Why Manchester United Don’t Need Big Changes
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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