Man Utd: What’s wrong with our wings?

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March 12, 2013 by Wayne.

A short rumination about United’s current winger situation – not quite a Wenger situation, but still somewhat of a problem

It’s troubling that our best winger over the past two games has been Nani (by a very substantial margin). For one thing, Nani’s notoriously inconsistent, but more pressingly he’ll probably leave in the summer.

United has always been a traditionally counter-attacking side with a very strong emphasis on wing play. Carrick’s not quite Alonso but he’s still devastating when he sends raking Scholes-like diagonals across the pitch to a marauding winger. There’s been some discontent around Internet fora about our center midfield – we’re good but we still get overrun! We need a solid presence! Sign up Fellaini! – though I mostly tune that out as the typical we-want-a-Keano buzz that’s present every season. Sure, if we sign Vidal or something, we’d be significantly strengthening the squad, but all this talk understates our current center midfield options.

Carrick is…Carrick. Atrocious only a few seasons ago, but he’s quickly matured into a flimsy anchorman, an out-ball option with slow legs, a defensive Scholes, if you would. He doesn’t quite influence big matches, especially when we’re outnumbered in the center, but he can’t really be faulted much either. One of our best players this season and definitely the most consistent. We don’t quite need to replace him yet then.

As great as the Second Coming of Scholes was, he’ll most likely retire this summer. A real shame especially since we don’t quite have the same quality of passing in Carrick, and definitely not the calming influence. Ideally, we’d sign a replacement but realistically who could we possibly sign?

Cleverley has played well this season. He’s definitely grown as a player, though of course I’m hoping he blossoms even more next season. He’s good, but not great. Just moving back and forth in the middle, he has great game sometimes, he disappears sometimes, but mostly he sits in the center, recycling possession, making the occasional dart forward (thankfully, he’s stopped bursting out of position like a starved striker every time we break), winning balls sometimes and just…being a central midfielder. I just kind of wish he added an extra dimension to his game, you know?

There’s nothing particularly wrong with his play at the moment, at least not when you judge him in isolation. Look at his stats in FM 2013, that’s some promising shit. Solid, middle-of-the-park bloke.

Trouble is, Carrick is our de facto first name on the team sheet, which means his midfield partner has to be of a certain ilk. Preferably a more robust and/or more agile ilk. Like Anderson if he knew how to play football. Cleverley just isn’t at that required level yet. Being a decent-to-good all-around midfielder is, sadly, not quite enough.

I fear Fletcher will never quite be back to form, let alone live up to his promise. And oh god I remember the promise. Used to be one of our unsung heroes. As much positional awareness as Carrick but with greater mobility, letting him spring forward and stop balls coming in, whereas Carrick mostly relies on shielding the back two. Not quite the ferocious destroyer but a sort of Cleverley-Carrick hybrid, with enough versatility and movement to move higher up the pitch and contribute to the build up play. I’ll miss you when you retire, and I’m sorry I called you Fletchfuck but you did give away lots of balls before you became good.

Well, it’s still possible for Cleverley to pick up some more defensive bite. Here’s to a new Fletcher!

Plus, there’s always Kagawa. Back to his I-can’t-send-a-pass-forward self at Chelsea but I’m sure he’ll develop. That’s pretty much the same criticism of Carrick when he came in, remember? I BET HARGREAVES CAN PASS FORWARD, YOU CUNTTTT

So, wings. Wings wings wings.

Despite all that claptrap from SAF about being revolutionary if we played a wing-less formation (remember that, from early this season?), we quickly reverted to a more familiar formation because, well, we sucked with a more compact system. The thing is, our current wing situation sucks too. We arguably fell apart during the Madrid game because of two reasons:

  1. Nani being sent off meant Welbeck was pushed to the left, freeing up Alonso who linked up with Modric (who played further up to devastating effect)
  2. We don’t have good wingers

Leaving the issue of Nani aside, who DO we have? Rooney disappears when he goes to the flank, plus he gives away too many easy balls to let him play there. To top it off, he’ll cut inside anyway which doesn’t really fulfill our main purpose of having wingers – stretching play and getting crosses in.

Same goes for Welbeck – phenomenal build up play outside the box, Bambi on ice inside etc etc – who really deserves a run of games in his natural position anyway. Once he works on his finishing, he’ll be great. Not a winger though.

Valencia is so painfully off it this season. If you think about it, he has a single job: stick to the sideline, receive balls on the break, beat fullback, drill cross in/win corner. Plus overlap brilliantly with Rafael. With that width on the right, we’d typically field a ‘false’ winger on the left, someone who’d play as an inside forward while Evra overlapped to give the width.

With Valencia completely nullified this season, United’s increasingly playing without any real threat through the wings. Giggs plays great when he does play, though that’s increasingly rare – not exactly something to rely on.

It also goes without saying that Ashley Young should never have been bought. I’m only saying it because it bears repetition because I hate Young. Yes, if it came to choosing one winger to sell, I’d still go with Young over Valencia. There’s a chance Valencia can regain a bit of his pace / develop a left foot – Norwich cross!, but Young’s shown all he can do, which is nothing really.

I’m just hoping Zaha immediately slots in.

Also, I hear Bebe’s having a good season.

Ideally, we’d sign Ronaldo, of course.

Here’s a suggestion though: how about giving that Buttner bloke some time on the left wing? He’s shown some promise in attack but his defending’s even more woeful than Evra, which is saying a lot. I don’t quite see him becoming our first choice left back, but he definitely has the potential to be a solid performer further up, providing some real width and quality in crosses that we’re lacking at the moment.

NEXT SEASON, NEXT SEASON (ASSUMING WE DON’T BUY ANY PLAYERS, ALTHOUGH WE DEFINITELY WILL)

De Gea (poor Lindegaard is too good to stay on a bench btw)

Rafael – Ferdinand/Evans – Vidic/Smalling – Evra/Fabio

Zaha – Carrick – Cleverley/Fletcher – Buttner

Rooney/Kagawa

RVP

Although there’s always the chance I tune it to the TV next season and see Rafael playing as the right winger and Valencia as the right fullback. You heard it here first, folks

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