Sanity check – How weak is Manchester United’s squad?

One of the most common topics of discussion among United supporters on social media is the weakness of the squad, and in particular, the midfield. There is no denying that United have been muddling through without a world-class midfield for many years but rumours of this squad’s footballing death have been somewhat exaggerated.

For a comparison, take Liverpool’s first team offering on most match days. They undoubtedly have a strong attack with Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho but is it stronger than an attack comprising van Persie, Rooney, Mata and Januzaj?

Moving into central midfield, Liverpool can offer Gerrard and Henderson. Not exactly world-beating is it? Gerrard’s best days are behind him and Henderson was the butt of many footballing jokes over the last couple of seasons due to his inability to recreate his Sunderland form at his new club. Most Liverpool supporters had written him off as a terrible buy but look at his form this season for them; he looks like a completely different player under Brendan Rodgers.

Football - Football League Cup - 3rd Round - Manchester United FC v Liverpool FC

In defence, Liverpool are weak. Johnsen, Skrtel, Agger and Flanaghan. Would you swap any of our defenders for any of theirs? And in goal whilst Mignolet is a good, young keeper he is no David De Gea.

Overall, I think the United squad and particularly the first team is stronger than Liverpool’s. And yet they are scoring for fun and using this to hide the deficiencies of their midfield and defence whilst we are struggling to create and score nevermind keep a clean sheet against mediocre opposition.

The difference is very simple. Brendan Rodgers has an attacking footballing philosophy and he has spent the last season instilling that philosophy into the very core of the club and the players. He has a defined game plan and fields his players in a formation that suits their individual skills allowing him to set-up his team without having to negate the opposition’s threats too much. They are always vulnerable in defence but the way he sets them up to play means that their attack has the ball and runs at the opposition for much of the game, disrupting the opposition’s attacking shape. Sound familiar? It should do because Sir Alex utilised a similar tactic during his time at United.

Sir-Alex-Ferguson-Touchline

Naturally it took Rodgers a season and a half for his philosophy to permeate the club and start to show in earnest on the pitch and by the same token we can’t expect David Moyes to come in and do things any quicker. We were all expecting a season of transition so I don’t think it’s a case of unrealistic expectations from the supporters that has led to the current level of unhappiness at how things have unraveled this season. Things have simply been far worse than any of us ever imagined.

The truly worrying thing for many of us is that we can’t see any evidence of a philosophy in United’s recent performances. To be honest, we haven’t even seen much evidence of a game plan and we certainly haven’t seen any forward momentum from one week to the next. The players seem as perplexed by their roles and responsibilities on the pitch this week as they did during pre-season. Either the Moyes philosophy is so alien to the players that it simply will not adhere to their psyche or he is failing to communicate it to them. In the Palace game we saw glimpses of a disciplined performance albeit one lacking somewhat in creativity. Unfortunately, as has so often has been the case this season, the next performance plumbed new depths culminating in one of the club’s worst performances in Europe. One step forward, eight steps back.

Those people who use the argument that the current performances are indicative of the weakness of the squad want us to believe that any manager except for the magical Warlock known as Sir Alex Ferguson would be in the same predicament if they presided over this group of players. Contrary to popular belief, Sir Alex is not a Warlock; he is just a very talented manager. Also contrary to popular belief this squad is not as bad as people like to make it out to be. I’m not sure why, possibly because it fits the narrative that Sir Alex was a genius after all and simultaneously supports his assertion to “get behind your new manager”.

Barclays Premier League Trophy with red and white ribbons

This squad, on paper, is good enough to be comfortably in the top four. And this is backed up “off paper” by reminding ourselves that they are the current Champions of England. So logically, if the current management are not getting anywhere near a par score out of this current squad, how do we see the situation improving next season? If we add five new players in the summer but still lack a footballing philosophy or gameplan then they will underperform exactly as the players that they replaced have underperformed this season. And if you didn’t like the Liverpool comparison above then I invite you to conduct a similar thought experiment with Southampton. Forget the strength of the squad, we can all see Mario Pochettino’s footballing philosophy by the way they play despite the weaknesses in key positions in that squad. We would have no doubt that if he were able to attract better quality players that suited his style of play he would see improvements on the pitch.

If I were the Glazers I would see it as a big risk to give David Moyes any money to spend in the summer. He has not demonstrated a plan, never-mind a philosophy. In one game we peppered 81 crosses into the box and when the media made a big deal about this we put in fewer than 20 crosses in the very next game. Is this part of a plan or simply a manager who is reacting in a panic to each game as it comes? If his game plan was to put in crosses to big men in the box then at least I can see how him buying different players to fit this plan might work in the long run (although if that were the new United philosophy a large part of me would die inside).

The Glazers at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United

If I use what I have seen this season to extrapolate what might happen next season then even if we buy five new players in the summer I cannot see much improving. In fact, given how far below their baseline the current squad is performing, even if Moyes managed to wave a wand such that we all really did all live in a Georgie Best world then numbers one to eleven would still struggle to get us into Europe next season.

For me, Moyes has until the end of the season to demonstrate that he can implement a gameplan that adheres to an over-arching philosophy congruent with United’s history as an attacking team. I don’t care as much about the results as I do about the style of play. Only then will I feel comfortable with him spending money in the Summer.

12 Comments

  1. On the nail……..Moyes….Square peg in a round hole…..It is all so sad!………I have been a fan since 1956….(5years old)……So, I have lived through the agonies and the ecstasies…….this is 1973 all over again…..Last summer we needed maybe 4 players…..after Moyes took control we need virtually a new team……if you leave him to develop the kids…….????….Look how Everton have done, since he left….and who followed him….?….sorry..what followed him?………Please would someone wake up in the boardroom, this is very,very serious…….David Moyes is the problem!

  2. Adam,
    Your comment ”I don’t care as much about the results as I do about the style of play” would fit with 90% of MU fans.
    We new there would be a ‘transitional’ period but what we didn’t expect was the capitulation to a totally negative mindset. His statement ”we will prepare to make it as difficult as possible for Newcastle at OT” summed up the whole bazar situation.
    Whether you loved or hated MU people would watch because of the entertainment value. Yes we would concede goals but we usually scored more than the opposition which included a positive approach and belief in success.
    Yes we all expected some changes and disappointment’s but the one thing no-one expected was…..

    TOTAL EMBARRASSMENT !

  3. I think if you check the stats websites, you’ll find that Gerrard and Henderson are miles ahead of Carrick and Cleverly in goals, assists and key passes for the season to date. We’ve had to play wide and chuck in crosses because we are getting nothing creative from central midfield. 10 yard passes sideways or backwards, every time from the two of them. In the Olympiakos game, De Gea passed to Van Persie more than either of them!

  4. What a brilliant, well-articulated pice of writing – a supporter after my own heart. I’m 62 and can’t ever remember being so bereft of HOPE – even in the 70’s!
    My own views :-
    1. Moyes never has a Plan B in any game.
    2. He is now trying to find the right position for Mata – a No 10 – in the same way he didn’t play Kagawa in his natural role (a No 10) and where he also has 250-detached-houses-to-buy-in-5-years Rooney at No 10. But he wants crosses from the wings, with no wingers except fullbacks who are then caught out of position unless covered by a defensive midfielder, which we haven’t got anyway.
    3. Moyes got rid of the coaching staff that won many trophies, staff who brought TECHNIQUE training to Manchester United, and replaced them with vastly experienced, trophy-winning coaches like Phil Neville.
    4. Manchester United is proud of its heritage, Munich etc – which is passed on through the younger players growing up in it, or the older players who pass it on to new signings. Getting rid of your senior players (Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra) leaves no passionate senior red to pass on our heritage. Oh – Wayne? Well he’s as loyal to our heritage as his wage packet.
    5. Confidence on the ball and training – definitely managerial issues, not players’ skill!! A month into the season and in a BBC Saturday lunchtime football programme, Phil Jagielka was asked what the difference between Moyes and Martinez was at Everton. His reply? We train more with the ball now. If we train LESS with the ball under Moyes and run more, no wonder we can run down the wings lots but can’t put a decent final ball in. And look at that nutmeg RVP did on the Dutch goalie in training the other day – that’s not running harder, it’s ball skill!!
    6. Moyes’ mantra is – if at first you fail, work harder. Or – the harder you work, the luckier you are. He obviously hasn’t heard of the phrase ‘working SMARTER’ not just working HARDER. That’s a long-term attitude, too.
    7. I’m sorry for St Moyes’ – he can’t see how mediocre HE is, and so can’t see how mediocre he’s making Manchester United.

  5. Our squad is not weak at all. We have a weak pathetic manager who has made us look like complete rubbish..i honestly don’t know wot Utd are waiting for…Sack the fool because its getting very very depressing watching us now

  6. It reminds me of when England had Sven Goran Eriksson in charge, pick 11 players in a 4-4-2 and send them out with no game plan, tactics, or philosophy. Sven just about got away with this 12 years ago, look where he is now….

  7. Posted this on another forum.
    I’m a Manchester United supporter for 18 years (25 now) but I have to hold my hands up to Liverpool and Rodgers this season. I have a huge amount of respect for Rodgers and his views on youth development and how football should be played. Unlike Moyes, from Rodger’s first season in charge you could visibly see an evolving team with technical and tactical progression. Rodger’s got the job over a number of higher profile and more successful candidate because the owners bought into his vision for the direction he wanted to take the club in. He submitted an 80 page dossier clearly outlining his philosophy and vision for the club and how he going to go about implementing that vision and philosophy starting from the earliest youth levels all the way through to the first team. He draws his inspiration from Barcelona and is constantly evolving as a coach and manager. Under Rodgers I have to say that Liverpool’s future looks bright and with the style of football they play plus champions league football, which is looking deservedly likely, he will be able to attract top players. It really makes my blood boil seeing Liverpool and the direction they are heading in compared to Man United who are trapped in the 90’s and are rapidly regressing tactically and technically.
    I have to give credit where credit is due being a student and an avid supporter of good football that allows players to express themselves and constantly evolve and improve.

    Manchester United till I die!

  8. Fantastic article.

    Great comment from Salford Red

    Additional points:

    1) like it or not Utd is a company that has a responsibility to its shareholders and it’s customers (the fans) and we aren’t getting value for money.

    2) most successful companies from a global perspective give their employees a 6 month probationary period. This allows senior managers the opportunity to assess performance and no legal ramifications if that employee is subsequently let go. Why aren’t we adopting the same rules?

    3) what has the board seen in Moyes (and that 100’s of millions of fans have missed) to date that justify’s him keeping the job.

    4) he attributed bad performances early on due to world class strikers WR & RVP being injured. They aren’t now so why can’t he get the best out of RVP?

    5) he can’t get the best out of a championship winning squad, what evidence is there to suggest he can get the best out of ‘his own players’

    6) would Klopp, Mourinho, Pep G done a better job? Would they have gained the players respect immediately. Of course. If the team didn’t perform under these managers then only they could be blamed. They have a very respectable track record. Players need to respect, admire, believe in their manager. Why should they believe in Moyes? what has he done? The players know more about winning than the manager!

    7) moyes was recruited for the wrong reasons….a) because he remained at one club for a long time? So what? If he was that great why wasn’t he poached by anyone else. Chelsea for instance changed managers very often. B) because he has a good work ethic?? Hard work doesn’t equal success intelligent work equals success c) because he’s British??? The most successful companies in the world recruit on the basis of aptitude not nationality.

    8) ambition and expectation has been drained from the club. When moyes joined most fans were expecting 4th as a minimum and perhaps a few good cup runs. Then perhaps a good go at the league for moyes second season. Now??? If we get 4th next season it would ge a good season. That makes me sick to the core.

  9. Yep trapped in the 90s as lfc have been trapped in the 70s .it’s a new cycle folks man utd aren’t in the new cycle .let me tell you this is just the beginning it’s only your first season wait till the manager merry go round starts be careful what you wish for ,that’s why sir alex is urging patience with moyes .Remember utd were nothing compared to liverpool until fergie and it has taken him all of 24 years to catch them ,there is nothing that states you deserve to win silverware because you used to ,just ask liverpool .The times are just a changing again .

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