Will This Manchester United Team Ever Get The Praise It Deserves?

Top of the league after recovering from a mauling at home to City, this team is constantly derided as inferior by the media. It might not be the finest vintage, but there is much to admire...
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Top of the league after recovering from a mauling at home to City, this team is constantly derided as inferior by the media. It might not be the finest vintage, but there is much to admire...

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Consensus seems to say that this is not the finest of  Sir Alex Ferguson's vintage. A quick Twitter survey seemed to rate this team below previous Manchester United teams those of 1992-94, 1999-2001, and 2007-9. Some thought the current team below that of the 2002-04 side.

This seems unduly harsh.

Manchester United won the league last year and, if anything, have strengthened since that point. Those who deny this should praise Manchester United even more highly for they are saying they have weakened and still are likely to win the league.

The players that left last summer are not missed. The worries that many United fans had that the loss of individuals who were brought up in the United way such as Gibson, Brown and O'Shea has not materialised into a problem. The thought here wasn't that these players were integral on a playing basis but rather it was useful to have such players in the dressing room. It turns out it is more useful to have players like Young, Jones and de Gea.

Admittedly, de Gea - as much as he has improved - is not Edwin van der Sar. The loss of Paul Scholes has been mitigated by, well, the return of Paul Scholes. This team, as I said last year, is reminiscent of Chelsea under Mourinho. Ruthless, ferocious and generally under-appreciated. Where in others we would see genius, we deliberately do not see it.

Some will argue that Manchester United have it easier than previous vintages. There is something in that but it is easy to overstate.

Arsenal, without Wilshere all season and with Nasri and Fabregas long gone, are not as reliant on van Persie as many would have us believe but they are not the brilliant challengers of old. Liverpool, a team that pushed United to the edge only a few seasons ago, have put their off-field problems behind them only to uncover myriad on-field ones. Chelsea, due to managerial churn/a tyrannical owner/an overly powerful dressing room/an ageing team (delete as according to your prejudice), arguably have the players but not the stability to challenge consistently.

So, no, this isn't Ferguson's finest vintage. But it shouldn't be dismissed as many in the media would have you believe.

That said, there are two things to consider. Firstly, that any champion can only beat what is put in front of them.

Secondly, this is to neglect the rise of Tottenham Hotspur (moulded around the sublime talents of van der Vaart, Modric, and Bale and the solidity of the likes of Parker, Gallas et al) and the cartoonish Manchester City who have an outrageous roster of players.

But let us ignore the other teams. I wrote last year that I could not hate this United team the way that, as a teenager, I hated United. Indeed, there is much to admire. Yes, it might not have the superstars of the 1992-94 vintage (Cantona, Ince, Giggs, Kanchelskis, Keane); the 1999-2001 vintage (Beckham, Scholes, Keane, Yorke et al); the 2003 team (Veron, van Nistelrooy, Beckham, Keane, Giggs) and the 2008 team (Tevez, Ronaldo, Rooney, Ferdinand). But this is a ferocious team. A team that has put aside astonishing injury problems. A team that put behind a hiding from their local rivals. A team with under-rated players throughout who might just end up in the team of the year. The three that typify that most? Valencia, Carrick and Evans.

To take them in reverse order:

People may scoff at my rating of Evans because of past troubles of the Ulsterman. A few points. Firstly, we shouldn't underestimate the calming influence of Rio Ferdinand. Evans has looked assured for months now but much of this can be put down to the player next to him. Secondly, Vidic has been missed but not nearly as much as many thought he would be. Thirdly,  if you don't believe me, you'll believe me when Evans is named in the Premier League team of the season.

Consider the difference between how Manchester City have struggled without Vicent Kompany. Evans has filled the enormous shoes of Vidic to the point where Vidic is barely missed.

There are two sorts of person in the country. Those who like Michael Carrick and those who don't like football. Bluntly, since November, Carrick has been excellent. He's been bolstered by the return of Scholes - admittedly - but don't underestimate just how strong he has been for Manchester United. Two years ago I said he was the solution to England's problems. If only.

And finally, in the first half of the season, David Silva of Manchester City was - alongside van Persie - the outstanding player in the league. Since Christmas, it isn't an exaggeration to say that the league's most consistently scintillating player has been Antonio Valencia. He is the winger that Liverpool have wanted for twenty years and he is, inarguably, the most effective winger currently playing the game in England.

This is a team that are rarely praised. Usually they are viewed as dull or functional, not fit to lace the boots of their star-studded forebears. Even their supporters bemoan their flunking out of Europe and many do not feel that they are up to the standard of previous vintages. This unheralded team are likely to win a second league title in a row. This unheralded team, thumped 6-1 by their city rivals (rivals who have a stellar squad including the likes Kompany, Yaya Toure, Tevez, Balotelli, Aguero, Nasri and Hart), are likely to beat said rivals to the league title.

This Manchester United team will only win one trophy this year. It is hyperbolic to suggest that their failure in Europe is indicative of a wider malaise. Europe does, from time to time, throw up strange results. This isn't to explain their inexplicable performances away (they should be analysed in detail) but I do not think that one bad European season makes a trend especially given the relative success of Manchester United in recent years in Europe.

So, no, this isn't Ferguson's finest vintage. But it shouldn't be dismissed as many in the media would have you believe.

This article first appeared on the always excellent Left Back in the Changing Room

You can follow Rob on Twitter here

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