Why Manchester United Don’t Need Big Changes

By on May 12, 2010

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By Jason Mathias.

Had you been listening to some pundits in the last week, you might think Manchester United need wholesale changes in the summer if they are to challenge Chelsea for the League and regain their European supremacy. They say that the Manchester United team isn’t good enough at the moment, that they are defensively frail and that they rely too much on the ‘old guard’ and the goals of Wayne Rooney. But this season has been less about a lack of quality and more about a lack of good luck.

Sir Alex Ferguson has pointed out that the week United lost everything was in early April with the defeat to Chelsea, exit from the Champions League and the draw at Blackburn. Bad luck played a starring role in this week. The bitterness in me could suggest that the linesman’s decision to keep his flag by his side as Didier Drogba scored at Old Trafford is what cost us the title. But unfortunately, and to use a cliché, that’s football. I’m sure Manchester United have had their fair share of dodgy decisions go their way this season. The performance against Bayern was brilliant until Rafael was sent off, and seeing them meander through to the final after beating a terrible Lyon side made painful viewing.

While that week was certainly damaging to the season, I’d like to point out the main slice of bad luck to our season. The fact that the defence was completely decimated for a costly period where we were battered by Fulham. For a good month, United had a maximum of 3 defenders fit. Only the God-like Patrice Evra managed to stay off the treatment table. It was the unluckiest injury crisis I’ve known. Could Chelsea manage a situation with only Ashley Cole fit? No Cech, Terry, Carvalho, Alex, Ivanovic, Zhirkov, Bosingwa, Ferreira, for 3 games? We went into that Fulham match with a back 3 of Ritchie de Laet, Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick. Combine that game with the loss against Villa at home the week before and it becomes a crucial moment of the season.

Let me get all Benitez on you and give you some facts. Despite the aforementioned period of defensive massacre, and having Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic available sparingly all season, Manchester United had the best defence in the league. ‘Frail’, is it? Once again, the young stand-ins like Jonny Evans and Rafael have been fantastic for us, not to mention ‘Postman’ Pat Evra delivering the goods as always. But surely without the world’s best player United must have suffered going forward? Not so. United scored more goals this season than last. Fact. Yes, the majority of them came from Wayne Rooney (I’ll get on to that next), but it’s an improvement, not a sign of a team going backwards.

So, this over-reliance on Wayne Rooney. Yes, he’s scored 34 in total and next in the list are Berbatov and up-and-comer ‘Own Goals’ on 12 a-piece. It’s not hard to admit that we do rely on him, but isn’t that what the world’s best players do? People will lazily throw out the ‘one man team’ phrase, but the whole point is that the likes of Ronaldo, Rooney and Messi are SO good that they put themselves on a much higher pedestal than their teammates. It’s when the ‘one man’ is Jimmy Bullard that you have to start worrying. Despite the derogatory way the phrase is used, it’s not an insult to the team that they rely on one player more than others. It can’t be helped if that player happens to be better than the rest! Besides, it’s not as if we were awful without him. Rooney played no part in 5 Premier League games this season, against Chelsea and Blackburn in ‘the week’ and the 3 wins against Wolves and Bolton twice. Not the greatest calibre of teams I know, but United didn’t exactly fall apart without him.

Another point that always riles me with these pundits is the amount we still depend on the older members of the squad, notably Neville, Giggs and Scholes. Apparently it’s a sign that United haven’t moved on, how can a top team continue to use players over 35 etc etc. Well, maybe, just maybe, they’re playing well enough to keep their places. Maybe it’s a testament to their quality that they can still play at the highest level at their age, and not a reflection of the team’s stagnation. What does age matter if these players can still cut it? It only seems to matter when they occasionally have a bad game (like any player) and they become ‘past it’. Fergie has a phrase ‘if you’re good enough you’re old enough’ in relation to young players and it’s just as true for the older ones. Sentiment is nothing to do with it. If a player regresses, you can bet your hairdryer that Ferguson will drop them. Roy Keane left after 12 years, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville similarly. Neville, Giggs and Scholes aren’t being kept around because of their legacies, but because they can still provide for the first team. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs made their highest goalscoring returns for 5 years, and Gary Neville eventually overcame his injury worries to reclaim the right back position and get himself in contention for the World Cup.

Assuming those 3 can keep up their performances next season (would you bet against it?), I don’t believe there are many changes required at all. Nor do I believe there will be. Next season the homegrown quota comes into effect, meaning only 25 players over the age of 21 can be registered to play in the Premier League, with 8 of the 25 being classified as ‘home grown’. This isn’t much of a problem for United, who easily meet this criteria, but what it does mean is that wholesale additions cannot be made. Going for 4 competitions means the squad needs to be big, and it is. So fans’ Football Manager dreams of bringing in a lot of foreigners will not happen. The only addition I think is needed is in midfield. We need someone to match Lampard and Fabregas for goals and assists. And who knows, that player could already be at the club, if Anderson can start fulfilling his potential. Aside from that, even with Foster leaving, the squad is set. It may be hard for United fans to sit back and watch this summer as Man City and Chelsea (and maybe even Arsenal) splash the cash, but don’t worry, Fergie knows what he’s doing.

Do you think Manchester United have had a poor season? Do they need a lot of changes in the summer? Please leave your comments below.

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7 Comments

  1. MancH8R

    May 12, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Man U were very poor by the standards that have been set over the past decade. Personally, I don’t see them bouncing back from this and with a bit of “luck” they will go into decline for a few years. That’s probably the only way you will get rid of the Glaziers anyway.

    Chelsea and Man City are going to spend big and nowadays Man U (like Liverpool) won’t be able to keep up.

    Something tells me there will be a new big 4 emerging in the EPL over the next few years

    • Olegend

      May 13, 2010 at 1:58 pm

      LOL… MancH8R….are you a comedian trying out your new material. Its hillarious you poor disillusional Man Cite fan. Your clubs lack of success is obviously starting to get to you.

      Anyway, good luck attracting these so called big game players i’m sure they won’t be able to resist the pull of the Europa League.

  2. munir

    May 12, 2010 at 11:18 am

    totally agree with the article. with only 1 point behind the eventual winner why the need for wholesale changes? saf is building another one of his great team with all the young lads and new signings. he’s the godfather of premier league after all. everybody else…shut up!

  3. Deniz

    May 12, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Although I agree wholesale changes are not needed there certainly needs to be at least 2 quality additions and maybe 1 or 2 going the other way. However, what I cant agree with is your reference to ‘luck’. Dont be fooled by a 1 point difference, we lost 13 games in all competitions this season… that is unacceptable and we were the lucky ones that Chelsea somehow threw points away all season to allow us an outside chance. If you were being honest Chelsea were far and away the best team, they did the double over United, Liverpool and Arsenal and scored 103 goals along the way. So although I dont think we were a million miles away we were worse off than that 1 point may suggest.

    You have to stop using luck as your argument for United’s failings, as I said, we lost 13 games this season and yes, we were unlucky against Fulham because we couldnt field a back 4 but what was the excuse against Burnley, Liverpool, Villa, Leeds, Beyern away, Besiktas and Everton?

    The over reliance on Rooney was for all to see, his 2nd half of the season carried us and when he was injured we lost to Chelsea, were knocked out of Europe and then we drew with Blackburn. Of course you rely on the best players but unfortunately in the attcking area we are really short. Macheda and Welbeck have not made the progression that maybe Sir Alex thought they would this year, Owen was a gamble but with only 9 goals and an injury since Feb it didnt pay off and Berbatov just isnt a United player. I am not saying he is bad but for whatever reason he just hasnt hit it off, it happens, I mean look at Forlan, couldnt score to save his life in a United shirt… you send him to Spain for £2m and he becomes a goalscoring machine. Not having another quality forward to partner or deputise has been one of Sir Alex’s biggest mistakes this season.

    I understand your emotion when considering Neville, Scholes and Giggs, they are absolute legends but I think you are forgetting that we didnt win the League, we were knocked out of the cup by a League 1 side and we bombed in Europe so our squad hasnt been good enough. Somewhere something isnt right, already I can sense that you think Fletcher is a top player and had a great season, I would think you have similar thoughts about Valencia and would also bet that you think Nani has been rejuvinated and preogressing well? I would agree but this midfield didnt score enough goals so we need new players, that is not up for debate, we need at least 1 or 2 who can create and score. Therefore, when considering Uniteds options you have to look at the older players moving on, it makes no sense to replace the likes of Nani, Fletcher and Valencia so if we signed someone like Silva or Atreta where would they play? A midfield of Scholes and Silva? No, more likely to fit him in with someone like Fletch or even Hargreaves if he returns. The 3 old players and you can add VDS into this as well should not be first choice players anymore, it wasnt Fergies intention but his signings have not paid off. Foster was meant to have been our number 1 by now but instead he is off to Birmingham, Rafael has not progressed on last seasons breakthrough which has meant Neville played a lot more than he should have and Anderson and Nani have not replaced Scholes and Giggs. For the combined £35m and 3 years on they have not lived up to the hype at all, I believe they have the potential still but there is no way Sir Alex thought that these two would be going into their 4th seaon with us still trying to replace the old guard. I also dont agree that Scholes and Giggs have been good enough, I think in patches they have rolled back the years but not over a long hard season. They should be used sparingly but the fact the Carrick, Park, Anderson, Nani plus others havent been able to keep these out suggests collectively we are not good enough in this area and need changes.

    So, in all I think we do need to strengthen…. if we dont we will be left behind. We were fortunate this season that we managed to stay in the race as long as we did. In any other season we wouldnt have come close, it was a weird old season and this, in my opinion was the worst United team since we won the League for the first time in 93′. I am hopeful of 3 new signings, definitely a striker, a creative midfielder and then depending on hargreaves maybe Defensive Midfielder too.

    • Jason Mathias

      May 12, 2010 at 12:54 pm

      I am by no means suggesting luck was the reason for all of our defeats, but I do think that without that injury crisis and having Rio and Vidic available more, we could have won the league. Chelsea’s record in the ‘grand slam’ games this season is flawless, and they will rightly point to that as the reason for their success. You’re right, it was a strange old season and despite Chelsea’s goals for tally, no team really excelled consistently. It will surely be much the same next season.

      I think the homegrown quota will be a big deal from now on, it means Chelsea will have to get rid of 3 or 4 players and City won’t be able to buy expensive foreigners in the numbers they have been. United though, are set. Let’s see what happens.

  4. timbo

    May 12, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Ridiculous piece. United only lost by one point by virtue of the fact that all the other major teams also had lackluster seasons as well – Chelsea only really kicked into gear for the last few games, having dropped points all season to minnows, just as United did. In forty odd years of watching top flight British football I can barely recall any other season to match the one just completed for the overall poor quality put on display. United in particular looked very pedestrian and one-dimensional for most of the season, relying on wing play for opportunities in lieu of any incisiveness in attack from the midfield. Despite the fact Berbatov has become everyone’s favourite whipping boy for all that is wrong with United the fact is that the Bulgarian has had to suffer for the midfield’s lack of class, with Fergie opting to play a single striker to bolster the engine room with an extra man. If anyone should shoulder the blame for United’s less than stellar play this year it should be Carrick, not Berbatov, because it’s been the Englishman’s plodding lack of creativity and poor defense, more so than anyone else, that has necessitated the extra man in midfield to prevent the better teams dominating play. Asking Scholes and Giggs to try and bolster things is a sign of how little depth United currently has in the most influential area of the pitch. Both should be playing cameo roles in their twilight years, not being asked to trundle their weary legs out on to center stage game after game. If, and it’s a big if, both Hargreaves and Anderson could come back and play as we know they can then certainly United could again prosper in midfield, but as things stand Anderson seems to have developed attitude and doesn’t have his head in the right place, while Hargo’s long term fitness remains an open question. End result is that United need to dump Carrick and find two world class players, a midfield enforcer to look after the back four, and a creative spar plug like Modric to open up the attack, provide the missing link to the likes of Rooney and Berbatov, and throw in the kind of goals we used to rely upon from Scholes during his glory days. Some cover at left and right back might also be in line, because right back has been an issue all year, and rumour has it that Evra might be on his way out as well. Neville is past his best, O’Shea is a good team man but workmanlike, and the Da Silva twins, while promising, are still short on experience.

  5. Craig

    May 12, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    I agree that Carrick was the worst player by far. With no midfield ,how do you expect any striker to shine, not everyone is like rooney. Let improve our midfield ,then lets measure berba’s performance.

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