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No Cups But Plenty Of Mugs

Friday 16th March 2012
Manchester United's exit from the Europa League was only remedied by the later exit of rivals Manchester City. Whilst United were contenders for the competition, City were the favourites so that's a minor, albeit churlish, positive for United fans.

United lined up against Athletic Bilbao with a decent enough looking starting line-up. They had a good balance of experience and youthful tenacity, but you wouldn't have known it.

Wayne Rooney was isolated as the lone striker from the word. When Rooney gets isolated he simply comes deeper and deeper and when he does that, others deputise as the front man. And that's not a good thing when that Tom Cleverley becomes the furthest man forward.

One man doesn't make a team though, despite Rooney's class. United generally looked slow and bereft of ideas. The runs weren't there, the chasing down wasn't there, mistakes appeared all over the place and their poor performance was made glaringly obvious by a team 7th in La Liga.

However, we should consider Bilbao's class. They stunned United at Old Trafford in what I can only presume players and fans thought would be a walk in the park. It also portrayed the simple fact that Spanish teams are better than English teams. Spain has a better system for developing youth talent and works on flair, creativity and vision. Spain has more home grown players playing in its leagues and like Pep Guardiola said; for every Jack Wilshere there's 50 comparables in Spain.

As such, United were made to look cheap. Jonny Evans was outclassed and Rio Ferdinand was outpaced by the lively Fernando Llorente. Patrice Evra and Rafael decided to abandon their full back positions and allow crosses into the box freely. Michael Carrick was so quiet I didn't realise he was playing, while Ryan Giggs for one of the first times looked every bit the tired old veteran. Rooney was back to his old self and seemingly decided that because it was looking bad, he shouldn't care. Until he scored a breathtaking goal of course. There was little leadership on the field and it seemed nobody knew how to get United back into the game.

The solution is that new signings are needed at United, for several reasons.

1) World Class. United have talented players and a harmonised team but don't have the world class stars. United's two big stars are Rooney and Vidic. Giggs, Ferdinand and Scholes are respected veterans, and Evra and Nani are close to stars but have their flaws. There's too little stand out talent. Michael Carrick doesn't impose fear in rival midfielders, and nor do Anderson, Fletcher or the youth of Cleverley and Paul Pogba. This season hasn't seen the same flowing United moves that carve teams open and result in sumptuous goals worthy of acclaim. That used to be common place, and it needs to return or it'll be bye-bye trophies, hello Arsenal-like barren streak.

2) Injury. Anderson has been out a lot, along with Cleverley. Rooney, Hernandez, Valencia, Nani, Ferdinand have also had their problems.  Evra, Phile Jones, Chris Smalling, Rafael, Fabio have all struggled with injuries at some point. Add to that the long-term absences of both Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher and it's clear United have struggled, and they need more depth.

3) Laziness and passion. Against Bilbao some players, such as Cleverley, struggled because of their experience. But established players like Evra simply gave up. You can't be captain and not give it all, you can't be in a losing position away in Europe and not fight for survival. The fans won't stand for this so new talent will make people fight for their starting spot.

4) Lack of strikepower.  United's strikeforce needs enhancing. Berbatov is of a class worthy of partnering Rooney, but the styles don't match, hence the Bulgarian's lack of play time and his inevitable transfer away from Old Trafford in the summer. A star centre forward is needed to compliment Rooney and the quality wingers. Llorente certainly made his case.

So, who to buy and who to replace this summer:

GK: United are fine. David De Gea is settling and starting to show his true colours, Lindegaard is fine, and Amos is the rising homegrown talent. Sorted.

Defence:  Out - Evra. In - Leighton Baines and a right-back.

United need more defensive competence at full-back. Baines can defend well and is the top assisting full back in the Premier League, and at United he'd flourish even further. The right-back position needs filling to compensate for the fact Smalling and Jones are centre-backs and Rafael and Fabio are too attack-minded. The same can be said of Evra for attacking, who also loses focus when it counts. This left United exposed against Bilbao, and defending should be a full-back's priority, not mindless runs at the opposition.

Midfield: Out - Ji-Sung Park, Nani and maybe Fletcher. In - Luka Modric, Marek Hamsik, Cheick Tiote, Eden Hazard, Matt Jarvis.

Darren Fletcher is the worker in the United team, but his bowel condition is is flared by intense exercise. As such, his fitness would be shy of what's necessary and game time will remain low. Instead, United should sign Tiote to become an inevitably world class ball-winning central midfielder.

Nani's development has seen him come good, but more often than not he's greedy and petulant and it costs United. In comparison, Antonio Valencia is selfless and gets a lot more assists and goals for it. I would sell Nani for decent money and bring in Hazard, who has shown he has more teamwork about him as well as proven class and the ability to play centrally. Modric and Hamsik speak for themselves, and both would provide the classy, visionary midfielder needed tol orchestrate United's flowing moves.

Finally, Jarvis for Park. The 25-year-old Wolves winger is fast and capable with both feet so he can play on both wings. He can beat people with skill, he crosses well, is very much a team player and he can defend. Most importantly, his workrate is phenomenal. He's an ideal replacement, and great value for money.

Strikers: Out - Berbatov, Michael Owen. In - one of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Hulk, Llorente, Alexandre Pato.

United need a class striker to go with Rooney. It's very simple. Any one of these players could do the role, and so could many others. It just needs to be some pacey, crafty, a true striker who can finish. I know we have Hernandez, but he lacks the guile at times and that comes with maturity. The same can be said of Macheda, or Welbeck - who lacks finesse. Someone else needs to come in in the meantime. Owen is the model that would suit but his fitness will, as ever, prevent it.
Liam Sheasby

Total articles: 5

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