Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Angel Di Maria are star players in the soccer world. There’s no doubt that Manchester United has some of the best offensive fire power on paper, but that doesn’t help if there’s not a good enough supporting cast around them, or if the formation is wrong.
Saturday’s 2-1 loss away to Swansea showed that despite all the star names on the offensive side, United are still lacking in midfield and at defense, it was obvious on the game-winning goal by Swansea when Jonjo Shelvey was allowed to go down the middle and shoot unopposed. His shot got a lucky deflection by way of Bafembi Gomis head and went in behind David De Gea. But the fact that Shelvey was allowed all that space is troubling if you’re a United fan.
Sure, it’s not all doom and gloom, United are still in fourth place in the Premier League as I write these lines, but if Southampton beat Liverpool on Sunday, the Reds could find themselves in fifth, and outside the Champions League spots with 12 games remaining of the season.
The setup to play with a diamond, with Daley Blind in the defensive role and Marouane Fellaini as the offensive central piece hasn’t really worked. Blind is doing a great job on the defensive end, but playing with a diamond allows way too much space in the middle of the field, and it might be more effective to play a 4-4-1-1 formation with Rooney as the false nine.
I’m not saying that I know more about soccer than Louis van Gaal. He’s a legendary manager, but the way this team is built just seems wrong, and you don’t need to be a coach to see that. There’s a lack of talent in defense, the team has been in desperate need of a real leader in central defense after Nemanja Vidic left. They tried to get a new defensive general in Mats Hummels from Dortmund, but weren’t able to strike up a deal.
United also need reinforcements on the full-back positions as Luke Shaw has been struggling with injuries and the fact that Rafael is the only natural choice on the right. The curious thing is that Rafael seems to have fallen out of favor under Van Gaal and has only featured in 10 out of 29 games. Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young are being schooled into the role of wingback, but it would feel a lot safer to actually get someone who has played in that position on a regular basis.
In midfield, a creative central player is also on the wish list of all United fans, and Van Gaal has had to play Rooney in midfield due to lack of talent. Fellaini had a terrible first season in Manchester last year, but he’s coming around. But he’s more of a battering ram than a nifty and creative playmaker. Ander Herrera is a solid player with a good shot, but he also lacks the creativity that is needed to break through defenses.
It’s just mind-boggling that United prioritized bringing in offensive guys like Di Maria and Falcao instead of securing replacements for the obvious holes in the lineup. Most likely this will be addressed during the summer, but if United miss out on Champions League play for a second season, it might be hard to attract the top-level talent that is so desperately needed without being in the most prestigious club tournament.
The team was on a good run before the loss to Swansea, and they need to bounce back straight away with a win against Sunderland next Saturday. United’s schedule is looking pretty tough down the stretch with games against Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Arsenal. In order to at least get that fourth spot and get into the Champions League qualifying round, they are going to need a good run of results as only six points differs between third-placed Arsenal and seven-placed Liverpool. And that it could be as little as three points depending on Sunday’s results.
Van Gaal really need to take a hard look at his team and somehow figure out how to make sure that United will play in the Champions League next season. It might be a good idea to switch system, or rely on the offensive players like Rooney and van Persie to score enough goals each game to ensure victory.
Either way, it will be a nail biting end to the season for all United fans.