Trying to remain optimistic – focusing on the positives of Man United so far this season.
We all agree that the start to the season has been rather underwhelming. Problems that have been showing in the past couple of seasons have just grown worse, and we look very inconsistent. Some games, we actually play pretty well. Players are performing with determination and skill enough for us to win. Other games, we look like Norwich reserves out on the pitch. This has to sort itself out. However, I want to try to focus on some of the positives so far. We’re counting December 11th and not everything has been dark and terrible.
Our young players
Let me start of by saying I am extremely excited about the future. The balls, maturity, technical ability and physical prowess that some of the younger players have shown so far in the season has been just amazing.
Phil Jones has been terrific. 4 games at centre back, 4 at right back, 6 in midfield and two sub-ons. He’s featured in pretty much every single game we’ve played this season and has been an outstanding performer. He looks more calm, more composed and more mature than last season. He runs non-stop for 90+ and is not afraid of anything. He’s a fan favorite because he plays with his heart, and he’s improved both his passing and tackling coming into this season. And now he’s figured out how to bang volleys in the back of the net too. I am confident that I am not alone in hoping for a 15+ years career from Jones, wearing the United and England captains armband. If he keeps playing like he has done, he’s a sure starter in our team. He’s 21. Great to see Moyes putting him to the test consistently and that he proves his worth when given chances.
Another player that has taken the step up to the Premier League is Adnan Januzaj. He’s featured in 10 games already, more than I thought he would get this whole season. He probably had his best game down the left hand side, scoring twice and creating dozens of chances with his flair and vision, and is – at the moment – outperforming our other wide players. He’s made Nani, Young, Valencia and Kagawa look like the squad rotation players. Amazing to see such a talent sign a 5 year deal and get consistent playtime with us. He will probably remain a bit inconsistent for a couple of seasons, but the hype is well justified. This kid can go all the way, and both his team mates and the manager seems to think the same.
Now for one of my favorites, I’ve been blown away by the consistency he’s shown us this season. Chris Smalling has in my opinion been one of our best players this season. His defending ability, surprisingly quick feet and calm on the ball has saved us many times, mostly when he had to fill in at RB but also in his two games at CB. For me, he has shown qualities that should make him our 3rd best CB at the moment, only behind Evans and Vidic for the spot. As long as he keeps improving on the offensive aspect of his game, I think he can become just excellent for us. And by offensive, I don’t necessarily mean the crossing. I don’t expect a CB to be a great crosser. But his passing accuracy needs a bit of an improvement, and he needs to grow bigger balls in aerial duels.
David De Gea is another one that just keeps impressing. I feel sorry for him having conceded as many goals as he have this season, because he’s been one of our best performers. These past two seasons, he’s been playing like he’s 28. He looks like he’s grown a temper, a willingness to “get in there” and a determination to win that pairs superbly with his natural ability and talent for the game. I can’t wait to see how well he’ll do once we get our defense settled and the other issues in our team fixed. Definately a player we could see playing at Old Trafford for 10 more years, or longer.
Now I can’t wait to see if Tom Cleverley, Rafael, Welbeck and Wilfried Zaha can catch up to the performances of these players this season. I am fairly certain that Rafael will once he gets his match fitness back on track. I think Cleverley can, and I hope Welbeck sorts it out. I also have high hopes for Zaha once he’s settled. I think he’ll come in at the mid-end part of the season and just abuse that teams are starting to get fatigued.
Best group of players on loan since 2007?
For anyone that has read this blog before, or paid attention to my comments on reddit on this subject, my enthusiasm for the man in the picture should not come as a surprise. I’ve been a massive Powell fan since he scored the goal for Crewe Alexandra to gain promotion, and was ecstatic when we signed him. I’ll not go deeply into the different players’ performances on loan, there is already great reddit threads doing that exact thing – Bealix loan watch.
With players like Powell, who can play both as a striker, behind a striker and possibly as a future box-to-box solution for our midfield, Lingard who can play in any of the attacking positions, Vermilj who could be a RB backup player, Henriquez who’s been a star man for Zaragoza in the Segunda, and the Keane brothers recently loaned out and ready for success, I think this has to be classified as the best group of loaned out players that I can remember. At least for a long while. Hopefully, some of these players will come back, impress in the pre season next summer and stay to fight for a first team spot. Many of them seem like good options as quite a few of our older players are… Well, getting older.
Cracking the Champions League code?
While some managers seem to notoriously struggle with the group stages in the ECL, Moyes has really impressed me with both the results we’ve been getting – but also the performances. I think it is fair to say that while our EPL run has been very disappointing so far, the ECL run has been nothing short of outstanding. The group stage table above kind of speaks for itself in that matter, but I think it is worth a mention that the positive experiences in the group stage can (hopefully) have a good, long-term effect on Moyes’ ability in getting us qualified for knock-out stages in the long run. Consistently. Unbeaten at home, grabbing points away and barely conceding. As well as averaging 2 goals in the group stages – can’t find anything negative about it. Hopefully we can carry this out in the league and in the other cups we are participating in.
Signs of a footballing style
First of all, I recommend every single one of you that read this, to check out this interview. Phil Neville drops some major hints about how Moyes wants our team to look in terms of playing style and attitude, and I can’t be disappointed with the standard we’re aiming for. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, he basically points to the Arsenal game and says “that’s how we want to play – that style”. Which was fantastic for me to hear. That, with the interview of David Moyes at the start of the season, where he speaks about how he prepared for the manager role at United, those two are what I stick to when I think about our future playing style.
In short, the games this season where we have played the way they want us to play, have been Leverkusen away, Arsenal and Real Sociedad. In those games, we played a high pressure style with a formation that resembles the 4-2-3-1 of Dortmund and Bayern anno 2012/2013 in the Champions League. This requires a lot of movement, ability, quick and unselfish passing moving forward and a lot more running than we have seen for most of the season. But when we’ve made it work, we looked our best this season. I am excited to see whether Moyes will continue to work towards implementing this style as the season progresses or if our group of players can’t handle it. We struggled doing so last season under Ferguson, mostly because we lacked the link between midfield and attack, and didn’t have a bruiser in midfield. Now we have Fellaini, but Cleverley hasn’t proved that he can do the 2-man midfield role yet. I think our playstyle and formation will be crystal clear once we’ve been through two more transfer windows. At least I hope so.
Some players look better
While I know some people might disagree, I think that especially Tony Valencia and Wayne Rooney have been looking way better this season. If that is due to the training regime of David Moyes, the fact that SAF is gone, being one year older or something else – I don’t know. But especially Wayne has been world class this season. At the start, he won games on his own, scoring freekicks, making great key passes and working his ass off. The Chelsea game was an illustration on Waynes’ determination and willingness to run for 90+ despite getting close to no service from the team. The Leverkusen game showcased his footballing intelligence. I also think Tony Valencia is going to come good once him and Rafael get back to playing together. He is quite one-dimensional, but Rafaels’ ability to burst forward tends to create space for Tony, which forces the defenders to follow. I don’t mind if it is Rafael or Valencia who makes the deciding cross in the end, but as long as we get to create better chances down the right, their partnership is a success in my eyes. I also love his crazy work-ethic and determination on the pitch. He gives it his all. I also think that Valencia, time and time again, proves his value when we play big opponents. His ability to track back and cover space in the midfield and defense is vital for our defensive strategy into games.
To sum it up
I think there are a lot of positives so far this season. Especially among the younger players, who have been better than our veterans. Now, this is kind of worrying in itself, but is a good building brick for the future. The more games, experience and confidence these players get, the better set we’ll be once Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra, Carrick, RvP and Giggs retire. The young players on loan have been so good that some people are actualyl arguing for us to recall them and play them with the team. That is both a compliment to our youth system at the club but also the ability to find “the right club” for us to send them out. This hasn’t always been the case.
As a question at the end, what’s been the best thing for you so far this season? The positive that keeps you smiling despite of the bad results in the league?