Crocked and Leaderless United

Hanging on in three competitions while the back line falls apart…

I’ve not written about United for a while. Not because I’ve stopped watching them – far from it – but everything I had to say was depressingly repetitive. Ferguson’s dreadful team selection and painfully negative tactics; inconsistency from Rooney and Nani; injury worries for Ferdinand (among others); the rapid decline of Scholes and continuing toothlessness of the venerable Giggs.

Well, not much of that has changed, but somehow, with two months to go, United are managing to remain competitive on three fronts. At this point I’d pick them to win the domestic double and probably be dumped out of the Champions’ League by the semis, if not by Chelsea who seem to be raising their game (or was that just the David Luiz/Martin Atkinson double act…?).

What’s more concerning is next year. Giggs must be nothing more than an emergency fill-in, and Scholes will, I’m sure, retire. Van der Sar is on his way, replacement as yet unknown; there’s been a lot of talk about David de Gea, which would be great, but Fergie in his dotage has become a destroyer of young talent, not a developer, and this applies doubly to goalkeepers. Ben Foster should have been taking over in a seamless transition from Van der Sar this summer; instead, he is polishing his League Cup medal and basking in plaudits for a string of wonderful performances.

More worrying still (though not at all surprising to me) is the news that Ferdinand’s latest injury is career-threatening. I think his performances at centre-back have been nothing more than adequate when he’s been fit for the last couple of years, and as such I don’t really worry about Smalling taking over full-time alongside Vidic, with Evans and Brown on the bench. The real problem is going to be picking a new captain. This is where Rio has been genuinely missed.

My solution, however daft it sounds, is this: move Rooney to midfield and make him captain. It potentially solves a number of problems:

(i) Rooney’s over-energetic approach is contained within a smaller pitch area and gives him both better match stamina and longer career expectancy

(ii) The pressure on Rooney to score is dramatically reduced, as playing as an advanced central midfielder allows him to utilise all facets of his attacking game (including his underrated passing)

(iii) A direct replacement for Scholes (whose tackling has always been bad; I would hope Rooney, with the responsibility of captain, would learn to rein in his lunging)

(iv) Making him captain would hopefully see an end to Rooney’s want-away discontent, which I feel must still be there to some extent, while also giving a big incentive to behave himself on the pitch. He’s stated his desire to be captain before and if he’s serious, this could be a great way to channel his aggression.

(v) With Ferguson doggedly sticking to one true striker, it means that Berbatov and Chicharito can rotate(with Chicharito sometimes filling in for Valencia on the right) instead of all three strikers vying for one place

Signings-wise, I think Modric is a must. Ideally I would like to pick up Sanchez and/or Isla from Udinese, perhaps with Nani, Park or Anderson as a makeweight, though I don’t see it happening. A couple of young players like Rodwell or Oxlade-Chamberlain (the latter on a buy-and-loan-back) would be good too, but since missing out on Bale I don’t have much confidence in United to take risks like that. Except for dodgy Bebé, a transfer which when the truth comes out is bound to be very sticky indeed.

Anyway, given a blank slate (which nobody ever is), this would be my first team for next season, playing a sort of 5-2-3 with wing-backs, Fletcher or Carrick right in front of the defence, two attacking central midfielders and a slightly compressed line of three up front:

GK: David de Gea; LB: Evra; CB: Smalling; CB: Vidic; RB: Rafael; M: Fletcher/Carrick; AM: Modric; AM: Rooney (C); LW: Nani CF: Berbatov/Chicharito; RW: Valencia/Chicharito

You’d have the other of Fletcher or Carrick on the bench with Anderson, Park and Gibson, plus Evans, O’Shea and Fabio (Evra’s eventual replacement), whoever’s not playing out of Chicharito or Berbatov, as well as Giggs and Obertan. Potentially a little fragile at width but this can be helped by having the attacking midfielders assume some wide defensive duties. Just a thought. And probably an inconsequential one, as we’ll likely end up with more glorious nights of 4-5-1 with midfields of Park-Fletcher-Gibson-Carrick-Giggs and a lonely, disaffected Berba cursing his manager’s lack of imagination…

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Published in: on March 18, 2011 at 5:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

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