As pre-season approaches we have seen some indications that things are beginning to shift at Old Trafford for the upcoming season.
With the cruel ending to last season it has forced Ferguson to rethink and reshuffle his pack to overcome the surge of neighbours Manchester City. Last season has hurt Manchester United fans badly and Sir Alex Ferguson himself. The injury crisis, the deterioration of the attacking play, the poor showing in Europe and mostly throwing away an 8 point lead.
After much speculation Shinji Kagawa arrived from Borussia Dortmund for an undisclosed fee in the region of £12-17 million . As was the case with Park Ji Sung the tag of ‘’shirt seller’’ will be on Kagawa but make no mistake Kagawa is a top top player. Whilst Manchester United weren’t in desperate need of a number 10 he will add some even more quality going forward. Kagawa’s dribbling ability and his pace are his main attributes.
Kagawa looks a very intelligent player, unselfish with a keen eye for that killer pass. The young Japanese star has vision and guile in abundance.
There’s no doubting he really could be United’s jewel in the crown next season.
Whilst begging for a midfielder I don’t think Nick Powell would have been the top of any United fan’s list. Coming from Crewe Alexandra it is a big step up for the young man. Saying that Powell certainly doesn't seem short of confidence. He looks very comfortable with the ball at his feet. He's only 18 years old but at Old Trafford he can prospire.
Technically he is very good for such a young man as demonstrated with his goals which have shown the boy can indeed strike a ball well. With better players around him Powell should indeed be able to take his game to the next level. He may feature in some Carling Cup games next season. He has been given the number 25 shirt previously worn by Antonio Valencia which is encouraging signs he will play some part in the season.
Michael Owen was the first player to make way after an injury plagued 3 years at Manchester United. In everyone’s interest it was the right decision but every red will fondly remember that injury time winner vs City.
Thomas Kuszczak was also released, after such prolongued contract negotiations Paul Pogba eventually left for Juventus whilst Fabio Da Silva was loaned out to Queen’s Park Rangers to get some much needed first team experience.
The biggest departure from Old Trafford this summer indeed was Park Ji Sung joining QPR in a two year deal. Park enjoyed a successful 7 years at the Theatre of Dreams winning 11 trophies in that time. The consummate professional Ferguson always called upon the South Korean for the big games and his record stood tall as 5 goals vs Arsenal, 2 goals vs Chelsea, 2 goals vs Liverpool and a goal vs AC Milan also.
Park’s finest moments will be the man marking job he did on Andrea Pirlo in the Champions League in 2009/10 vs AC Milan as well as crucial goals coming against Chelsea in the Champions League quarter final and a last minute winner vs Wolves at Old Trafford in the 2010/11 season. Last season highlighted a particular decline in Park’s game. At 31 his opportunities were few and far between with Ashley Young, Nani and Valencia on the wings. For all his work rate and willingness his lack of matches and decreasing technical ability were concerns. He struggled with the ball at his feet going forward on many occasions last season.
All in all it was the right time to let him move on. Park was part of the so called ‘’dead-wood’’ that fans wanted rid of. As was the case with with John O’Shea and Wes Brown they had served the club well and will fondly be remembered but Manchester United must go forward.
Shift In Philosophy
After watching Manchester United last season the team started the season on fire. An 8-2 win vs Arsenal, a 5-0 win vs Bolton and a 3-0 victory over Spurs showed United were quick out of the blocks. Ruthless, energetic and attacking was the focal point.
The Anderson – Cleverley partnership worked well as they complimented each other. Cleverley linking play and Anderson being a bullish box to box midfielder. The downside was how open this left the team defensively conceding a host of chances. Despite this the message seemed to be that whatever the opposition scored United could outscore them. After the horror 6-1 defeat to City it was time to shut up shop and get things right defensively.
Some scrappy 1-0 wins vs Everton, Sunderland and Swansea followed. Injuries also distrupted United. Losing the team some edge and consistency in line-ups. Carrick and the fresh out of retirement Scholes came in towards the latter parts of the season. The team was getting the results but the team weren’t as fluid or as convincing. They lacked the edge to kill teams off which eventually showed in the nightmare 4-4 vs Everton at Old Trafford. With the addition of Kagawa it will surely mean that Rooney will return to his traditional number 9 role that he played in the 09/10 season to which some argue is where he truly belongs.
This will culminate in a change of system to a 4-2-3-1. A front four of Rooney Kagawa Nani and Valencia will be exciting to watch for every Manchester United fan. Ferguson will want a shift in philosophy. Hurt by last season. I think ‘’Faster, more fluid attack play’’ is the aim. The only question is the central midfield that plays behind them.
There is no doubt that for the past few seasons that the Manchester United central midfield has been the cause for concern for every fan. It now appears more frail than ever. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs have been relied upon heavily at 38 and 37 years of age and retire at the end of next season, Darren Fletcher’s condition isn’t encouraging with many people wondering will he ever return let alone whether he can ever reach his level again.
Underrated but Michael Carrick has been a sure foot reliable choice in midfield. Whilst Anderson's time at Old Trafford isn’t a pretty one among the Manchester United faithful particularly struggling since the start of the 09/10 season and whispers suggest he will be let go should the right offer come in.
The bright spark for me will be the return of a fit Tom Cleverley. Many people doubt his ability from only having played a handful of games last season but the boy has showed he has something special.
I’m a big fan of Cleverley and if given time I think he could flourish in the midfield next season. He’s energetic, he’s very positive and comfortable on the ball not to mention he’s a very good passer too. There has been several central midfielders linked to Manchester United. Luka Modric, Joao Moutinho, Kevin Strootman to name a few . There has been talk about which type of midfielder United actually desire. Some people want a Modric type creative spark in there whilst others want a defensive midfielder to break up play and stop the team being so open.
I for one would like to see an energetic box to box midfielder with an eye for a tackle. For instance a player in the mould of Danielle De Rossi or Sami Khedira is the type of player United need. An energetic midfielder, powerful, intelligent on the ball and isn’t afraid of a tackle. If we were able to acquire a player with these qualities and combine him with Cleverley in midfield to play behind the front four of Rooney, Kagawa, Nani and Valencia I think we could be onto something special.
While many fans are assured in central defence with the return of Vidic , the experience of Ferdinand and with young players like Smalling, Evans and Jones developing the full back area in defence is causing concern. Rafael has got the potential to be a fine right back and is surely growing more and more each season. He seems to have a very good relationship with Valencia down the right hand side and Phil Jones can also fill in there if needed.
The left full-back area seems to be the area United are looking at now. After Fabio’s loan to QPR that leaves Patrice Evra as the sole left back in the side. Patrice Evra’s form for the past two seasons has not been reassuring. He seems to be creaking badly defensively. Many have seen this since the 2010 World Cup where the French had a disastrous campaign. Evra himself has been a tremendous signing for United since signing from AS Monaco way back in 2006 for just £5.5 million. He has set himself some tremendous standards to maintain in that time being one of Ferguson’s most consistent players.
Particularly this season errors are beginning to creep into his game. While he is still brilliant going forward and very comfortable with the ball his positional sense is poor and laziness is setting into his game. The Champions League game with Basle is the game that sticks out for me. With the game at 2-1 in the favour of United, Basle attacked down the wing with center back Fabian able to cross the ball into the box without a challenge from Evra as he slowly jogged backed. Frei scored from the resulting cross and United scraped a 3-3 draw in the end.
United have apparently been scouting quite a few left backs such as Guilherme Siqueira of Granada and Pablo Armero of Udinese so it does suggest they are after a left back. Leighton Baines is the top target according to reports and tipped to join but with a costly fee of around £12-18 million. A few factors to consider with Baines is that he is nearly 28 years of age and we know Sir Alex Ferguson’s policy of not buying players over 26 years of age. The second factor is that Leighton Baines isn’t guaranteed to start.
No doubt were he to sign Baines would push Evra for the spot which he has not had for quite some time. A dead ball specialist and a very good crosser of the ball with a handful of assists Baines would be a decent addition to the squad but the only worry is his pace. The concern is more long-term with Baines. He has maybe 2/3 years left at the top level and then it might be a case of back to square 1 like we are with Evra now. That could also come down to if Fabio is viewed as the long term left back depending on how he does at QPR.
Sir Alex Ferguson knows what positions in the team need improving. He has a list of players he likes. But there's a difference between wanting and getting. Hopefully come August we will see 2 new additions to the squad to give it a fresher look and inject some more quality. Just a case of being patient and let's see what does happen. The transfer window is a long way away from closing.