A lot has been written in the press over the past few weeks about United being a team in decline. The claims are unsurprising; having blown an 8 point lead at the top of the Premier League, with City being all but confirmed Champions for the first time in 44 years, it would be surprising if anything wasn’t written. However, it doesn’t mean the claims are true and I really think people need to look at this realistically.
Yes we’re more than likely to be runners up to the richest club in the world, but they’re the richest club in world. There’s no way of numbing the pain of losing a title to your arch rivals, but there are a few positives we can take from it. At the end of the day, we’re likely to lose the league on just goal difference, and having been beaten by them home and away in the league this season we’ve done well to claw back from an already large 6-point deficit. We are currently 19 points clear of Arsenal, 20 clear of Spurs, 21 clear of Newcastle and a massive 25 clear of Chelsea. Liverpool also trail us by 37 points. If we are a team in decline, what does that make all of the listed above? City are only in that position because of Sheikh Mansour’s petro-dollars, so take them out of the equation and we are by far and away better than the chasing pack, with a much limited budget too.
As we often have under Ferguson, we have been a team going through a transitional period this season. The departures of players of the calibre of Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville, Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Paul Scholes this summer would have hit every club even if they spent millions of pounds replacing them. Given we replaced them with David De Gea, Phil Jones and the promotion of Tom Cleverley who are all young players, we’ve done well. Replacing a number of experienced campaigners with a number of youngsters was always going to take have a toll as they settled down and improved. Whilst Jones’ form has tailed off towards the end of the season, next season we can expect he will come back and show the kind of form he did until his injury against Fulham in December.
Elsewhere, Cleverley looks like he’s going to make something happen every time he comes on and was unfortunate not to score his first goal for the club against Swansea. Given an injury free run in the side, he will start to show the form he did early in this campaign and probably have a similar effect to that of Jack Wilshere at Arsenal. Finally, De Gea has shown in the past few months what he is capable of and given the right preparations on his physique in the summer, we will see him have a settled and consistent campaign next season like he has had the second half of this year. Other signing Ashley Young had a superb game against Swansea and has had a decent season overall. Whilst it’s frustrating to see him dive, I believe he should be our first choice on the left wing, along with Antonio Valencia as first choice on the right. As good as Nani is, he doesn’t put the team before personal glory like Young and Valencia and I would happily see him sold if a big money offer came in for him. Nani has, and always will be, selfish.
Whilst we can take positives out of the season, there’s no doubting that the cup and European competitions have been a massive failure this season. We lost in the League Cup to Championship opposition, the FA cup to Liverpool and then the Champions League and Europa League to some teams who aren’t the best in their respective nations, never mind in Europe! Given our recent record of three Champions League finals in four years, this is terrible and without wanting to sound spoilt, not good enough. Unfortunately, players who have been so consistent in the big games for us down the years just haven’t performed when required. Park Ji-Sung and Ryan Giggs’ recent performances against City were the worst I’ve seen in a while. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face, but Giggs is in serious danger of damaging his legacy with recent performances. Quite frankly, it was horrible seeing him struggle like he did against City.
A special mention has to go out to Mike Phelan. Whenever you watch a game on TV, he always seems to be sat there looking clueless, especially when we are getting beat or drawing in games we really should be winning. People weren’t complimentary of Carlos Queiroz, but his tenure as Fergie’s number two coincided with one of our most recent successful spells. The tactics against Barcelona in 2008 that he devised were spot on. Frankly, the failure to strengthen in central midfield has cost us this season. Whilst Michael Carrick has had his best season in a United shirt, we never replaced Paul Scholes and as good as the ginger prince has been since his return, he can’t go on forever. Giggs’ best days are behind him and the aforementioned Cleverley still has a lot to do before we can deem him our midfield magician. Whilst injuries to Cleverley, Anderson and Darren Fletcher haven’t helped, it is simply not good enough that we were not able to sign someone of the calibre of Wesley Sneijder or Luka Modric.
Whilst the apparent signing of Shinji Kagawa is a good start, we need someone of the calibre of Yaya Toure in there. The way he breaks up play and turns defence into attack is brilliant, and as his two goals against Newcastle showed he can turn up when it matters. The Glazers now need to commit something in the region of
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