A Gooner’s View of Other Clubs of The 2014-15 Season Part 8
Hi everyone. This is part eight of my series of blogs about the status of the Premiership Clubs of the 2014-2015 Season following the conclusion of the League season. In this blog, I’ll be focusing on Manchester United. Of course, all of this is my own opinion, so feel free to disagree and debate!
Ah, this is one club, along with Spurs, that all Gooners love to hate. However, they have given us plenty of laughs over the last 2 seasons, with some baffling results from Moyes and van Gaal in addition to the loss of “Fergie Time” at Old Trafford – if you aren’t familiar with that concept, it’s when United are level or behind after 90 minutes of play and then at least 5 minutes of extra time out of nowhere were added on – everyone remembers that Michael Owen goal that he scored after nearly 7 extra minutes vs. Manchester City to win the match for United 4-3 a few seasons back? Yup, Fergie Time at its finest!
This season, though, with the massive player investment that happened and the recruitment of a Champions League-winning manager in Aloysius (Louis to his friends) van Gaal ensured that there would be less laughter from opposition fans, with Ryan Giggs staying on as Assistant Manager after his brief caretaker Manager role at the end of the 2013-14 season.
Manchester United welcomed a number of high-profile signings, including British record signing Angel di Maria, an Argentina international winger, for almost 60 million Pounds from the Champions League holders Real Madrid, Argentina international defender Marcos Rojo from Sporting C.P. for 16 million Pounds, left-back Luke Shaw from Southampton for an undisclosed fee rumoured to be around 30 million Pounds, midfielder Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao for around 29 million Pounds, left-back and defensive midfielder Daley Blind from Ajax, a regular for the Netherlands national team, for around 14 million Pounds and Columbia international striker Falcao for 6 million Pounds on loan from Monaco (on 265 000 Pounds per week wages!) with a near-44 million Pounds buy option at the end of the loan.
Amongst the high-profile exits were Nani, Chicharito, Wilfried Zaha and Tom Cleverly out on loan (to Sporting C.P., Real Madrid, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa, respectively), former Captain Nemanja Vidic (to Internazionale) and Rio Ferdinand (to Q.P.R.) on free transfers, with full-back Alex Buttner moving to Dinamo Moscow for 4.4 million Pounds, France international full-back Patrice Evra going to Juventus for 1.2 million Pounds, striker Bebe moving to Benfica for 2.4 million Pounds, midfielder Shinji Kagawa returning on a permanent basis to Borussia Dortmund for an undisclosed fee and England international forward Danny Welbeck moving to Arsenal for 16 milllion Pounds. Vice-captain Darren Fletcher left in the winter window for West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer, with Anderson also exiting on a free transfer to Internacional and Wilfried Zaha signed a permanent deal with his former club Crystal Palace for 3 million Pounds. Michael Keane completed his move to Burnley after impressing there on loan. Phew!
United, in hindsight, had average league form by their standards for most of the season, with 3 home Premier League losses (against Swansea, Southampton and West Brom) and 5 away losses (vs. Chelsea, Everton, Swansea, Manchester City and Leicester) – they did, however, do the Double on their eternal rivals Liverpool and also on Crystal Palace. United also, however, drew 10 times over the course of the Premier League season, with 6 draws before the New Year, including draws away from home with Sunderland, Burnley and Villa before New Year – that’s 6 dropped points against teams that the United of the recent past would have comfortably put to the sword. Granted, Burnley at Turf Moor were a well-organised outfit but against Poyet’s Sunderland and Lambert’s Villa? They should have won those.
The one match that United fans would be most disappointed about was the 1-2 home loss in the F.A. Cup Quarter-Final vs. Arsenal, not only because United can boast a very good record vs. Arsenal over the past decade but because it was the player they sold to Arsenal, Danny Welbeck, who had played for United and came up through their Academy, who scored the winning goal – it was also disappointing for United as the F.A. Cup was their best chance of winning a trophy in van Gaal’s debut season (United went out of the League Cup to M.K. Dons in Round 2 in August), as they were too far behind to challenge for the Premier League and had not played in any European competition, the first year since 1989-90 they had not done so – a ban on English clubs playing in Europe following the Heysel disaster was still in place at that time.
United’s goal difference of +25 shows they were deserving of their 4th placed finish and not finishing higher, having conceded a similar number of goals to Arsenal and Manchester City but scoring at least 9 less than either over the 38 matches. United’s biggest problem this past season, as outlined above, was their inability to score goals when they needed to – Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney only scored 22 goals between them in the League, a much lower tally than they normally would score, due in part to van Persie’s ongoing injury issues (welcome to the feeling Arsenal fans had for years!) and Rooney spending a number of matches in midfield, due to United’s lack of numbers there following the loaning out of Cleverly, injuries to Carrick and the departure of Fletcher mid-season. Falcao was not much help, only netting 4 times in the League – however, 9 goals from Juan Mata and 6 each from Herrera and Fellaini helped United’s push for the Champions League places.
However, it must also be noted that it took a few months for van Gaal’s tactical system and philosophy to be adopted by the team, as it was very different to the ultra-defensive style of Moyes and open, attacking play used by Ferguson. Van Gaal generally favours a 3-5-2 formation utilising wing-backs, which started to find some success later in the season as the players had started to adapt to it. Ashley Young in particular stood out at left wing-back, having a number of good displays towards the latter part of the season. Chris Smalling looked all at sea until November or so and then steadily improved to the end of the season. Wayne Rooney showed off his always-impressive work rate, tirelessly attempting to win balls in midfield and drive on his club when he was not playing as striker (and occasionally when he was). Marouane Fellaini also had a poor start to the season when he was deployed as more of a defensive midfielder, but when he was moved to attacking midfield, with long balls lobbed at his mass of hair, he was effective in knocking the ball down and creating opportunities for team-mates and finished off a few chances himself. Michael Carrick, sadly, struggled with injuries, starting only 16 league matches, but was always calm and impressive when he was able to play – he’s a classy ball-playing holding midfielder and is the closest thing England have to Andrea Pirlo – however, it is much more noticeable when he is absent, such is the strength and importance of his game for United.
However, the stand-out performer for United was the Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea, who was arguably the most impressive goalkeeper in the league, saving United many points with his superb efforts in goal and he made few errors over the course of the season. The biggest disappointments of the season were Angel di Maria (his 3 league goals came in less than a month between September and early October and then nothing in the league for the remainder of the season), Falcao (4 goals over a season for a predatory, supposedly world-class striker was not a good effort, although his work rate for the team did improve after February) and Antonio Valencia, who has never impressed me when played as a full-back or wing-back, as he is simply not suited for that role and does not possess the skills required.
For United to progress next season, a decent partner must be found for Rooney – van Persie would be an option if he could keep fit (the mantra of Gooners for years!). There have also been rumours about van Persie’s exit to Fenerbahce, but at the time of writing this article, he remains a United player. Within the club, James Wilson looks a good prospect but needs time so he isn’t really an option to partner Rooney at present. United need an experienced, clinical finisher, which is what they tried to do this past season with Falcao, who, granted, was coming back from a serious knee injury. I think a possibility could be Gonzalo Higuain, but he would cost a huge amount of money – there is a rumour of him having a release clause with Napoli valued in excess of 50 million Pounds. With Napoli failing to qualify for the Champions League, he would, for me, be the most likely replacement for van Persie if van Persie left. Of couse, the other experienced option would be Edinson Cavani from Paris Saint-Germain, with his valuation likely to be close to Higuain’s.
As far as the midfield goes, Adnan Januzaj looked much less effective than in the previous season and must work on his temperament and consistency. Nani, who spent the season on loan at Sporting C.P. has recently completed a move to Fenerbahce in Turkey’s Super Lig for around 4.2 million Pounds, so a replacement winger should be sought by van Gaal, especially if di Maria’s exit rumours prove correct. Phil Jones, while he has strong will and temperament, needs to work on his skills as a defender and midfield player, particularly his positioning and tackling – he was caught out of position a number of times and it was largely luck saved his blushes, but that can be excused in some part due to his youth and exuberance. It is my opinion that United need to find at least one more central midfielder, due in part to Carrick’s age, Fletcher’s exit and Jones appearing more in a defensive role – I think Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton would likely be a good fit to partner Ander Herrera for a few seasons. Tom Cleverly has also completed a free transfer move to Everton a few weeks ago, which further depletes the numbers available and make a central midfield signing one of van Gaal’s priorities.
United’s defence, though, is the area most in need of reinforcement – while Smalling has improved under van Gaal and Rojo looks a decent signing thus far, Jonny Evans and left-back Luke Shaw have had injury problems (Evans also incurred a 6 match suspension) and Phil Jones had to play in place of Evans, with occasional appearances from the youngsters Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett – Blackett, sadly, does not look to be of United quality to me and I don’t think he will stay there for more than one season unless he improves massively, and fast. At least one quality centre-back (preferably from a team experienced in the Champions League or Europa League) will need to come in, as well as a right-back – Rafael has some disciplinary issues and hardly played, while Valencia is simply not a right-back or right wing-back. It was surprising to me that United didn’t manage to beat Liverpool to signing Nathaniel Clyne, as, for me, he would have been ideal there.
Right, that’s all for this one. What do you think? Let me know!
The first time I saw Dennis Bergkamp play was in 1996 – I started following Arsenal properly in 1998 after the World Cup. When Arsenal then signed Thierry Henry – a player I had seen in that World Cup win by France – as well as already having Vieira and Petit there, plus several English stars like Tony Adams, Martin Keown and David Seaman just cemented Arsenal as the club for me. There was very little football coverage in South Africa during the 1990s as rugby was (and still is) the dominant sport here.
I was not really ushered in any specific direction in terms of which club to support – I chose Arsenal myself. It’s only over the last 3 years that I have been able to watch matches regularly – we get excellent TV coverage of European football now and I try to watch all Arsenal matches live.