Man United: Young A Disgrace, Moyes Has To Trust Januzaj & Zaha To Win Titles

A 4-1 loss to their bitter city rivals has left Manchester United fans furious; but after being as useful as a cock-flavoured lollipop in defence, midfield AND attack, the performance of their wingers was perhaps the worst of all.
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When someone asks a Manchester United fan to list the best midfielders that have graced Old Trafford over the years, some of the names which immediately spring to mind are Best, Ronaldo, Beckham and Giggs. You do not include Antonio Valencia or Ashley Young anywhere near that list, unless you’re (a) criminally insane, or (b) either Ashley or Antonio’s mum. Yes, there were gaping holes all over the pitch in United’s dismal 4-1 battering by City yesterday but, as a punch drunk David Moyes broods over the endless 90 minutes of bruising body blows landed by an imperious Vincent Kompany, resurgent Yaya Toure and clinical Sergio Aguero, United’s awful wide men need to be held to account.

Since the start of the Premier League era, Manchester United have consistently finished the season as the most effective crossers in the league; under Sir Alex and with the twin talents of Beckham and Giggs, United became adept at endlessly knocking the ball in from the wing, scoring countless goals, and using this as one of the bedrocks of their near two decades of domestic dominance.

However, with the absence of any players even approaching world class standard on the wings, this is a useful avenue which United will fail to exploit if they don’t urgently recruit some new talent as soon as possible. Yes, much has been said about United’s lightweight central midfield and, after yesterday’s lacklustre defensive display, the gradual eroding of Ferdinand and Vidic’s talent will become an ever more vocal issue. Nevertheless, despite the extreme tactical upheaval prevalent in football over the last decade, inspired in part by the dominance of Barcelona’s passing game, the role of traditional wide men remains as prescient as ever; a recent Uefa report on goals scored in the 2012-13 Champions League demonstrates this succinctly.

Goals scored via through balls and other avenues are actually on the wane and, when it comes to conquering a brilliant central midfield such as the archetypal example at Barcelona, Uefa are clear on the most effective method: ‘the barriers to penetration through the central area meant that supply from the wide areas continued to be a major source of goals (in last season’s Champions League)’. Furthermore, the amount of goals scored by cutbacks from a wide offensive position was 38 in Europe’s premier competition last year, thus illustrating how, despite the growing popularity of 4-2-3-1 and false number 9s, excellent wingers are still a priority for top level clubs if they want to compete at the highest level. Just look at current Champions League holders Bayern Munich – with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben on the flanks, the Bavarian behemoths have two players with excellent dribbling skills who consistently attack the byline. Manchester United, in yesterday’s starters Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, cannot hope to compete in this area.

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Young was dire in every department before being replaced by Tom Cleverly and, defensively, Valencia was at fault for failing to track Kolarov as he whipped in a ball which Aguero converted for City’s opener. Both of these players are nowhere near the standard required to start for Manchester United. So what can David Moyes change personnel wise to correct such an appalling performance from United’s wide men?

Nani is mercurial but also exceedingly talented; after signing a new contract recently, Moyes and the club hierarchy have extended a hefty financial olive branch to a player who was repeatedly linked with a move away from Old Trafford in recent years. Wilfried Zaha is a potentially explosive young prospect who will surely be given an opportunity to impress, considering that there’s no one ahead of him with their name set in stone on the team sheet. As for the exciting Adnan Januzaj, his best position remains a contentious issue but he has excelled on the wing for United’s reserve side. I don’t believe that money should be spent on a world class wide player before Zaha and Januzaj are given ample opportunities to stake their claim for regular first team berths and, if Nani can play consistently at the level we all know he’s capable of, there are two other areas of the first team which will require a more urgent facelift.

In January, Moyes should look to invest funds in a centreback and a playmaker. Ferdinand and Vidic’s inability to handle Aguero and Negredo truly illustrated that the inevitable waning of their considerable talents has become irreversible. How United could do with Vincent Kompany in their team right now, but the chances of that happening are about as likely as Liam and Noel Gallagher being spotted in an Old Trafford box with United shirts on their backs. Jan Vertonghen, the classy Tottenham defender who excelled in his first Premier League season, would be an expensive signing but the Dutchman, who can sometimes be as effective going forward as he is defending, would be a brilliant addition who has already proven he can cut it in the Premier League. There’s also a case for promoting either one of Jones or Smalling to the first XI on a regular basis, but both have yet to suggest this is a viable option, at least immediately.

As for the playmaker, why didn’t United go for Ozil, considering (unconfirmed) reports that Madrid sounded out the United board about the possibility of signing the excellent German for in the region of £35m? Furthermore, the bizarrely unloved Juan Mata, whose downturn in fortunes under Jose Mourinho has been extraordinary, would provide the creative spark we so clearly lack.

In summary, there are a multitude of difficult questions for David Moyes to answer regarding his team’s chances of retaining their Premier League crown. Defensive frailties abound and the ineffectiveness of United’s wide players, as well as their more central counterparts, is genuinely worrying. One thing that Moyes must be realising this morning, without doubt, is this: you don’t win titles with Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia starting on the wing.


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