Due to some, to put it simply, twat and their hoax bomb, Manchester United’s 2015/16 (Premier League) season looks like it will be prolonged for a little while longer. However, thoughts have been turning to the next campaign for a while, and now seems a good time to consider the current squad, who should be moved on, and where can be improved. Who should be chucked outright? Who should be left hanging around on stand-by as a decent back-up or prospect? Who should be kept as a starter? Chuck, Stand-by, Keep.
David de Gea – Keep: This time, let’s just smash up the fax machine and call it an accident. Dave saves, Dave stays.
Sergio Romero – Stand-by: Was pretty decent when he was started at the beginning of the season, under the cloud of De Gea’s then-imminent departure. Definitely a decent back-up.
Victor Valdes – Stand-by: I don’t know if he’s still at the club. He’s on the club website’s squad page but doesn’t have a number, so who knows, but I’d keep him around if he wants to stay.
Chris Smalling – Keep: Though there are faults in his game, he is a decent enough centre-back, although I think he needs stronger communicators around him than he has this season. Also, you’d be a fool to let him go with what little else we have in terms of defensive quality.
Daley Blind – Stand-by: Ideally, Smalling would be United’s second-best centre-back in the starting XI; that’s the kind of level I think he’s at. Blind is clearly not better than Smalling, but is a very useful back-up to have available, and his versatility also makes him a great player to have on the bench.
Marcus Rojo – Stand-by: Probably bordering on stand-by and chuck. Despite having been bought after playing left-back in the World Cup, I think centre-back is his best position, and I actually think there’s something about him that makes Smalling a better defender. However, United probably need greater passing and defensive ability from a central defensive pairing than Smalling and Rojo can offer. Without being able to justify his inclusion alongside Smalling in the starting line-up, Rojo just becomes a mediocre-to-ok stand-in.
Phil Jones – Stand-by?: Probably a better stand-in than Rojo, but doesn’t compliment Smalling in the same way. One of Rojo or Jones should go, particularly given their injury records.
Paddy McNair – Chuck: Sorry. Keeping him would be purely sentimentality of a youth product. If he stays in the youth team as a youth player then he could be an emergency fill-in, but you may as well give another youth centre-back a chance. Besides, we’ve got enough youth products elsewhere, particularly at full-back.
Luke Shaw – Keep: When fit again there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be given time as the starting left-back. ‘Nuff said.
Matteo Darmian – Keep: He started the season nicely but seems to have dipped significantly. That said, he seems competent, and a significant improvement on him (providing his form at the start of the season is more his usual level than his form at the end of the season) isn’t likely. A case of ‘”Keep”, for another season at least’ for him as well as Shaw, though for Shaw it’s more a case of wondering what he’ll be like after recovery, as we all know how terrible such a significant injury can be for a player’s career.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson – Stand-by: Strongly tempted to put him down as ‘Keep’ too. Seems good, level-headed, can cross the ball. #CBJUltras
Timothy Fosu-Mensah – Stand-by: Was decent when called upon at right-back generally, although those who know more about him than I have said that his main position has been centre-back in the youth team. Either way, he seems like a decent uy to call upon if needed, keeping McNair on the chuck heap.
Guillermo Varela – Chuck: Keeping him on Stand-by, for me, would feel like something that United would use as an excuse not to buy in some cover at full-back. With Shaw, Blind, Darmian, and the discovery of Borthwick-Jackson, we’re pretty well suited for options on the left (my preference is not the order written), but right-back has been a bit of a bad spot this season. A solid back-up for Darmian is needed – NOT VALENCIA.
Morgan Schneiderlin – Keep: Presumably, given his age, bought to be part of the first team for the forseeable future, and has shown glimpses of that potential this season, if not as much as may have been liked. It’s a tentative ‘Keep’ though, bordering on ‘Stand-by’.
Michael Carrick – Chuck: Sorry. Another one of those cases of “if United keep him they probably won’t bring in an adequate player in this position”. When a squad renewal is needed, a certain streak of ruthlessness is needed.
Marouane Fellaini – Chuck: Does have qualities, that is true even if it hasn’t felt like it at times this season, but has often been woefully misused. He’s unlikely to fit in with the team system next year, and keeping him around, again, will just prevent the problem being addressed.
Bastian Schweinsteiger – Stand-by: In a similar boat as Carrick, but a better player now and at his peak. His experience and understanding of the game could really help some of the younger players too. But keeping both him and Carrick would mean Carrington would start to resemble an old peoples’ home.
Ander Herrera – Stand-by: Probably not quite as good as hoped, particularly with the amount he’s loved by fans, but decent to have around. Him as a starter feels a little like a weak line-up; him as an option to bring off the bench (providing better players have started) feels like a pretty strong squad.
Ashley Young – Stand-by: I dunno. It could be ‘Chuck’, if not for a lack of other adequate wide players. I think Ashley Young’s time at United should have run its course, but will probably run a little longer thanks to the amount of squad re-building that needs doing. I think he’s also shown more glimpses of quality or adequacy than Valencia has, which may make it obvious what he’ll get.
Antonio Valencia – Chuck: If for nothing else, just so that United will actually be forced to buy another right-back. This ‘Valencia as a back-up right-back’ sham has been going on for too long.
Juan Mata – Stand-by: Not keep. Hasn’t really looked like he’s fitted in with the team set-up this season and seems on the uncomfortable border of being too good to be a sub but not quite good enough to be an ideal starter.
Jesse Lingard – Stand-by: His movement at times to receive the ball has been pretty darn good, although it has been commented on by some that he’s better off the ball than on it (which is not necessarily the damning critique it might sound, and in this case definitely isn’t). Also, he’s a youth product, so there’s that.
Memphis Depay – Stand-by: Some want to get rid of him. This seems silly. He’s not performed this season but is young and has had to deal with playing under Van Gaal, and is the player in the squad whose game is probably most significantly affected by LVG’s chosen style of play this season. Give him another season at least, though has not done enough to merit a ‘Keep’.
Adnan Januzaj – Stand-by: Clearly not a ‘Keep’, and no point selling him in unless a huge offer comes in. Didn’t seem to fit in with Van Gaal’s attempts at instilling a positional play type of structured approach, but has shown potential in past seasons.
Anthony Martial – Stand-by: This one is the one I feel least comfortable with. While Martial is clearly great and is our top scorer this season and we all love him. However, I’m thinking of these players as forwards, not wide attacking midfielders, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable relying on Martial as my lone striker for an entire season. This isn’t just a matter of quality, but also the fact that he’s looked absolutely knackered at times this season, and it’s not fair to expect him to keep carrying the team.
Wayne Rooney – Stand-by: It’s been plain to see for a while that Rooney isn’t at the level anymore to be United’s main striker, although he did show glimpses of his past self for a few matches this season when he seemed to have been let off his leash and freed of some responsibilities. Part of me wants to say ‘Chuck’ though, as (AGAIN) I feel strongly that if he stays United will use it as an excuse not to bring someone better in.
Marcus Rashford – Stand-by: Has been serviceable as a stand-in (and for brief wonderful moments more than serviceable). Would be a good fourth choice behind Martial, Rooney, and a proper starting striker.
James Wilson – Chuck: Hasn’t been in the United first team this season but is likely to feature in discussions, there’s not really room for him if you’re keeping Rashford as a stand-in.
OK, so I’ve written this without thinking about how many of each of the Chuck, Stand-by, Keeps I’ve been giving out.
I’ve just gone back and totted them up.
5 ‘Keep’s. Out of 11 starting places. I think that says a lot about where our squad is compared to where we’re expecting United to be. This could be an argument for a readjustment in expectations but it’s not hard to argue that if transfer business had been conducted better during the past 3 years then we’d be much closer to a full XI.
In all, there were 28 players I included here. As well as the 5 I classed as ‘Keep’, there were 6 I classed as ‘Chuck’, leaving 17 players who I see as ‘Stand-by’ squad players. Ho-hum.
As for realistic expectations of summer business (as in what you could reasonably expect a club to do, not what I expect United to do, which will probably be somewhere between underwhelming to bad):
Buy a first-team centre-back and an ok right-back – after this you can sell a couple of squad defenders who might be getting interest, and you’re done with the defence.
Sell Fellaini – Asking the club to bring in a top class centre-back AND central midfielder AND striker is too much. In a decent structure the central midfielders will be serviceable, and the temptation of misusing Fellaini will no longer be there. This is also partly a PR move for the fans; he’s unfortunately been a symbol of so many bizarre LVG decisions, getting rid would feel a bit like a new start.
Sell Valencia, bring in a good (if not great) right-winger – Selling Valencia will make the right-back signing more urgent. United love a promising young winger, and the club need some width on the right, where Mata has recently been playing. Memphis, Januzaj, Young, Martial, and Lingard can rotate through these wide positions if needed. In the centre, Mata, Lingard, Herrera, Rooney – while none ideal in all likelihood – can all be serviceable.
Buy a top forward – It’s such a key position that this should be a priority. For now, with the club out of the Champions League again, even just someone who can play at a high level for 20 or so league matches will do, as the other forwards can fill in (but fill in is basically all I trust them for).
The priorities from the above are probably the forward, then the right-back, then the winger. If those positions are sorted (and the key very much is to get these positions SORTED, not just to put off sorting them for another year), then centre-back can wait and be the big project for the following summer, along with improving on some more of the dead wood.
I may have left someone out or made a spelling or grammar mistake somewhere amongst this, which seems to have turned into a 2000 word article. If so, lemme know @ETNAR_uk on Twitter, or in the comments below. Thanks for reading 🙂