Manchester United – Fail To Prepare? Prepare To Fail
Premier League 2014/15
With Patrice Evra leaving Manchester United for Juventus for a paltry £1.2 million, only two players remain at the club from their Champions League triumph in Moscow in 2008.
We look at how United’s failure to replace this side is the major problem facing Louis van Gaal as he takes over the reins at Old Trafford.
It took Sir Alex Ferguson six years to replace Peter Schmeichel when he signed Edwin van der Sar from Fulham in 2005. The Dutch keeper won four league titles in six seasons at United and there were fears he too would be difficult to replace when he left the club in 2011.
However, despite some early blips, David de Gea has proved a capable replacement for the Dutchman in his first three seasons. While not yet at the level of his predecessor he is already one of the top keepers in the Premier League and should add to his solitary Spanish cap after Iker Casillas’ expected retirement from international football.
Replacement rating – 4/5
Evra became the final member of the defence in Moscow to depart the club, following Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Wes Brown out the Old Trafford door.
It could be argued that Rafael is an upgrade on Brown, particularly offensively, but he has a long way to go to adequately replace Gary Neville, who was injured for the final against Chelsea.
Luke Shaw has been brought in to fill Evra’s left-back berth but the youngster, while having undoubted potential, is only 19 with 60 Premier League appearances under his belt.
It is in central defence that Ferguson and to a lesser extent, David Moyes, blatantly failed to prepare for the inevitable departures of Ferdinand and Vidic. The likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans would have been no more than capable squad players in any of Ferguson’s great United sides – the John O’Sheas de jour, if you will – and this is an area that van Gaal must address immediately to stem the flow of goals from the formerly miserly rearguard.
United average 0.58 goals conceded in the 2007/08 Premier League with Vidic and Ferdinand the preferred partnership, compared to 1.13 last term when the duo made just 39 league appearances between them.
Replacement rating – 1.5/5
Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes and, to a lesser extent, Owen Hargreaves have never been properly replaced from the 2008 CL-winning side while an injury-plagued Michael Carrick no longer exerts the influence he did in years gone by.
With Ryan Giggs, a substitute in Moscow, also recently retired, midfield is an area that has been shockingly neglected by United in the interim years.
Since their last European triumph the likes of Marouane Fellaini, Zoran Tosic, Gabriel Obertan, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Shinji Kagawa, Nick Powell and Wilifred Zaha have been the major midfield signings at the club.
None of these seem to have a long-term future at the club, despite Valencia’s new contract, and the one star midfielder that did arrive during that time – Paul Pogba – was inexplicably allowed to leave for Juventus on a free.
Van Gaal has immediately addressed the situation with the capture of Ander Herrera –their first central midfield signing since Carrick- but the 24-year-old with no Spanish caps is not yet in the world-class bracket that the likes of Ronaldo, Scholes and Giggs inhabited.
Juan Mata may prove to be a canny replacement for Scholes but the new boss’ apparent desire for the likes of Kevin Strootman and Arturo Vidal make Ferguson’s disregard for replenishing midfield in his later years at the club all the more bewildering.
Replacement rating – 1/5
The one area in which United seem to have at least held par with their 2008 counterparts. Wayne Rooney remains at the club but many feel he’s a shadow of the player he was six years ago.
His goal tally improved when he emerged from Ronaldo’s shadow but he has subsequently struggled sharing the limelight with Robin van Persie.
The Dutchman goals-per-game ratio compares favourably with Tevez’s but his injury-prone nature means United have to rely more on the likes of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez than the 2008 side did on the likes of Louis Saha.
Replacement rating – 3.5/5