It wouldn’t be a day too late if so. Fans have been running out of patience and if rumours are to be believed, so are the upper hierarchy at Old Trafford. United sit 7th in the league (still) and could easily miss out on Europe altogether, disaster for the club but not so much for the fans. We’ve all seen the negative impact the competition has on the majority of clubs and how much it has benefitted Liverpool since they made the decision to turn down their invite to the competition last summer.
The Reds probably have the squad to deal with it and could easily send a team of youngsters and back-ups out to do the job without fear of being knocked out. An XI of say Lindegaard, Smalling, Keane, Evans, Buttner, Cleverley, Carrick, Valencia, Powell, Lingard, Henriquez etc would be strong enough to make it through the group stage leaving the A-team at home to deal with domestic issues.
I’ve been a big defender of David Moyes this season, not because of what I’ve seen on the pitch. I’m not blind; I’ve sat through some of the worst performances I’ve seen from United, culminating in the pathetic 2-0 defeat away at Olympiakos. I’ve just always been a believer unless a team is on the verge of relegation a manager should get a chance. Forget that I’m a United fan, I felt the same about AVB’s travails at Chelsea and Tottenham and couldn’t believe my eyes when Rene Meulensteen was sacked at Fulham after what seemed like about 4 days.
I understand that from a board’s point of view it’s very different. Financial hits have and will continue to be taken by the club which is something a fan doesn’t have to consider. But just recently my belief in Moyes has turned from just blind faith to seeing on the pitch that our manager does have a plan. He spoke just last week about executing that plan when the time is right. I guess that means during pre-season when Moyes finally has the players he wants and can adapt the team to his plans.
Throughout January and February United seemed to be falling apart more and more every week but since the agonising 2-2 draw at home to Fulham, barring one or two blips on the radar United have looked much more like their old selves, especially on the road. Considering Moyes was always known for his excellent home form at Everton, the fact United have the best away record in the league is another baffling stat created from this topsy turvy and largely forgettable campaign.
Marouane Fellaini came back into the United team after the 0-0 draw at Arsenal and United have kept a further three clean sheets in a row on the road in the Premier League. 2-0 at Crystal Palace, 3-0 at West Brom and possibly their most convincing attacking display to date in a 2-0 win against West Ham last weekend. The defence hasn’t changed but it’s been noticeable how often the Belgian has popped up in front of the defenders and intercepted the ball before also appearing further up the field as an attacking threat. The signing of Fellaini has been criticised by many but for me he’s really shown his worth lately and I know exactly where he fits into the greater scheme of things.
But it wasn’t the West Ham game that made me see things a little clearer, it was 3-0 win at West Brom a couple of weeks ago. United had a holding midfielder alongside a box-to-box midfelder, a pacey striker, two wingers who would cut inside allowing the full-backs to bomb forward and help with attacks. Rafael has been largely back to his old self this season but against West Brom he carried the kind of attacking threat he did last season, assisting the second goal of the game for Wayne Rooney.
Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj aren’t what you’d call conventional wingers. Mata isn’t a winger at all whilst Januzaj can play on either flank, allowing him to cut in and use either foot. The same goes for Shinji Kagawa, he was excellent against West Ham and despite the criticism both Moyes and his predecessor came under for playing the Japanese international on the left, that is where he plays for his country and he’s been most influential whilst doing so.
Looking at United’s prime transfer targets for the summer it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the plan Moyes wants to execute at Old Trafford. Rafael may buy himself time if he ups his game but links to Seamus Coleman won’t go away. If the manager wants a full-back who will get forward and chip in with goals and assists then there aren’t many better than the Irishman right now. He’s been the best right-back in the league and the constant pursuit of Southampton’s Luke Shaw for Patrice Evra’s soon to be vacant spot is no surprise either. Shaw won’t be easy but United have been looking at plenty of other options, all of whom offer a large attacking threat. Monaco’s Layvin Kurzawa has got 5 goals from the left-back this season is very much on the radar, as if Sevilla’s Alberto Moreno. The right-back spot may still be Rafael’s next season but it would be no surprise to see Coleman arrive if United stump up the cash. If there was a way of rotating the two then fantastic as the full-back position isn’t exactly somewhere United have depth and Rafael sees his fair share of injuries.
If Marouane Fellaini is to become a permanent fixture next season as a box-to-box midfielder than it appears the declining Michael Carrick will be relegation to a squad rotation role. It’s no surprise that the top two targets are Toni Kroos and William Carvalho. Carvalho would compete with Fellaini as someone who can sweep up in front of the defence but also pop up in the other area chipping in with goals. Toni Kroos would be the playmaker, the man who can split open a defence like Paul Scholes and would work alongside either Carvalho or Fellaini because they’d do the defensive work whilst he orchestrates the attack. Kroos playing behind a fluent front four including the likes of Januzaj, Kagawa, Mata & Rooney is a dream and a large one. Kroos is far from a done deal but the air of confidence that surrounds the deal from the clubs end means fans can’t help but get excited.
Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young don’t necessarily fit the bill in terms of fluent, inverted wingers and if either are at the club next season it will be very much a squad role. Nani signed a five year deal and should be heavily involved once he re-finds fitness. On his day Nani is one of the best in the squad and with Adnan Januzaj on the other side with Juan Mata in between, it could prove to be a fruitful partnership with Shinji Kagawa able to step in when needed. The real dilemma comes up front, if Mata is to be played in his proper position then that means Wayne Rooney plays up front. You don’t drop Wayne Rooney, especially if he’s captain come August. Does that mean Danny Welbeck stays in his back-up striker/winger role despite his continued improvement?
The big question is over Robin van Persie. Despite his eye for goal United don’t look as fluent as a team when the Dutchman is in the team. He won’t make the runs in behind that Welbeck will. Van Persie’s lack of pace means he drops deeper and squeezes the likes of Mata further back whereas Welbeck drags the defence back 10 yards allowing the creative players much more room, as became evident against West Brom when van Persie was substituted. The injury to the striker may be a blessing in disguise as it gives David Moyes the perfect opportunity to experiment with his attack. Against West Ham we saw that Kagawa, Mata & Rooney are more than able as a front three.
Van Persie’s future is thrown into more doubt when you hear about United’s constant pursuit of the likes of Diego Costa and Edison Cavani. Moyes rates the Atletico Madrid striker highly whilst Cavani would bring a whole host of attributes to the attack but if Mata is to play behind Rooney it’s unlikely United will look at a marquee attacking signing even if van Persie should leave. Despite his talent it might not be the worst thing for the future of the club if the striker departs after the World Cup.
So, bearing all that in mind, let’s have a look at a potential United line-up for next season. Obviously, it’s based on Moyes getting his first choice signings and nobody can predict what lies ahead for United this summer. A number of players are being targeted in several positions and nobody can really know who the players will be to step in. That doesn’t change what I believe the plan will be though but for sake of optimism and living the dream we’ll go with the best possible scenario. Many want this season to be over, as do I. Not because it’s been awful and there’s nothing to play for but because I’m excited about next season. You don’t manage a top half team for a decade without a plan and I’m sure David Moyes is about to execute his plan on the Old Trafford turf once he has the players at his disposal. The plan should give the manager plenty of options, especially if the United do end up competing in the fabled Europa League next season.