Valdes In…. What of De Gea?

degeaProbably the most heartwarming story of United’s season so far has been the form of one David De Gea between the sticks.

David has come a long way from just being an excellent shot stopper to a commanding goal keeper capable of handling the brawny set piece situations in English football.

Though his distribution still leaves a lot to be desired, he has turned in several match winning performances during this unbeaten run, which is encouraging considering the musical chairs the defenders have been playing with injuries, form and other issues.

His form (and the woeful slump that Iker Casillas has been in) has seen him as a potential No. 1 for Spain’s national team which could be cemented this season if all things go well. Nonetheless, at 24, there are a lot of air miles left in his legs.

However, Victor Valdes’ recent acquisition has raised some eyebrows as to the future of De Gea in England. With Real Madrid batting their eyelids at David, United fans are getting worried that United will sell yet another lynchpin to the Madrid side.

david-de-gea-save-620x299Considering the fact that De Gea hails from the Atletico side of town, it is quite unlikely he would suit up for Real. However, stranger things have happened in Spain, such as Luis Figo’s transfer from Barcelona to Real, etc.

De Gea once complained of homesickness during his first season. With his girlfriend and family all based there it is understandable that he would want to return; but considering his meteoric rise as United No. 1, he would undoubtedly be much better served if he continues in his rich vein of form at United.

Talks that United are working on a contract extension mean little as Real have shown that it is a weak deterrent from their advances.

I believe the only real way they can convince De Gea to stay is by protecting him with a calibre of defenders who are able to provide the bedrock for another extended run at the title and (whisper it) the Champions League trophy.

His maturity and composure should be something that United would leverage on in their contract discussions. And the fact that he is surrounded by his countrymen (Herrera and Mata) as well as Spanish speakers (Falcao, Valencia and Di Maria) should make living in Manchester much more livable compared to previous seasons.

Valdes’ introduction would probably mean the end of Anders Lindegaard’s United career though as his presence in the United squad has gone the way of Tomasz Kuszczak, Roy Carroll and Ricardo Lopez. You can’t even compare Anders to the ultimate backup keeper – Raimond Van der Gouw.

Here’s to hoping that De Gea remains at Old Trafford for a mighty long time.

El Tigre struggling to find killer touch

falcaoI was more than a little sceptical when United pounced on the offer to take on Falcao in the summer. On the one hand, it signalled the end of Danny Welbeck’s career at Old Trafford, on the other, a huge question mark lingered over his ability to dominate games coming back from a major injury.

Strikers, more than any other class of footballers, have it harder than most in recovering from major injuries as their mobility and sharpness suffer considerably. Magnify that by the fact that most of their touches happen in and around the penalty area, probably the most congested place on the pitch – particularly if you play for United.

Throughout the end year fixture madness, Falcao started brightly against Newcastle, laying on a goal for Rooney and playing a major role in his second; and then faded against Stoke (though he did score the equalizer), Tottenham and Yeovil.

Fatigue could be one excuse, but in most matches, Falcao was substituted for pacier forwards to inject some direct penetration after his huffing and puffing in the first hour or so. There is some logic in that as James Wilson, Angel Di Maria or Adnan Januzaj (in different games), have come on to exploit gaps given their freshness, but the impact has been mixed, particularly for Wilson as his lack of experience and brawn has been telling.

In that sense, Falcao does deserve a certain degree of sympathy as his rehabilitation from the knee injury that saw him miss 6 months of action in 2014, is happening at the breakneck pace of English football, alongside new teammates and new surroundings. His courage in taking up the challenge of firing United back into the Champions League is admirable as well.

falcao2However, his recent showings have yet to justify the price tag that (or will) hangs over his head. On the one hand, his ability to hold the ball up in tight spaces have been betrayed by a heavy first touch, and his pace and power in turning his man has been compromised by his lack of confidence so often seen in footballers making a comeback.

LVG has done what he can to accommodate him in the first eleven, dropping Rooney in to midfield and getting RVP to drop deep or drift into wing areas, to ensure his goal poaching instincts are utilized; however, Falcao seems to require more time to adjust to the tempo of the English game as well as the physicality of the typical English centre-back.

It is true that United tend to come up against teams who sit with ten men behind the ball or, in recent cases, press high up the pitch. This exposes Falcao’s lack of height and strength in holding up the ball and providing a target for distribution (which arguably isn’t David De Gea’s or the backline’s strong point this season).

Nonetheless, what Falcao has really achieved is reinvigorate the competetiveness in the forward positions, as Rooney and RVP are rising up to the challenge of having someone of Falcao’s pedigree in the side. James Wilson can only benefit from learning alongside him in training as well.

Having said that, Falcao would be hoping to find that chemistry with his new teammates in the next five months as the season cranks into gear. Otherwise he could be out looking for another club in June.

Thou Shalt Not Pass

degeaIn a match where the proverbial form book has been regularly thrown out the window, a number of crucial things remained true to current form:

  • Liverpool and United both have extremely shaky defences.
  • Three at the back is still an alien concept to English football’s high society.
  • David De Gea refuses to be beaten.

Rodgers must be feeling like the world is crumbling around him as the weekend’s tinkering has yielded a sound hiding at Old Trafford, where just months ago, they were so dominant.

In their attempt to counter United’s makeshift 3-5-2 formation with only two recognizable defenders; Rodgers tried to flood the midfield and press the defence with speed in the form of Sterling.

To a certain degree, the Liverpool idea worked in that they created about 8 chances – 6 of which were more clear cut – however, David De Gea was in no mood to let anything through.

Sterling should have beaten De Gea on several occasions, particularly one where he had almost rounded him successfully, but De Gea’s footwork and mental strength saw the chance closed down on what was to be a recurring theme even when Mr ‘Why Always Me’ was brought on.

De Gea would have more reason to wear that t-shirt under his jersey as he has been left exposed at the back by his defenders with alarming regularity in recent weeks, but rather than whine about it, he has used the opportunity to shine and cement his place as one of the best keepers in world football today.

It must have been excruciatingly frustrating for Rodgers and co to sit through the constant barrage with no end product, while United broke forward at will and punished their defensive uncertainty with ruthless precision.

matapalaceIt has to be said that the forward line of Rooney-Van Persie-Mata has a sharpness to their game at the moment, after having the opportunity to play together after the injuries and suspensions.

For this case, James Wilson was also on to run at the Liverpool defence while McNair came on late to boost his confidence after the shambles he endured against Southampton.

Carrick’s moonlighting in defence prior to this season has been a sign of desperation, but that has changed to a welcome sight recently as he has brought much needed poise and balance in the defensive distribution.

It is a role that could be filled by Daley Blind when he gets back from injury or when one of either Smalling, Evans and Jones find the composure to marshall a defence and keep things water tight.

The price for this is the lack of screening and anchoring further up the field as Fellaini continues to struggle at the base of midfield. However, LVG did find a suitable stopgap this week by playing Rooney in midfield with Mata.

rooneyRooney has long been touted as a potential successor to Paul Scholes, with his dribbling ability, distribution and eye for goal from range.

Against Liverpool, he showed how deadly he can be coming in late from deep by scoring the first goal to calm frayed nerves.

Occupying a similar role to Angel Di Maria, Rooney provided the drive necessary to stretch the midfield while Mata was allowed to play the neat passing triangles he is so adept at doing.

This is a pattern developing when it comes to playing in the 3-5-2, which unfortunately, means that it is unlikely for us to see Mata and Herrera in the same team at the same time unless the situation calls for it.

Nevertheless, if Rooney is successful and motivated to stake a claim in midfield, it would mean that there is room for Falcao, Van Persie and Rooney to work together in big games.

 

Ohhhh Robin Van Persie!

Ronald Koeman’s Southampton had gone off the boil in recent weeks but deserved a win against United on a late Monday night kickoff. However, Robin Van Persie had other ideas.

As the defence and midfield toiled to cope with the movement of Pelle, Tadic, Long and Mane; struggling for long periods particularly after the early withdrawal (another injury) of Chris Smalling, Van Persie struck twice against the run of play to seal the result for United.

evansAfter a recent run of good form, many players were culpable for anonymous performances:

  • Mata, Fellaini and Herrera failed to stamp their authority in midfield especially when Carrick was dropped back into the back three.
  • Jonny Evans came on for the injured Chris Smalling and proceeded to build evidence of his lack of comfort in the middle of the back three; causing another rejig as Paddy McNair started making mistakes that reminded everyone of his relative youth and inexperience.
  • Antonio Valencia was less confident moving forward, as he was constantly looking over his shoulder to see if he had to cover Mane.
  • Rooney huffed and puffed but dallied on the ball when the rare opportunities presented itself

Really, the only players who came out of this game with any real credit was David De Gea, who produced three brilliant stops (albeit a little unorthodoxed – or lucky) and Robin Van Persie who seems to have regained his sharpness. Ashley Young also grew into his role as left wing-back as the game wore on as he found acres of space on the left flank, though his crossing still leaves much to be desired.

degeaHe does have a pretty good left foot, but his lack of confidence means that crosses are not released early enough for the strikers movement to amount to anything.

Thus, it was left to Van Persie to put the team on his back and win the precious 3 points and the upper hand in the race for Champions League football. The first showed his predatory instincts as a poor back pass by Fonte, and hesitation from Forster allowed him to get a shot away. The finish itself was sublime and delicate enough to evade a desperate Yoshida from clearing off the line.

The second was a late run to the far post as Rooney whipped in a free kick from 35 yards out. RVP somehow managed to turn it in with the outside of his left foot through the legs of Forster to cap his splendid return to form.

With recent reports emerging that Falcao is unhappy with his role on the bench, he might have to wait even longer considering RVP’s form lately. An option would be to drop Rooney deeper into midfield against Liverpool on Sunday, to add some tenacity and aggression into the somewhat tame midfield performance.

With Angel Di Maria set to miss the match against Liverpool, there is a lack of drive and pace in midfield. My personal opinion is that Juan Mata could be rested in favour of Falcao based on this logic.

However, this is contingent on the balance in defence. If the back three does not work, it would be chaos against Liverpool with Raheem Sterling and Coutinho desperate to turn around the fortunes of the struggling arch-rivals.

If United were to revert to a back four, with Blackett or Rojo in left back, while Evans pairs with McNair, screened by Michael Carrick, it would probably be more settled and less prone to succumb to a high pressing game. Having said that, Liverpool have been playing fairly deep of late, so that might be an unnecessary move considering their lacklustre form.

 

 

Midfield supremacy sinks Hull

mataWe feared the worst when Angel Di Maria stopped in his tracks early in the first half.

There’s a lot riding on the No 7 recently when the goals seem to have dried up, but another injury means that the strength in depth of the squad is tested further. Fortunately, Ander Herrera was itching to get off the bench and stamp his mark on the game.

Personally, there’s something special when Herrera lines up alongside Mata and Rooney. Particularly against a Hull side who were unable to get close to the intelligent movement and passing posed by these three, Herrera had a wonderful afternoon orchestrating the midfield dominance that was absent in the first few weeks of the season.

A lot of the composure was due to the presence of Michael Carrick who dictated the tempo with his metronomic passing. His assurance on the ball and positional awareness was crucial in keeping Hull at arm’s length throughout the game.

fellainiAlongside him, Fellaini had another excellent game switching between being a midfield enforcer and target man when necessary. He seems to have found that engine and touch that epitomized his time at Everton. Rather than sitting back, Mata and Fellaini traded positions between the right flank and behind the strikers to great effect.

Mata unselfishly dropped deep in such occasions to knit the passing together and his telepathic relationship with Herrera served the team well as they dovetailed beautifully.

Rooney, Van Persie and Carrick (in certain quarters) will get the headlines, but Smalling was also a leader at the back, shaking off the demons of Man City a few weeks ago. The absence of Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett was a surprise as Ashley Young was preferred at left-back while Valencia continued at right back.

The early signs were that United were going to press as high up the pitch as possible and hope for the best at the back, which is pretty much the most gung ho we have come to expect.

However, the crisp passing game ensured that Hull were suffocated out of a match they were really not ready for.

De Gea Proving Himself in Baptism of Fire

degeaIt was around the time that Fernando Hierro left the club and Ivan Helguera was in limbo with Francisco Pavon not quite the finished article where Iker Casillas truly arrived at the Bernabeu. Playing behing a backline that was rife with attacking intent and defensive indecision, Casillas found himself having to carry the nerves and hopes of the los Blancos on many occasions as the Real Madrid galactico machine sputtered around the Primera Liga.

It seems that time has a way of rehashing old narratives when it comes to Spanish goalkeepers. After enduring a torrid start to his career with the aging Ferdinand and Vidic, De Gea has been forced to acclimatize to the BPL under heavy scrutiny. However, he has emerged the better despite the ever changing rear guard ahead of him.

Paddy McNair, Tyler Blackett and Chris Smalling would have been relieved to see De Gea smothered the many shots on target they allowed the Arsenal forward line. If their shooting boots were on, the scoreline would have been very different.

degea1Danny Welbeck was denied the opportunity to prove a point to LVG as he huffed and puffed but failed to muster anything against De Gea. As ever, Welbeck was ind
ustrious in creating space, shooting opportunities, and chances for his colleagues but De Gea was equal to them at every turn during the first half.

Ultimately, the ‘back three gambit’ worked -just – as United managed to exploit the lack of pace and abundance of space behind the Arsenal high line. However, the defence were often marooned by the midfield as they struggled to cope with Alexis Sanchez and Welbeck pulling them this way and that.

However, the one issue with the back three is that United seem much less comfortable with the ball at the back, often cracking under pressure. As the wing-backs push forward, the three centre-backs seem less assured, possibly due to the passivity of Carrick and/or Fellaini in providing the open option.

With no recognizable full-back in sight after the departure of Luke Shaw through injury, United would most likely be persisting with the back three, unless LVG decides to risk using Reece James or Tyler Blackett at left back. One thing is for sure, is that Antonio Valencia is not much of a full back but is quite passable as a wing back, proven by his stinging cross that forced the opening goal.

On a day when the United forward line struggled to create for 80-odd minutes, it was left to the man with the number 1 on his back to deliver the goods, which he duly did. If only Oliver Giroud was kind enough to afford him the clean sheet, it would have been a day to savour for the future (or current?) Spain no. 1.

Silver Linings for “Glass Half Full” fans

United walked into the weekend with a lot of reasons to be pessimistic but left Old Trafford with a clean sheet, three points, and no serious injuries, or suspensions. That is a win in more ways than one in these desperate times.

mcnairFor one, the assuredness of Paddy McNair at the back has been a welcome sight in recent weeks as he again proved that his promise as a centre back of real quality was no fluke. Alongside the Swiss Army knife that is Daley Blind, and ably assisted by the returning Michael Carrick, United managed to keep out Crystal Palace’s counter attacking endeavours spearheaded by ex-United youth product Fraizer Campbell.

Keeping a 4-1-4-1 shape that was used against Manchester City meant that Wayne Rooney was allowed to drop deeper to play alongside Maroune Fellaini in the attacking midfield, however, the captain showed that his engines were not quite revved up as he misplaced several opportunities and simple passes.

The system has not quite been as impressive as expected. More of a modified 4-5-1 than an out-and-out 4-3-3, Di Maria and Januzaj were responsible for attacking the full-backs and finding space on the wings, with little success. Januzaj has shown promise but, much like Cristiano Ronaldo’s early years or Nani’s whole career thus far, he has yet to unlock the balance and composure needed to affect games on his own (which is a big ask for anyone let alone a 19 year old).

dimariapalaceDi Maria, on the other hand, seems less comfortable as a winger than an “inside-left”, for want of a better term. He seems to prefer starting from deep in a more central position, with the option of going wide rather than from a wide position attacking the full-back. However, he has the ability and tricks to give a full-back twisted blood, and with a growing understanding between him and Luke Shaw, who had an exceptional game, there is more to come from the left flank.

However, Juan Mata did come off the bench to score the winner; drifting in from the wing which he has been adamant is not his best position. Having squandered the opportunity to impress during Rooney’s time out of the side, he must be desperate to show what he’s capable of with rumors swirling of a move abroad in January.

Upfront, RVP is starting to show evidence that strikers probably do age quicker than other footballers, though it would probably be less obvious if he wasn’t ploughing a lone furrow upfront against Dann and Mariappa. With little support from Fellaini and Rooney as far as penetration in to the central areas is concerned, RVP drifted out of the game as Fellaini became the main target man fo r crosses from deep. An alarming reversion to the Moyes ‘hit and hope’ tactic of the 13/14 season.

It is in cases like these that the ingenuity of Herrera would have been a tonic. However, with Herrera would mean sacrificing one of taller members of the midfield, which would expose United’s lack of physicality at set pieces even more.

James Wilson did come on for a cameo, showing flashes of the brilliance that lit up the U21s in recent months. LVG’s trust in the youth would mean that Wilson would have a fair few more chances to come on to impress games wear on.

However, the success story from the Crystal Palace game remains the performance of Paddy McNair. Aside from a miscommunication with Daley Blind on a cross-field pass which Fraizer Campbell skied, he was assured and showed bravery in exploiting the space ahead of him at pace. Riding challenges and providing an outlet for the other two makeshift deep-lying midfielders, the central defender lifted the crowd as he burst forward to support the attack.

As United dominated possession, there were several instances where the United defence had to ride out periodic waves of Palace attacks, though with a little more incision, De Gea would have a little more to do on the day.

Still, as United shuttled the ball around as they often do, there was a fluidity and efficiency between McNair, Blind and Carrick as they anchored the defence which at times looked like a – whisper it – back three.

carrickThere were concerns that Michael Carrick or Darren Fletcher might be left out in the cold with the acquisition of Daley Blind. But on current evidence, Blind may be needed more in defence, as terrifying as that may seem considering his built.

However, what they lack in brawn, they make up for in brains as Carrick and Blind showed a knack for being at the right place, at the right time.

Carrick has been lauded as a potential sweeper, which seems very likely as he moves towards the twilight of his career. Like Lothar Matthaus (not the most popular example I would imagine), he has the sensibility and range of passing to launch attacks from the back.

Nonetheless, United now sits two points off the top four; which makes the ambitions for a Champions League spot this season ever more attainable.

Here’s hoping for a Christmas surge reminiscent of the Ferguson era.

 

 

A Rush of Blood

“Offense wins games, defense wins championships” – NFL coach

Regardless of the sport, the old adage gets wheeled out every time a team, top heavy with attacking talent, fails to shore it up on the defensive end.

During the Ferguson era, United never failed to strengthen at the back to ensure the continuity and solidity at the back would be maintained. Sure, injuries always took its toll but there was always a clutch of centrebacks right up towards the end Ferguson’s reign when we started seeing Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher at centre back.

The centre-back position had always been a role for imports at the club. Starting with the legendary partnership of Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister, then Ronny Johnsen, Henning Berg, David ‘Selfie’ May; to Silvestre, Ferdinand, Vidic; United had always needed to fork out good money after bad to anchor the defence.

This doesn’t include the likes of William Prunier, and Laurent Blanc who were quite woeful during their time at United.

Although the United Academy have also produced a large number of central defenders, though for whatever reason, they are quite readily shipped out to Premiership/Championship teams with/without first team experience such as in the case of Wes Brown, John O’Shea, James Chester, Scott Wooton, Ryan Shawcross, Craig Cathcart, Chris Casper, and notably Gerard Pique.

However, United were quite happy to shell out money to capture Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, earmarked as ‘future England centre back pairing’. jones

However, both players have one thing in common that most United fans shudder at the thought of.

Like bulls at the sight of the colour red, both Jones and Smalling are prone to lunge at oncoming attackers when they feel there’s a half-chance of them winning the ball.

Almost like a throwback to the days of Bobby Moore and Terry Butcher, Jones and Smalling seem to enjoy the full-blooded challenge, the aerial battles and the physical rough and tumble more than others.

Against West Brom, Phil Jones, was caught out of position more than once in an attempt to win the ball when a cooler head and better positional awareness would have served the team better.

Jones has also made numerous trips to the physio’s table, not due to the actions of others, but through his own overzealousness in the tackle or challenging for a header.

The whole Captain Marvel routine can be quite admirable; however, this isn’t the 90s anymore. United can’t afford to have more defenders sidelined because they lost their head.

Chris Smalling’s red card underlined his lack of maturity in handling the big occasion. The first yellow card was silly as there was really no reason to get in Joe Hart’s face like that.

And there was no reason for him to lunge into James Milner as he did, almost inviting Michael Oliver to send him down the tunnel for an early bath.

vidaBoth Smalling and Jones are only 24 and 22 respectively, still they have been around the first team long enough to have no reason to hide from the criticism coming their way. Berserkers they may be, but what United really need at the back at the moment are generals who can command and galvanize the defensive unit in the way that Vidic once did.

Despite his brawn and taste for the scrap, Vidic had an authority and calmness about him as he organizes the defence. You can really see it especially when defending set pieces as he sets up the defensive assignments, ensuring that the details are being taken care of.

Jonny Evans (the 2012 edition) had that run of form where he was basically the most composed defender in the squad. At the time, journos were commenting on which one of Ferdinand or Vidic would be partnering him instead of the other way around.

Still, Evans has been erratic in terms of fitness and confidence in the past few years so he has a lot to prove if he can come back from his latest injury. Jonny Evans

The one consolation is the relative assuredness that Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett have exhibited during their outings with the first team, showing that they are not quite cut from the same cloth as their English colleagues.

The knee-jerk reaction to this run of form would be to dip into the January transfer window to capture a central defender capable of belatedly filling Vidic’s position. Still, as Hummels is unavailable (for United anyway), there is little options available in the same calibre who would be able to step into his boots.

The ideal scenario would be that this crucible would be the stepping stone for United’s defence to emerge the stronger. However, history does not favour that view at all.

 

The Sleeping Giant Awakens

fellaini moyesThis time last season a lot of United fans were curling the lip as a familiar afro landed in Old Trafford clutching a United jersey.

Seen as the most obvious transfer target to rubber stamp the Moyes era at United, Fellaini’s arrival was the footnote of one of the most dissappointing transfer windows in the history of the club.

As target after target was bungled, Moyes and Woodward had to fall back on a man whose buy out clause had lapsed meaning United had to shell out an extra few million quid to get their man.

Still I was quietly optimistic about his strengths being an asset to the team. Fellaini’s brand of physicality, brawn and skill would provide a different dimension to the United attack.

However, it was quickly apparent that he would utilized more in a defensive position.

And it was also quickly apparent that he was in way over his head. Ridiculous bonce and all.

Fellaini quickly became a caricature of the Moyes regime. Clumsy, brutish and not quite impressive, there was little of the lynchpin that powered Everton through many a Premiership opposition.

fellaini2Many felt that LVG’s arrival would mean that Fellaini would be on his way soon enough. The speculation surrounding Arturo Vidal, and the signings of Daley Blind and Ander Herrera mean that there are less spots available in central midfield where Fellaini stated was his preferred position, while the number 10 position had its own queue, with Rooney, Mata and Januzaj all in line.

However, LVG’s reversion to a 4-3-3 seems to have created a space for someone of Fellaini’s expertise.

In the absence of Rooney (suspension), Valencia and Herrera (both injured), Fellaini has impressed in recent games against West Brom (half) and Chelsea with his impression of the defensive forward.

A position made famous by Ji-Sung ‘Three Lung’ Park, who was central to United’s impressive showings in Europe during his time at United. Park was instrumental in hassling the likes of Andrea Pirlo, etc. and was key in disrupting the opposition’s tempo and organization.

Playing ahead of Daley Blind in midfield almost alongside Mata or RVP, Fellaini has shown an aptitude for disrupting deep-lying passers which he played to much effect against Cesc Fabregas. The position also allows him to roam forward as in his Everton days, culminating in his first goal for United against West Brom last week.

His usefulness in set pieces has been well documented, and he adds much needed height and aerial ability in the backline when defending especially with two diminutive full backs in Shaw and Rafael.

Fellaini had a major part in RVP’s equalizer against Chelsea, crashing a bullet header against the palms of Courtois as he rose unchallenged in the Chelsea box in the last minute.

The confidence he has gained in the last two matches would serve him well as he could be asked to do a man marking job on Yaya Toure in next week’s derby against City.

This would make him a useful cog in future matches against opposition with a continental flavor, with Fellaini pegging back the marauding deep lying passers that are central to the ‘tiki taka’ or passing system such as Mikel Arteta, Steven Gerrard, Mile Jedinak, etc.

 

Taking Stock of the LVG Revolution

So here we sit at the second international break of the season with our first consecutive wins since the beginning of LVG’s reign as United manager.

Having inherited a squad severely lacking in confidence and missing a few key pieces through transfers and injury, LVG has had a rocky introduction to life in the BPL. This has not been helped by the growing injury list, as well as a couple of suspensions as we played our way out of the rut of losing to Leicester 5-3.

man-utd-falcao-rooney-van-persie-mata_3202576However, the arrival of several exciting new signings has gotten the fans going again, with impressive performances coming from Angel Di Maria, Daley Blind, Ander Herrera and Radamel Falcao; while existing players such as Rafael, David De Gea, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Antonio Valencia have really found a new lease on life under new management.

blackettLVG has also not been shy of introducing youth into the squad, starting the season with Tyler Blackett and Jesse Lingard (who went off injured), and later introducing Paddy McNair, as well as James Wilson, and Tom Thorpe off the bench. The only one who has any cause for concern is Adnan Januzaj who has yet to influence matters in the first team since the start of the season.

Nonetheless, United’s massive outlay over the summer has lead to rumours that it could carry on to the winter transfer window, with names such as Arturo Vidal and Kevin Strootman still being mentioned among rumor mills. However, it is hard to say if there is space for more personnel in this current squad; which is fairly bloated after the recent acquisitions:

GK:

David De Gea
Anders LindegaardBen Amos
Sam Johnstone

RB:

Rafael
Antonio Valencia*Chris Smalling*
Marnick Vermijl

CB:

Phil Jones
Jonny Evans
Chris Smalling
Marcos Rojo
Patrick McNair
Tom Thorpe
Daley Blind*

LB:

Luke Shaw
Reece James
Marcos Rojo*Tyler Blackett*
Daley Blind*

DM:

Daley Blind
Darren Fletcher
Michael Carrick
Maroune Fellaini
RCM:

Ander Herrera
Antonio Valencia
Darren Fletcher*
Ashley Young*
Jesse Lingard
Anderson
LCM:

Angel Di Maria
Ashley Young
Adnan Januzaj*
Andreas Perreira
Saidy Janko

AM:

Wayne Rooney
Juan Mata
Adnan Januzaj
Maroune Fellaini*
ST:

Robin Van Persie
Falcao
Wayne Rooney*James Wilson
William Keane

* denotes secondary or tertiery position the player has been known to occupy

On paper, the real danger is probably at RB where Rafael is the only specialist with probably Marnick Vermijl as a direct replacement. The only other options are Antonio Valencia (who had a good performance at RWB), and using one of the CBs as RB as Ferguson did during his time.

At LB, United has a few players who can play there with Marcos Rojo an able replacement for Luke Shaw, though he has shown much more discipline in tracking back when deployed in the centre. Tyler Blackett has shown the touch and awareness to handle the LB position effectively.

carrickIn DM, a lot depends on how LVG assesses the capability of Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick in shielding the back four. Michael Carrick has shown the intelligence and discipline necessary to anchor the midfield married with his exceptional distribution; however, he can be passive and has been caught dithering on possession in the past.

His injury statistics also make him a worry but he should have enough left in his tank to play a supporting role behind Daley Blind who has shown all of the above but with more pace, precision and aggression. Whether or not he is happy with that remains to be seen.

Darren Fletcher’s promotion to vice captain could mean that he would be ahead of Michael Carrick in the pecking order, but his distribution is sorely lacking in this department with a lack of vision and calmness to really hurt the opposition from a deep lying position. However, he has the tenacity to impose himself on the midfield and his seniority in this United side is unquestioned. He could be deployed on the right (at Ander Herrera’s expense) when a bit more grit is required, but that may be counter productive for the balance of the team.

Angel Di Maria is practically undroppable based on his current form. However, behind him probably only Ashley Young has shown (in flashes) the kind of penetration and dribbling ability to do a similar job on the left, and probably Wayne Rooney at a stretch.

The front three really do pick themselves at this point with Rooney seemingly preferred at the AM position at the expense of Juan Mata and RVP and Falcao installed as the preferred partnership upfront.

This means that there is a lack of striking quality on the bench though, with Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata both more adept at playing the AM role than the ST role; though it means that James Wilson is in a better position to get substitute experience off the bench.

At this rate, I believe that United have the numbers in every position if LVG sticks with his philosophy of blooding the youth. The competition for places at this point is still high with players all jostling to play. The lack of games also don’t help matters so it doesn’t make sense to add numbers to the squad in January unless certain players leave (looking at you Ashley Young, Maroune Fellaini, and Anderson).

RVP did mention that the pieces are in place for a proper title run in. If United have everyone fit and raring to go, things should get interesting come May.