Fixing Manchester United
Bringing Glory to the Red Devils
Manchester United began 2016 keeping a major title drought going 6 years strong. United broke that streak in May by beating Crystal Palace in the FA Cup Final 2-1. And how did they celebrate? They sacked manager Louis Van Gaal a couple days after the victory. The Red Devils have gone through two managers (three if you count Ryan Giggs’ brief spell as interim player-manager) since Ferguson retired in 2013; David Moyes and van Gaal. The newest coach to take up the mantle and supposedly lead Manchester United back to the Promised Land that is domestic and European glory (Barclays Premier League and Champions League) is ex-Chelsea boss, Jose Mourinho, who has two Champions League titles and three Premier League titles under his belt. Now that United have a coach with a winning reputation, the question now becomes “how will Mourinho fix Man United?”
Out With the Old, In with the New
The immediate answer Mourinho gave was sign recent Swedish international retiree, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, on a free transfer after his contract with French powerhouse, Paris Saint-Germain, expired. Mourinho then plucked Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan from the Bundesliga. And in more recent rumors, it appears that Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba will leave Serie A and sign with his old club at Old Trafford for a record fee. Manchester United finished in the top six in the Premier league last season, which qualified them for Europa League participation (the little brother of the Champions League) so Mourinho now has a deep squad to reach into for multiple competitions this upcoming season. But perhaps the squad is too deep.
As it stands, and not counting the impending arrival of Pogba, the current midfield of Manchester United that has seen significant time under van Gaal, Moyes and their former teams consists of: captain Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera, Morgan Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, Jesse Lingard and new signee Henrikh Mkhitaryan. I count eleven names. Yes, I know that Depay and Young play more on the wings, but the point remains; that midfield will need to get a little less crowded for every player to be happy with their playing time. This leaves a couple of options for Mourinho: sell or loan who he doesn’t want.
We can already rule out the loaning of Mkhitaryan and Pogba because it doesn’t make sense to buy them for the price tag they paid just to loan them out. I would suggest selling Wayne Rooney, as blasphemous as that sounds, but that is an entirely different issue we’ll come back to and Mourinho hasn’t alluded to the possibility of selling Rooney, so he is safe. I believe Juan Mata is safe as well due to the results he has produced at Old Trafford. So that leaves eight midfielders to fit into the two spots left in Mourinho’s starting 4-2-3-1 formation with two or three subs. I think I can help Jose eliminate three or four players from that match day roster.
One name I believe that can be removed from the team is Bastian Schweinsteiger since he hasn’t been fit enough to play too many matches for the Red Devils since arriving last summer from Bayern Munich. Mourinho also has yet to play him in the preseason tour so it is safe to say he will be transferred or loaned out. Another player I think that needs to go is Marouane Fellaini. In the past, his 6’4” frame has helped him score headers for Man United in set pieces, but has been relatively lacking in his midfield position. With 6’5” Zlatan being brought in as a proper striker, it takes away Fellaini’s biggest strength and makes him seem rather useless now. Fellaini has also been linked with a move to Sunderland where former boss David Moyes is waiting as the new manager. Michael Carrick I think should either get transferred or retire and join the coaching staff like Giggs did; the thirty-five year-old can’t keep up with the speed of the Premier League anymore. Ashley Young had fallen out of favor with van Gaal, yet remained with the club hoping to earn playing time under Mourinho, yet hasn’t produced good enough results to fit Jose’s style, but he has shown loyalty and determination so I think he will be loaned out if anything. Getting rid of these three players and loaning Young brings the total down to seven (eight pending Pogba’s transfer) that could fill the five spots for the midfield in the 4-2-3-1 formation. If I were in Mourinho’s position, my midfield would be Mata, Rooney, Mkhitaryan, Herrera, and Pogba, with Schneiderlin, Lingard and Depay as my main midfield substitutes. I will, however, stand by my earlier statement that Rooney should be put on the transfer market.
Captain of Club and Country
The bulk of Wayne Rooney’s career has been at Manchester United and most of that time has been spent under Sir Alex Ferguson where his production was at its highest level. Rooney averaged double digits in both goals and assists with Ferguson on the sideline. Rooney maintained similar production the first season after Sir Alex’s departure, but when Louis van Gaal took over, his consistency and numbers took a noticeable dip while his appearances didn’t; he failed to reach at least eight assists in either of the last two seasons and only scored fourteen (2014-15) and fifteen (2015-16) goals in all competitions in the two seasons under van Gaal. I think it’s time he be sold. For how much? I would say enough to purchase another good player, which I will address later. Manchester United have been lacking in leadership since Ferguson left and Rooney has proven he isn’t the best leader on both the club and international level. Regardless, Man U needs to move on from the Rooney era and allow a newer, younger group of faces to begin shaping the Manchester United they will play for. Speaking of which…
Last season, Monaco transfer and French international, Anthony Martial, and academy product, Marcus Rashford, made large splashes onto the Premier League scene combining for sixteen goals in all competitions. The young forwards showed much promise for the future at Old Trafford. Having said that, the youngsters were fortunate to make appearances since United has been without a true striker since Robin Van Persie and Dimitar Berbatov; van Gaal was forced to try something that would work in his system. So that means the young prospects are still learning and haven’t peaked yet, and this is both good and bad. For this reason, I believe, Jose Mourinho brought in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whom he had had a good relationship with during their time spent together at Internazionale Milan in Serie A. I expect Zlatan to tutor the young strikers during this upcoming season while producing goals for Man United and hopefully win them the title, if not, put them in the top four at the very least, making them eligible for Champions League participation. And as for Jesse Lingard, I think his development will continue at a good pace behind the more experienced midfielders like Mata, Mkhitaryan, and Herrera. United has a future to look forward to in the attack and midfield thirds of the pitch. Defense, however, is wherein the real problem lies.
The Manchester United defense has been known to be, well, a little suspect, to put it nicely. Chris Smalling is solid, but he doesn’t have a good center back partner to work with, which in turn exposes him and the rest of the United defense. Marco Rojo and Antonio Valencia, I think are good enough right backs, so there’s depth there. Luke Shaw is still coming back from his injury and there is speculation on Matteo Darmian’s future at the club so there isn’t a player that has that position locked down. And then there’s the supposedly good defender, according to van Gaal, in Daley Blind who was supposed to partner with Smalling in the center. Mourinho brought in the young Eric Bailly from La Liga club, Villareal, in hopes of starting a new and upward trend at the back with Smalling. Now remember when I was going on about selling Rooney? Manchester United should use the money they got for Rooney to sign a good, not necessarily great, and preferably defender that has the ability to grow under Mourinho into a top class defender (for example, PSG’s Marquinhos). It is clear the defense needs to improve more so than any other aspect of the squad. They don’t have a problem like Arsenal, who just needs a good quality striker, but Man United seems to be handling the problem similarly to Arsenal; they aren’t really addressing the problem. Once they shape up the defense, they will once again be a Premier and even Champions League title contender. Once again, fans will be free to sing “Glory, Glory, Man United”.