HANGING ON THE TELEPHONE
Those players who are yet to get that dreaded call from the boss. Philip Morrissey
There has been an accusation in the past of Manchester United’s inability to move out players that no longer had a role to play at the club, or were not likely to feature in the manager’s plans. The fact that players like Anderson, Nani, Buttner, Bebe and Powell were all still part of the squad up until quite recently is testimony to this. True, they may have been sent on loan on occasions, but there were no clubs requesting to sign them too quickly. A new manager will have his own set of ideas of the players he wants or doesn’t want and Mouriniho is no exception. Some of the clear out has already taken place with Victor Valdes joining promoted Middlesbrough, Nick Powell signing permanently for Wigan and Ashley Fletcher rejecting the club’s offer to sign for West Ham.
‘Which way to the cake stand?’
But who are the players expected to be next in line?
Keeping David De Gea at the club last year was critical. As one of the finest goalkeepers in Europe, he has become the first choice for both club and country. It is a frightening prospect of where the club may have been without the saves that he has pulled off and the points that he has won. Coming into a major tournament, and with pressure to be based in his national league, were a major part of why the move was so tempting for him. He does have to feel that there is a degree of competition for his position at the club. As can be seen when keepers are guaranteed their place, they can begin to take it for granted, and their performances start to slide. Joe Hart, I am looking at you.
Sergio Romero came into the side at the start of last season and certainly didn’t do anything wrong. Indeed, he kept clean sheets in his first three league games and helping them through to the group stages of the champions league. Sam Johnstone has yet to really get his chance as of yet. It is the eternal curse of the third-choice keeper. You can train most weeks with the squad, but unless there is an injury, you don’t even get a chance to be on the bench. He has been out on loan quite often but since he is approaching his mid-twenties, he might feel that he would be served better at another club.
Daley Blind and Chris Smalling were probably the main choice in defence last season. Smalling began to cut out some of the mistakes that have blighted his career so far and Blind’s adaptability meant he was able to fill as his partner. At different times, it seemed like an ever changing roundabout. Phil Jones encountered a frustrating season with injury and poor form and his career seems to be at a standstill at the moment. Tyler Blackett’s spell at Celtic seems to have been a bit of a disaster for both player and club. Patrick McNair has not made as many appearances last year as he did in the previous one, and seemed to be glad to be going away to the Euro’s for a break.
The man in the firing line.
The arrival of Eric Bailly from Villarreal has increased the pressure on all of those players. Blind has been mentioned as being on the firing-line because of Mouriniho’s requirement of a centre-half with physical presence. Personally, I would keep him. He is more than capable of playing as a defensive midfielder or at left-back as well. Jones needs to decide on what he wants to do with his career. Can he step up when he is needed and improve his game? The jury is out at the moment. Thundering into challenges is all well and good but when that results in injuries suffered or being caught out, the benefits are lost. Mouriniho has always seem to have utilised centre-halves with physique so it is up to him to impress. I can’t see Blackett or McNair staying though. Perhaps they might be sent out on loan or have a club come in for them.
Matteo Darmian, seemed to have been a steady replacement for right-back. A loss of form and injury, saw the position being taken up by a host of different players including Antonia Valencia, Guillermo Varela, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Of all of these, it was the latter two that seemed to make the most impression towards the end of the season. Perhaps Valencia’s ability to play as a right winger will stand to him. He seems to have been a bit-part member of the squad for some time now though. I don’t think that Varela will survive the summer. Darmian will probably stay due to his ability to fill in at centre-half if needed and the ability to play at either right or left back will stand to Borthwick-Jackson and Fosu-Mensah.
Left-back would have seen Luke Shaw cement his position as his own. Unfortunately, he had an early finish to the season, following a double leg break against PSV. Marcus Rojo was the player to fill in for most of the season. The jury is still out on him though. For a player that was on the team of the 2014 cup, his positioning and decision making can be worrying. There is more competition now for his spot due to the development of Borthwick-Jackson and Blind’s versatility.
Still the Juan?
Probably the most cluttered area of the squad and the one to see the most exits. It is even hard to know what the midfield was at times last season considering the chopping and changing. And it is set to become even busier with one player signed and another one rumoured. Juan Mata is possibly the most well thought of player in the squad in terms of his on and off field personality. He has always available to help chip in with an assist or a goal himself but there are questions over his pace and defensive work at times. Particularly is he is playing out wide. Michael Carrick has already been signed up for one more year. He is still an extremely popular member amongst the squad, and still capable of doing a good job, but will probably see less game time than in previous years. Jessie Lingard has grown into an important member of the squad and his development was pointed out by Van Gaal following spells on loan at Birmingham, Brighton and Derby. He found himself playing at wingback at times or on the midfield left at others. Of course it was his goal that won united the cup final as well.
Arriving together; departing together?
Ander Herrera remains a bit of an enigma. One of the mainstays of an excellent Athletic Bilboa side, he has never really done it at United. He is a midfielder able to assist with the front players, put in a tackle and dictate play but he never seemed to be trusted fully under Van Gaal. Whether he wanted someone a bit more physical remains to be seen. Much was expected from both Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger when they were signed together. Unfortunately, they have been somewhat of a disappointment.
Schweinsteiger’s last season at Bayern was characterised by injuries and that has not let up at Old Trafford with only brief glimpses of his ability. He has probably played more games in concession at the Euro’s than with his club. He was brought in to provide a level of direction and cohesion to the midfield by providing an example for the younger players off the field. He has not really done that to any great extent. Schneiderlin was expected to be one of those players to really make his mark at the club following an excellent couple of seasons with Southampton. He was anticipated to be the one to take on the mantle of Carrick and provide a calming and intelligent base of the midfield. He has done his job in most games but not really gone above that. Playing two deep-lying midfielders together, can only help slow up the play, for those times that you need to set a quick tempo.
Adnan Januzaui has gone backwards over the last two seasons. He found himself in the team at the start of the season and scored a well-worked goal against Villa but was then sent out on loan to Borussia Dortmund. That proved a disaster as he was sent back again. A questionable attitude seems to be to blame for it. He could soon find himself in the Ravel Morrison or Fredrico Macheda category as ‘talented but impossible to deal with’. It seems to be affecting the career of Andreas Pareira also. Obviously it is easy for younger players to get frustrated by not playing, but they must look at what they are doing wrong and set about to work on it.
Hair today; gone tomorrow?
If hard work and team spirit were all that mattered, then Marouane Fellaini would be the key to every team. Unfortunately, he is seen as the embodiment of the mistakes of the Moyes era and the negativity of the Van Gaal era. When he plays as a defensive midfielder, he is seen as being too slow in possession and when he is put up front, it is seen as the tactics of a manger who has no trust in his team but to play long balls. Not that this is a terrible option to employ when all others are exhausted and desperation must, but to start the games this way does not fill supporters with great optimism. Ashley Young was actually one of the successes in the first year under Van Gaal. He worked hard to adjust his game to playing wing-back, copped on with the play-acting and delivered for the team. To the point that he was taking the place of Di Maria. His involvement last season has restricted yet again by injury.
The signing of Mkhitayran has increased the pressure on Juan Mata. He thrives in that attacking midfielder role that Lampard made his own at Chelsea and his goals in the Budesliga show that. There was big hopes for Kagawa as well though who felt that he was shunted around and played in the wrong position. Can Mouriniho keep more than two similar players in that position? You would feel that Herrera would fall into that category as well. And considering he sold Mata to United, you would feel that he doesn’t particularly want him.
You would feel that both Pareira and Januzuai’s days are numbered at the club. There are more senior players ahead of them in the position that they play, and both have not pushed on to the level expected of them. I would hope that Lingard is retained though. The combination of being hard working, talented and a local boy always appeals to the fans.
In terms of defensive midfielders, they are pretty well stocked. Blind can play there also. It is just a question of whether he feels that he is strong enough to play there or that he should call it quits on Schweinsteiger with his fitness issues. Being seen as a Van Gaal supporter under the new regime might not be welcomed either. Schneiderlin has to make his stamp on this side if he has any future. Merely getting by is not enough anymore. If Mouriniho plans on having a front three, then you imagine that Young might find himself forced out as well. Showing his worth as a specialist left-winger might stand to him though.
Still the main man?
There seems to have been a little bit of a love-in between Rooney and the new boss in the press recently. This is a counter to some snippy comments that had previously been attributed to each of them when in opposition. Rooney was expected to provide the spearhead of the attack last season and to contribute twenty-five to thirty goals as he had done in in 2010 and 2012. Of course this was at the stage where there were very few strikers left at the club due to departures. It is debatable whether he can ever hit those heights again though. Injuries and being pushed into other positions, have seen his figures drop since then. Mouriniho has said that he doesn’t see Rooney playing in the position that England employed him in over the summer and towards the end of last season.
Memphis Depay has been very underwhelming last season after so much was expected of him. The price-tag and the reputation that he arrived with promised an awful lot but delivered little. As a free-kick and set piece specialist, his crossing has been generally poor as well. It is true that younger players can take some time to adjust to a different league but a major club, you might not be given that time.
Will youth be given its chance?
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have been revelations. Many would have nominated De Gea as being player of the year and they would be justified in that. My opinion is that it is those players that provide imagination, trickery and spark to the game. And goals that actually mattered. That is essentially why people became interested in the game in the first place. They were expected to be used in a wide position but Rashford was able to able to get his start up-front where he could not be replaced. With young players like him, it can be that they start off with a bang and then struggle to follow up on it. Hopefully he will get more of a chance to prove himself in the coming season.
James Wilson came into the team first under Van Gaal’s first season and featured quite often picking off a few goals in the process. Last season, he found that harder to come by and went out on loan to Brighton where he helped to reach the play-offs. Will Keane was been on loan to a few different clubs, notably Sheffield Wednesday, but was hoping to make the breakthrough in the first team. He could possibly have done so only for an injury in the FA cup game against Shrewsbury that forced the call-up of Rashford and he took that opportunity and went with it.
The second major signing under the new boss saw the introduction of Zlatan Ibrahimović and no doubt he will be expecting to play and start as often as he can. This was one of the criticisms of Mouriniho regarding his willingness to bring through younger players. If he is planning on playing both Rooney and Ibrahimović, then the team is going to be severely short of pace. Playing one with either Rashford and/or Martial would be the way to go forward.
Depay is in a perilous situation at the moment. At the moment, there are probably four players ahead of him in striking positions. His talent is clear, and he does have pace to burn. Whether that is enough is unclear at the moment. It could be that Wilson needs to join another club as well. His brother, Michael, has thrived since leaving for Burnley so perhaps a similar move could allow him make the impact that he is looking for.