Manchester United - Summer Transfer Window Roundup
So another transfer window closes and there is still no sign of the little Dutch master at Old Trafford. Wesley Sneijder might not be joining Manchester United this summer, but this has been a very successful transfer window for the club. The summer began with a lot more questions than answers, with the title being thrown away in limp fashion to Manchester City and early exits from the Champions League, FA Cup, and League Cup resulting in a trophy-less season. The main talk point among fans was “Glazer-nomics” and how the club’s unpopular American owners were seemingly holding us back from spending on players and wages.
While it is true that Manchester United’s spending has been less in the post-Glazer era than it was during the PLC era, no one can claim that the club does not compete for the players that Sir Alex Ferguson wants. This was all too evident when Robin van Persie was signed in a 20-24 million pound deal, with wages apparently getting close to 200,000 pounds a week. Add Japanese star Shinji Kagawa as well as young prospects Nick Powell and Alex Buttner to the equation and Man United’s summer business can be considered a resounding success. Some fans will complain that a “central midfielder” was needed. Here are three reasons why I believe that United as a whole have a much stronger squad than last season.
Rotation, Rotation, Rotation
The word rotation is usually met with derision and frustration among football fans. People are always wondering why their manager will not play their first choice eleven more often. The answer? Top clubs are involved in so many games that without the use of everyone in the squad, the season cannot end in success on more than one front. That is why it is so difficult to win both the Premier League and the Champions League in the same season, and why teams like Bayern and Chelsea made it to the final but did not do as well in their domestic leagues last season.
Last year, United struggled when it came to rotation. Injuries to key midfielders Fletcher, Anderson, and Cleverley meant that Scholes, Carrick and Giggs were really the only players left to fill those central positions. Constant defensive injuries and the season long absence of Vidic did not help matters at all. In addition to that, the integration of young players into the side (Welbeck, Jones, David De Gea, and Smalling) made for some uncomfortable performances. Leads were not capitalized on, great positions were thrown away, and silly goals were conceded. Performances like this resulted in United being bundled out of Europe in the group stages and saw similar defeats in other competitions.
Fans can expect a different team, or teams, this season. The additions of van Persie and Kagawa mean that there is so much more to play with in the attacking positions. For example, United could field Welbeck and Rooney in the Premier League and then start Kagawa and van Persie the following mid week. Talk about having strength in depth. A similar case can be made for midfield, where Anderson and Cleverley could start one game, with Scholes and Carrick playing the next one. Even on the flanks, Ashley Young, Valencia, and Nani give the team plenty of options. The return of Vidic will be huge for the defense and he will complement Evans and Ferdinand, who were superb from January onwards. With Buttner coming in as back up to Evra and Smalling/Jones providing the center backs and Rafael with competition, there is no position that the team does not have plenty of cover for.
Another problem that Man United had last season was killing off teams in the Premier League. Strikers were responsible for missing too many chances and not being ruthless enough (apart from Rooney). The van Persie transfer will change that, as last season’s top scorer is sure to make a tremendous goal scoring impact with his new team. In fact, the Fulham game was a perfect example of what van Persie’s qualities are. Give him a chance and he will inevitably put it away. Shinji Kagawa will help the team take advantage of the possession they have in threatening areas and his ability to always make the right decision in and around the penalty area is a tremendous asset.
The final issue from last season was formations, or the lack thereof. Too often a traditional 4-4-2 was being employed and this seemed to hinder United’s performances against better teams. Even in the Europa League, Athletic Club de Bilbao managed to pass United off the park in both games and Ferguson’s men had no answer. Manchester City have had success against United, ever since the FA Cup semi finals of two seasons ago, when they have used Yaya Toure as an advanced midfielder. 4-4-2 does not always provide enough cover for the defense, nor does it allow the team to dominate possession and get to grips with a difficult game.
Adding someone like Kagawa to the squad gives the team so much more flexibility. He can play as one of the strikers (or just off the striker) in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1. He can also slot into midfield in a similar formation, if need be. The Japanese international is just as capable of playing in the midfield of a 4-3-3 and in the left attacking position. Most of our other creative players (Nani, Ashley Young, Valencia, Rooney, and van Persie) can also play different positions, meaning that the team could be close to replicating the rotating and roaming front play that was so synonymous with the 2007-2008 Premier League and Champions League double season. This flexibility will be crucial to beating teams like Man City, Chelsea, and in the latter stages of the Champions League.
While some fans are still complaining about the lack of a "destroyer" in midfield, I think it is best to take stock and look at the quality in the squad. There are some terrific footballers in every position and if the team has a better time with injuries than last season, then inevitably Manchester United will be fighting for the important prizes come March, April, and May. So often Ferguson has bought for the future, but when he bought Kagawa and especially Robin van Persie, he made a statement of intent to the rest of the Premier League: “Manchester United want their trophy back.” I have no doubt that this squad is capable of delivering on that front and maybe even in Europe.
Thank you for reading.