It’s a hard thing, being a football manager. Not that I would know personally (although I seem to do alright in FIFA but whatevs), but it sure looks like a rough gig. And apparently it’s even harder when you take over at club who just the previous season won it’s 20th league title, and did so with arguably the greatest manager in English football history at the helm. The pressures that accompany a job like that are certainly not for the feint of heart, and while expecting David Moyes to pick up right where Sir Alex Ferguson left off and immediately march to a 21st league title might have been a tad ambitious, one would’ve thought that with the roster and financial capabilities he was inheriting, he would’ve put together a better showing in this his first year with Manchester United. But no, he hasn’t. This year he’s taken it straight in the face.
Opinions are split as to what should be done with the former Everton manager, but the consensus seems to be that he should be given one more season to work out the kinks. And while I only play a football manager/analyst from the internet and the couch, it seems to me that that’s probably the best course of action. Because, as I watched on Tuesday as United were torn asunder yet again by their crosstown rivals Manchester City, it occurred to me that – even this far into the campaign – Moyes doesn’t appear to know who belongs in his starting eleven.
Now, the English Premier League season is a long, grueling affair, and when you add on Cup matches, Champion’s League games, and international duties for certain players, it becomes even more physically taxing. Injures happen, and Manchester United haven’t been immune to them, but even with most of his roster at his disposal, it appears at times Moyes has resorted to throwing a bunch of names up against a wall, hoping that 11 stick and he’ll have his staring squad. They’ve lacked continuity – especially in midfield – and while you probably can’t pin the team’s struggles on any one particular area this year, Moyes’ either inability or unwillingness to put his best foot forward certainly has to be high on the list when it comes time to assess the blame.
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So, I’ve decided to take it upon myself to help out ol’ “Mixed Up Moyes” by diving into the numbers to reveal who probably should be in the United starting eleven each week, assuming they’re fit to play. I’ve made my decisions based on the player’s total involvement in three main areas: scoring, creating chances, and defending. However, obviously in some cases a player’s involvement in one area is so great that it warrants him being included despite not being a major contributor in the other areas (i.e. Robin van Perise is almost useless on defense, but he’s a prolific goal scorer). As usual, I’ve used Sqwuaka.com as my reference in making these decisions.
Wayne Rooney: This one’s a no-brainer. Rooney is one of the best overall players in the league, and not only does he lead the team in goals with 13, he also leads them in assists (11) and created chances (52). There was some doubt surrounding him at the start of the year as to wether or not he wanted out of Manchester, but that has since been laid to rest and he’s signed a long-term deal with the club. Additionally, while he’s not a stellar defender, his tireless pace and great work ethic allow him to track back and help his team on defense as well. When healthy and of the right frame of mind, there a few – if any – better than him in the league.
Robin van Persie: Another easy selection, van Persie brings a clinical, striking presence to the United side. He comes with some injury risks, as he’s only appeared in 18 Premier League games this year, but in those 18 appearances he has 11 goals. And, as I eluded to above, he provides little else in the way of helping the team, but goals win games and RvP has a knack for finding the back of the net.
*Note* Midfield is where, in my opinion, United have struggled the most. It’s been a revolving door of a position, and for most of the year hasn’t provided the creativity needed to spark the offense.
Adnan Januzaj (LM): Slotting in on the left wing is this dazzling youngster. Januzaj may lack experience and is still quite
the raw talent, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be featured. Blessed with tremendous pace and a natural ball-to-feet relationship, he’s been a nightmare for opposing defenses when Moyes has selected him. He’s only made 22 appearances, and of those he’s only played the full 90+ 6 times, but in those 22 appearances he’s created 23 chances. As you can see from the chart, he’s suffered far more fouls than he’s committed, and he’s also won just over half of his take on’s. His penchant for creating chances in the final third and constantly causing the defense to foul him thus creating more set pieces, is cause enough to have him in the lineup more often. I can understand wanting to bring a 19 yr old along slowly, but c’mon, Moyesie. The kid can play.
Juan Mata (CAM): United’s sexy, last-minute transfer comes in as your Central Attacking Midfielder, and while he’s yet to score for the Red’s in his 9 appearances, he has managed to be more of the creator Moyes is looking for with 25 created chances, including 3 assists. However, I wonder was the move completely necessary with a supposedly perfectly suitable CAM already in toe in Shinji Kagawa (we’ll touch more on that in just a bit)? None the less, this midfield maestro has, for the most part, has been as-advertised since arriving from Chelsea. We probably won’t see him fully gel until next season, but he should still be featured in most games; lining up behind Rooney and van Persie to set them up with goal scoring opportunities.
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Antonio Valencia (RM): Again, more of an attacking-minded selection as Valencia provides more in attack that in defense, but it’s crucial for the wings to provide pace and to put pressure on the defense by creating chances for those up front. Valencia is more than capable of doing so as evidenced by his 20 created chances, and while he may not be and ideal candidate, he’s the best option out of the remaining United midfielders to play the right wing.
Michael Carrick (CDM): At age 32, Carrick, much similar to Steven Gerrard, now lacks the ability to play in a central attacking role, which is why I have him at Central Defensive Midfielder; playing right in front of the back four. That being said, he’s still a tremendous passer and can serve as a “director of play.” He’s completed 88% of his passes this year, and that includes an impressive 128 long ball passes (pass over 35m). He’s also created 22 chances which demonstrates his ability to still impact the offense from his withdrawn position.
Patrice Evra (LB): Modern backs have to be able to fly up and down the wings; assisting in the attack and helping to win the ball back on defense. Evra has been more effective on offense, but his 47% successful tackle rate is acceptable given his age (34) and the fact that it comes with the 34 chances he’s created from his Left Back position (most among defenders in the league). Additionally, he’s provided some much needed stability to the Red Devils’ side this season as he’s only missed 2 matches and has gone the distance 26 times out of his 29 appearances.
Phil Jones (CB): United doesn’t boast the greatest group of Center Backs, but Jones has been the most consistent of the bunch. He’s been successful on just over half his tackle chances (37/73), and has not, as of yet, surrendered a shot on goal. At only 22, he figures to be a main stay in United lineup for years to come.
Johnny Evans (CB): Evans has only appeared in 16 matches this year, and while he has dealt some with injuries himself,
the blame can mostly be laid on Moyes’ for not using him more. And that could prove costly, because judging off his season sample thus far – though small – he’s been quite effective. As you can see, his tackle rate, fouls committed, and headed duels have all been through the roof, and could be hinting at more to come if handed a larger role in the future. United will no doubt look for outside help at Center Back this coming off season, but a partial solution to the problem could be right under their very noses with Evans.
Rafael (RB): The Brazilian has surprisingly been one of United’s more well-rounded defenders this season. Providing 17 created chances, he’s also won 37/66 tackles (56%) and has only committed 17 fouls while being fouled 23 times himself.
Shinji Kagawa (CAM): For whatever reason, Moyes has decided not to include this talented Japanese international more in his lineup. He’s a very skilled midfielder who thrives in a central role right behind the strikers, but unfortunately for him, so does Juan Mata. Moyes’ fate is now linked with the Spaniard, and because Kagawa isn’t nearly as effective out on a wing as he is in the middle, that likely means there will continue to not be much room for him in Moyes’ team, and an off season transfer is likely.
Nemanja Vidic (CB): Vidic is still a capable defender, but at age 32 has really shown his age this year in my opinion. His 69% fouls committed rate signals that he’s being beaten more often and has to resort to fouling to stop his man. He’s also been carded 6 times this year, and that includes 2 red’s. His best days are behind him, and fortunately for Moyes, he won’t be faced much longer with the dilemma of getting some younger, fresher legs some playing time as Vidic will be moving to Inter Milan this summer.
Those are my selections for who should be starting most weeks for Manchester United. Naturally, I had fantasy football in the back of my mind when making these decisions, but the good thing with that is usually the best fantasy options also make for who should be staring in real life as well. The attacking players are who I feel give the team the best chances of scoring, and the defenders chosen give the team the best chance at stoping the opposition.
This year has been a nightmare for Moyes and Co., and he hasn’t exactly traversed it with great aplomb. Hopefully he’s given more time to prove himself. Because if nothing else, he needs it just to learn who he should feature each week.
Agree or disagree with me? Let me know. You can leave a comment below or find me on Twitter at @LTtheGreat