The Red Devils needed a season of consistency so that they can get their coveted Champions League spot. Till now, it has not been so consistent in terms of performance, but pretty good in terms of results as Man Utd sit 4th in the League. They have barely been at their best but have had the individual brilliance of some of their players during key moments, which has led to this solid position. Here are the grades.
Well, when you talk of the defence, indirectly, even the goalkeeper is included in the defense. And Man Utd’s goalkeeper David De Gea has been their saving grace in defence, sometimes entirely saving points on his own. De Gea has been the most in form goalkeeper this season in the Premier League with Man Utd’s defence struggling to establish stability and protection to the keeper.
Man Utd have used 8 defenders this season – Jones, Smalling, Evans, Rojo, Shaw, McNair, Rafael and Blackett. None of these defenders are world class, and almost all are young and promising. Man Utd lack the leader at the back which has resulted in poor defensive performance by the back four and well covered by David De Gea.
If van Gaal plays a 3 Center Back system, then usually they rely a lot on passing. Man United’s Center Backs aren’t traditionally the ball playing types and have often misplaced passes and messed up play at the back which have directly led to scoring opportunities to their opponents, many being saved by De Gea.
The Red Devils like to press higher up the field with defense when they are on the front foot, but they usually adopt a neutral defensive approach because they crowd up the midfield and attack in a 3-5-2 formation. Major weaknesses at the back have been the lack of experience and lack of technique. While the strengths are that players like Shaw, McNair and Rojo are young and very promising while Jones is becoming a major player once more.
Manchester United boast of great midfielders like Michael Carrick, Juan Mata, Angel Di Maria, Daley Blind, Maraoune Fellaini and Ander Herrera. The Red Devils have a formidable midfield line-up whenever they field their team. But as they say matches aren’t played on paper, the players have struggled to find chemistry and consistency this season.
Man United use Wayne Rooney as a midfielder these days, a testimony to the fact that they have had chemistry and consistency problems. Injury to superstar Angel Di Maria just when he took his first strong strides in the Premier League didn’t help the cause, and so did the injuries to Herrera, Fellaini and Michael Carrick which pushed Rooney into central attacking midfield and van Gaal tried making full use of Blind, Mata, Young, Januzaj etc.
Maraoune Fellaini has been in good form this season under Van Gaal after a very disappointing spell under his former Everton manager David Moyes in his first season. Fellaini has often been provided the game according to his strengths as United have tried playing long balls and utilize Fellaini’s height and aerial prowess. And improving the physical dynamism in Man Utd’s approach play, van Gaal has given Fellaini a very good attacking midfield role, whenever he is deemed fit to play.
Man United have failed to be outright creative from midfield but have been loitering around the category that we associate with the teams that just about make the top four in the league. Creative midfielders have often been subdued on the pitch as the system is somewhat new to them, and have been dominant in possession but more so in a defensive manner than creating chances.
Manchester United boast of the likes of Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Radamel Falcao when it comes down to the forwards. This is an incredible set of strikers who are superstars in their own right and have the ability to single handedly win matches for the team.
But they have not been good enough on the pitch together. The team has lacked flair when Falcao and van Persie have played together, while on the other hand, Rooney has been shifted deeper and deeper into midfield. Van Persie has managed 10 goals and Falcao has managed 4 this season in the Premier League which is collectively lower than the individual totals of Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa, which was really not expected.
Wayne Rooney playing deeper to provide the dynamism and work rate in the center has been an average move so far. Rooney being a top quality player does produce the odd path-breaking pass but he is best utilized as a supporting striker or at the tip of the diamond formation where he scored most of his 8 goals initially in the season.
STYLE OF PLAY: 6/10
The style of play has also been average this season. We have come to expect so much from Man United and the “United Way” that playing run off the mill football was always going to be appalling especially when the players are donning the famous Red Devils kit.
The team chemistry has been dull this season mostly because of the alien nature of the 3-5-2 formation. For some particular reason, which I assume to be defensive stability, Louis van Gaal wants that formation with the wingbacks instead of the more flamboyant 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation. Van Gaal pretty openly said that watching his team play the 4-4-2 diamond from the Man United bench makes his ‘ass twitch’.
For most parts of the season, United have looked to be direct against the stronger opponents while passing short against the lower opponents. Some notable classy performances are the ones versus Hull City and also the defeat to Leicester City, which despite the 5-3 scoreline, marked a very good game in terms of style for the Red Devils. But apart from that, Man United have been a counter attacking team and a team that looks to provide directly to Falcao, van Persie or Fellaini and avoid the midfield lines, which is somewhat considered not to be innovative or stylish play.
CLOSING THE GAME/KILLING THE GAME: 10/10
To be fair to Man Utd, they have been extremely efficient in the closing stages of the games. They have managed to have an unbeaten run in the tournament and have also grabbed some crucial points through their late resilience thanks to De Gea.
United have a lot of individuals who can win games single handedly, so they never go missing when there is a need for a player to rise. One day it may be Fellaini who scores, the other day it could be van Persie or Falcao. Though the consistency has never been there this season in United apart from the one player David De Gea, they all take turns to perform outstandingly on match days. Van Persie is far from his best, but still remains a great finisher in the box, thus those 10 goals. Similarly one day there would be Blind scoring the equalizing goal or the winner, or Smalling choosing to score a brace etc.
OVERALL FOR MAN UNITED: 7.2/10
PREDICTED FINISH: 5th