Man United: Dump Clev, Liberate Kagawa, Sign Gundogan To Make Top 4

That win against Stoke gave Moyes some breathing space, but Man United still have a mountain to climb just to keep up with their closest rivals.
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Once upon a time, opposition players would turn up to face Man United at Old Trafford and have to mentally prepare themselves for 90 minutes of being out-passed, out-thought and out-gunned. Their fans would make their way to the away section and bust out the old clichés; you know the sort. ‘It’s all to play for if we give 110%’, that sort of thing, before the final whistle blows and, 90% of the time, they leave with only half-time pasty crumbs on their replica shirts and an air of ‘it was always gonna be a big ask, top drawer side that United’. But not anymore.

I miss those days. I miss being able to be a smug git down the pub after the game with my mates whose teams were toiling away below us, fighting it out just to get into the Europa League so they could look forward to a Thursday night watching their lads taking on the champions of Albania away, in a stadium reeking of urine and where the numbers of stewards outweighs the number of fans. No thanks lads, I’ll stick to watching RvP and co. at The Bernabeu, but thanks anyway.

Alas, perhaps some footballing humility will do me good but there is an increasing fear within me that United could go the way of Liverpool after their last league winning season in 1989-90. At first I thought this was irrational; ‘nah, no chance, not with United’s global popularity and huge revenues’. But the more I think about it, the more I appreciate how that huge global support base is, for the majority, a very fickle thing. A 9 year old in China will support United because he’s just seen Rooney bang in an overhead kick in the Manc derby, or because Robin van Persie has just smashed in the most incredible first time volley he’s ever seen. If the silverware dried up, the best players left and we had to make do with Bebe up front, that 9 year old kid is going to drop United quicker than his chopsticks after dinner.  A club of United’s vast size needs to be competing and winning constantly and, no matter what your pedigree was five, ten or a hundred years ago, that counts for nothing is you’re not successful in the present moment. It’s just the sort of empty pub banter that people rely on when they realise their once great team is now just average, or worse.

United won yesterday, of course, a ‘Fergie Time’-esque winner from the new Solskjaer, Chicharito Hernandez. It did little to paper over the fact that Stoke, like other teams in the league this season, came to Old Trafford in the confidence that they could get a result. The aura of Ferguson has gone, fair enough, but it’s time to immediately begin to create that air of indomitability from scratch again. It’s going to be a long process, but there are several crucial things United have to get sorted within the next year to ensure they don’t do a Liverpool. After all, I don’t want to be watching them on a Thursday playing away in some obscure Ukrainian mining town to some nobodies in the Europa League, do I?

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Ditch Tom Cleverley

Ah, ‘the new Paul Scholes’. If Scholes had been effing useless, that is. Okay okay that is a bit harsh on Cleverley, a player who’s still developing and hasn’t been that habitually awful. But this is a midfielder who has, along with the laconic but superior Michael Carrick, been trusted with being the heartbeat of the team in the centre of the park. But what is Cleverley exactly? He’s not a ferocious ball winner in the mould of Roy Keane. He’s not a box to box player. He’s not a playmaker, rarely scoring or setting up assists in the manner that a Juan Mata or Santi Cazorla does. Cleverley is young still but at 24 should have a strong identity and direction as a football player. The reason he doesn’t is because he simply isn’t as good as everyone hoped him to be when he first broke through. United have been linked with just about everyone, especially over the summer despite their spectacularly unsuccessful transfer window (let’s not go there though eh). Time to make good on that and actually get a top midfielder; Ilkay Gundogan, the rambunctiously talented midfielder on Borussia’s books, has artistry in abundance but it’s underpinned with a bit of steel. He has a ferocious shot and doesn’t mind a physical battle. Hell, if we give Kagawa a bung to say how much he just loves playing in Manchester, maybe he’ll be persuaded to join. Which leads me onto my next point...

Sort out the Shinji situation

A weird one, this; Kagawa was included in the Bundesliga team of the season two years in a row and was one of the most highly sought after attacking midfielders when United snapped him up in 2012. Yet now he’s spent most of the last few months staring at the football like it’s a UFO that’s just landed in his back garden. Not sure whether to run away from it or give it a tentative kick. The creative force behind Dortmund’s Bundesliga winning side needs to be played more centrally so he can replicate the success he enjoyed in Germany. Jurgen Klopp must think Moyes is a right eegit. Cleverley can get into the team more often than Kagawa? Jesus wept.

Bring in some defensive talent to phase out Rio and Vidic

One of United’s all time great centre-back pairings these two but, like all good things, it has to come to an end. Increasingly injury as well as error prone, Ferdinand’s back problems finally seem to have caught up with him. After getting ‘merked’ on several occasions this season already, Rio’s superb positioning and ability to read the game aren’t enough to prevent him from being found out by the most mobile strikers. Rio still has a lot to offer – as a squad player – but despite a resurgent 2012-13 season, he should no longer be one of the first names on the teamsheet. Vidic is two years younger at 32 but played only 35 games between the start of the 2011-12 season and the end of last year’s campaign. In 2010-11 Vidic managed 47. His decline through injury is unfortunate but football is a tough business. United should have signed Ezequiel Garay from Benfica in the summer and it’s becoming more and more obvious with every game. The defensive performance against Stoke was diabolical and Peter Crouch was allowed to bully United’s backline. That has to be addressed immediately.

David Moyes has an in tray spilling over with all sorts of tricky issues to address. Already eight points off the lead in October, a lightweight squad that will struggle to compete and a sceptical fan base are chief among these. However, with a bit of patience, investment and some luck, by next summer United should hopefully have a stronger squad and stranger things have happened than them retaining their Premier League crown. But if I’m being honest, I’ll settle for Tom Cleverley having to clear his locker out and scraping into the Champions League. How the mighty have fallen...

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