Wayne Rooney is collecting his weekly wage whilst the club frantically try to resolve the situation. Sir Bobby Charlton has been forced to make statements to appease the fans and to ease the pressure on David Moyes.
For years now many have suggested that Manchester United have a weak midfield, they lack that quality in the centre of the park and to make things worse, depth is not a word associated with the Red Devils midfield. The end of the 2012 – 13 seasons saw the second retirement for Paul Scholes, other than the aging Carrick the team doesn’t have an able central midfielder. We only need to look back to last season’s game at Old Trafford against Manchester City where the team lined up with Ryan Giggs in centre midfield. Ryan Giggs was clearly a fantastic player in his prime however when a 39-year-old left winger is your central midfield option, what does that say about your central midfield? Manchester United fans may claim Manchester City have overpaid for Fernanindho however the truth is that’s the midfielder that United lack. The Red Devils are facing starting the season a midfielder down whilst Manchester City now have arguably the strongest central pairing in the country in Toure and Fernandinho. On a seemingly lighter note, Sir Alex Ferguson has left Moyes with England regular Tom Cleverly. In recent times Tom Cleverly has been dubbed the saviour of Manchester United’s midfield however with 3 assists and 2 goals out of 23 appearances in the last campaign, Tom Cleverly’s record doesn’t signal the deep lying creative midfielder he was once dubbed. This may well be the season where England’s ‘prodigy’ is finally turned upon by the press and fans alike. Anderson is surely on limited time at the club, he was tried in various positions by Sir Alex although he’s never truly settled at the club.
Manchester United’s breakaway wing-play has often been applauded however Ashley Young didn’t net once in the last campaign and Antonio Valencia is rapidly gaining a reputation for being a ‘one trick pony’. Valencia’s traditional one footed wing play has been figured out by many a left-back and is extremely readable. Luis Nani’s contract expires in 2014 and the speculation this summer is that Moyes may well cash in on the Portuguese winger, although we’re yet to see what sort of fee he would command.
Taking over from Sir Alex Ferguson was always going to be a difficult job for any manager although I don’t believe he left David Moyes with a favourable hand. The legacy left behind from Ferguson’s success seems to be crippling Moyes, who seemingly has problems everywhere he turns – unless of course he spends the entire season staring at David de Gea. Moyes is clearly having difficulty attracting new signings however we can’t really tell if that’s down to financial backing or if he has little pulling power, although that will certainly be playing on his mind. The pressure to keep Manchester United at the top is huge, it comes from the owners, the media, the fans, ex-players and ex-managers although having seemingly been snubbed by numerous players this summer, this could prove to be a difficult task.
Will Manchester United improve in time for the new season or will they be signing Baines and Osman? Only time will tell.
If Manchester United are indeed struggling for central options, they at least have first refusal on Usain Bolt.