Questions of right and left



It has not been a good week for right-wingers; not least new Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio, who has taken significant media heat for his less than conventional political views. Little wonder, given that the Italian once labelled fascist dictator Benito Mussolini a  “very principled, ethical individual” who was “deeply misunderstood”. Those who died at the dictator’s hand may disagree.

But that’s a digression. Over at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson also has a problem with his right-wing. And his left. The one-time socialist, whose team has struggled in wide areas all campaign.

The season-long patchy form and fitness of Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young poses plenty of questions as the season draws to a close.

Manchester United’s FA Cup defeat to Chelsea on Monday night emphasised the problem once again, with those of a more charitable nature describing Nani’s performance as ‘rusty’. Fair enough, the Portuguese has spent the past fortnight on the sidelines.

Indeed, injury and questionable form has restricted former Sporting player to just 14 starts in all competitions this season. Hardly the progression expected of the 25-year-old after Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in summer 2009.

Such has been the winger’s fall that Nani’s is a career on hold; at least until a summer transfer to whomever bids the highest materialises. That Ferguson was prepared to sanction the winger’s departure in the winter window, to Zenit St Petersburg  of all places, should leave the player in little doubt that his future lies away from Old Trafford.

United will take far less than the £25 million Zenit reportedly bid in the winter simply to see Nani leave after a frustrating six year period in Manchester.  With him will go a huge talent, too often unfulfilled.

There is a similar story, of injury and poor form, to be told about Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young this year. While Valencia’s confidence seems unswervingly shot, Young has featured far too little this season due to persistent spells on the sidelines.

Valencia, such a powerhouse during United’s unsuccessful title challenge last season, has dropped off the boil so acutely that questions about the player’s true fitness will surely be asked during the summer. Rumours that the Ecuadorian regularly plays through a mystery injury appear more prescient with each tentative performance.

There is surely far more to come from a player who contributed 15 assists last season.

Meanwhile, Young has rarely garnered positive reviews from the Stretford End masses, and can do little to change the widespread belief that his is a talent born of mediocrity. Especially if he is rarely fit enough to play – the former Aston Villa man has started just 17 games in all competitions this season. Few of them with any genuine impact, cynics might add.

Tough though the assessment, Young was hardly destined to be more than squad filler at Old Trafford, although Ferguson’s shortage in wide areas has certainly focussed the manager’s thoughts on the limited Englishman.

None of this is news, of course, although Nani’s fall from grace is all the more disappointing following a productive campaign in 2011/12. While the player’s performances have always been inconsistent, the 62-cap international contributed 12 goals and 13 assists to United’s cause as the Reds fell just short of claiming a 20th league title.

Those numbers are hard to ignore, and hugely expensive to replicate.

No wonder the manager has deployed a plethora of stars to the wings this year – many out of position. While Valencia and Nani have shared right-wing duties, Young, Ryan Giggs, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa have each played on the left. It is not a stretch to say that few have shone.

Ferguson’s difficulty is both in finding the right blend of players for the new season, given that exciting youngster Wilfried Zaha joins from Crystal Palace on 1 July, and how to extract more from those that remain at Old Trafford. After all Zaha is completely untested at the highest level, leaving Nani’s departure to effectively weaken United’s squad.

It should come as no surprise if the Scot bolsters his wide options with another signing, although Robin van Persie’s large acquisition fee and heftier wages may restrict Ferguson’s wiggle room during the summer window.

Getting the balance right – personnel and tactics – is a lesson Ferguson may take from the season, despite United’s huge Premier League lead.

The Scot, fired up by City’s last-gasp title winning foray last May, has constructed a team that will surely reclaim domestic hegemony with something to spare. But there has also been a compromise between defensive solidity and attacking prowess; balance, and squeezing his best players into an idiosyncratic tactical construct.

Indeed, it is two new signings that have seemingly disrupted United’s wingers as much as any injury.

Kagawa, so brilliant at ’10′ behind Robert Levendowski for Borussia Dortmund, started the campaign for United in a similar position. He will almost certainly finish the campaign having been deployed wide more often than through the middle.

Meanwhile, Robin van Persie’s form and quality ensures that Ferguson’s default formation includes both the Dutchman and Rooney, even if the former Evertonian is deployed in a shadow role.

Yet, even this simple tactical compromise – deploying two strikers and not three central midfielders - caused severe knock-on effects during the early part of the campaign, where United struggled to retain clean sheets or defensive composure. That would come as the season wore on and the Scot increasingly sought to compromise width by tucking one or more winger infield.

van Persie may have won United the Premier League, but his acquisition constrained Rooney, Nani, Valencia, Kagawa, and to a lesser extent, Young.

All of which says nothing of the choices that Ferguson needs to make in central midfield, where perhaps only Michael Carrick will emerge from the season with reputation fully enhanced.

Tom Cleverley has progressed, but must surely add goals and creativity to his neat and energetic approach, if he is to fully embody Paul Scholes’ central midfield berth. Anderson, and for different reasons, Darren Fletcher, may not be seen in a United shirt beyond the summer. Scholes will certainly retire.

An acquisition – of the rampant physical central midfield type – will do Ferguson’s hopes of adding a third European triumph before retirement a significant boost.

Yet, it is on the wings where Ferguson’s deepest concern will surely lie  this summer after a  season or poor reliability and much reduced productivity. Injury has of course played a part, but it has always been a risky approach to leave one’s hopes and dreams to the music of chance.

The strategist in Mussolini might agree. Having been caught unaware of the coming media storm, Di Canio certainly will.

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  • Amnon Zohar

    Why Welbeck ahead of Chicareto. It seems that no one is willing to question the Boss. Welbeck may have speed and is disruptive with his movement but that’s it. No first touch, no power shots on net, no goals. Chica scores, full of energy, the consummate opportunist and a role model for 90 minutes all out effort.
    I have asked this question all season. Would someone give me an answer please?! Maybe SAF?

    • Damon

      The answer is this: leave football. Never watch it again. Get another hobby. Your mind is not big enough to deal with the artisty of Welbck. He is a painter’s brush stroke, a flautist’s tremolo. He is a beautiful creature who exits beyond stats. He is a skillful gazelle who you will never understand. Give up football. You’re in it for the wrong reasons. You don’t like beautiful Danny Welbeck

      • Joe

        Brilliant

  • ForeverRed

    Ed – thanks for the accurate and objective analysis!

    If I could add some broader statistics to this discussion, bear with me….

    According to ESPNFC.com at the time of writing, in the Premier League this year our 4 main strikers have contributed 40 goals and 23 assists, our midfield (including ‘wingers’) 13 goals and 17 assists and our defenders 12 goals and 11 assists. In other words our defenders have scored virtually the same number of goals as all our MF & wide players combined and provided only 35% less assists. Indeed man-for-man, our 7 regular defenders are scoring with higher frequency than their midfield/wide counterparts (1.7 vs 1.18/man) and have a higher assist rate (1.57 vs 1.54) per player. (As a sidenote, and not knowing what non footballing issues went on behind the scenes, it’s sad as a United fan that Paul Pogba (age 20), despite only starting 13 league games for Juventus, would be joint top scorer in Utd’s midfield with his current goal tally this season).

    To me these are astonishing statistics, particularly when you consider that the same midfield is hardly making up for it in resolute defensive duties – especially during the first half of the season. To my mind, if we even needed statistics to make the point you are making Ed about where our weaknesses lie, here they are!

    I’d guess that Fergie had hoped to make this season or perhaps the next his final swansong and he must be disappointed, despite the likely retention of the PL, with the exits from all the cup competitions this season. To this reader, it surprises me – particularly with the glaring deficits highlighted above – how he either chooses not to address them, or buys unproven youth that is 2-3 years away from prime time, thus not filling gaps now. Why is he not more selfish? He’s shown two things with RVP: 1. That money is available, and 2. That buying established quality (recent minor slump aside) makes a big difference to a team…..Just think how 2 or 3 top signings in the middle of the park/wings could transform this team into real Champions League contenders.

  • Coach Herbie

    Its also a concern that Van Persie has not scored in nine games, since January. We need to sell all of the average quality players, Anderson, Cleverly, Young and Wellbeck.
    Need to play Nick Powell instead of Cleverly. If Tottenham do not qualify for the Champions league, United will go for Gareth Bale to strengthen that left side. Valencia and Zaha will battle for the right wing and SAF will bring in a world class central defender for the injury prone Ferdinand and Vidic. Word is, we have alresdy closed a 15 million pound deal for Argentinian star, Garay. There is also word that striker Levendowski is coming. Remember, Levendowski was SAF first choice but Dortmund did not want to sell both Kagawa and Levendowski, so he went for Van Persie. Levendowski is on facebook saying his going to United next season, so something must be in the making. With better quality midfielders, you will see a much better playing Man United next season, but if we don’t bring in world class quality midfielders, it will the same old bullshit next season.

  • Coach Herbie

    What really concerns me is that we are not producing any world class players from our academy team. Does anyone know why? Something is wrong there. We should be building our future teams through the academy and stop wasting money on average quality players. Thats why I cannot understand why Jensen Rogers left Swansea to go to Liverpool. He built a team from his academy and took them from league two to the premier division, playing the best football in the country.
    Why can’t we do this at United? Whats wrong with our academy and its young players? Is there any quality there?

    • ForeverRed

      It’s almost as though we don’t have confidence in putting our own in the firing line of the first team but rather spend millions on other teams’ 19-20 year olds instead (e.g Jones). It is depressing how little has materialized from the academy in the last 10 years of real quality. Our best recent prospect was let go to Juventus and is currently outscoring all of our regular midfielders this season, despite not being worthy of place in our team. Sadly this tells you something our assessment and appreciation of young talent these days. In the same vein, what is happening to Nick Powell? Are we going to turn him into another DW or TC 23 and ship him out on loan and when he returns play him in 5 different positions until he’s completely confused and disillusioned? I sure hope not…

  • marlon

    Ashley Young has 1 shot on target in 2013.
    Nani has 1 SOT in 2013.
    Valencia has 0 SOT in 2013.
    They don’t shoot enough and apparently they’re not very good at it. As for the assists, I have no idea. Despite playing with a proper 10 this year, we have relied on the wings even more heavily than last season – perhaps Rooney is better suited to lead a line where so much play is directed out wide.

    As a team we have actually got a little worse compared to last season. Man City’s decline has allowed Fergie to go on about how we’ve improved our goal difference (at the current rate it’s actually worse – goal scoring is almost identical, defence is worse) and an encouraging first round exit (!) in the CL and likely PL title has put a false polish on a season where we added a world class striker and managed to completely avoid improvement.

  • Pikey McScum

    Commenter said:
    If Tottenham do not qualify for the Champions league, United will go for Gareth Bale to strengthen that left side. Valencia and Zaha will battle for the right wing and SAF will bring in a world class central defender for the injury prone Ferdinand and Vidic.

    Of course, you’re one of the power players in the United boardroom…

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    We will not sign Bale… we won’t sign Strootman… in fact, I’m betting we sell more than we buy this year.

  • Pikey McScum

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    We will not sign Bale… we won’t sign Strootman… in fact, I’m betting we sell more than we buy this year.

    Oh Alf, you silly so-and-so!

    Herbie knows things we mere mortals do not, therefore if he reckons we will sign Bale then it must be true. Now off to the Megastore with you so you can have his name put on the back of your jersey

  • Anantax

    Who are the quality wingers available besides Bale?

  • Pikey McScum

    Fuck knows, but that wee Lucas Moura cunt looked fucking good for PSG last night!

    And until the day United is bought out by a super-mega-multi-billionaire, then the Bale pipe dreams can remain just that.

    Never…going…to happen

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    Pikey McScum said:
    Fuck knows, but that wee Lucas Moura cunt looked fucking good for PSG last night!

    And until the day United is bought out by a super-mega-multi-billionaire, then the Bale pipe dreams can remain just that.

    Never…going…to happen

    I thought Moura looked shite… anyway… we’ve got Zaha now and Young is going nowhere… that’s us sorted.

  • uncleknobheadffs

    young is horrendous

    almost as bad a signing as hargreaves yet who didnt see it coming

    weve never had wingers this shite under taggart

    giggs is the best weve got ffs

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    uncleknobheadffs said:
    young is horrendous
    almost as bad a signing as hargreaves yet who didnt see it coming
    weve never had wingers this shite under taggart
    giggs is the best weve got ffs

    Not even close to as bad as Hargeaves… at least we could offload Young tomorrow, for a few mill… in the end, we couldn’t even give the floppy head cunt away.
    The thing about Hargeaves, he was actually a half arsed right back… Young is just shit, where ever you play him.

    “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

  • Terry Marks

    Monday night?

  • gabagool

    Fuck, I wish we could afford Bale, he would make a massive difference for us.
    Sell 3 or 4 of our average shite players and buy the bastard.

  • Coach Herbie

    Bale was on trial at our academy when he was 16 years old but he was told he was not good enough, so he tried out at Tottenham and the rest is history. But Fergie has a mind of his own. He has a problem now because Bebe is destroying defences in Portugal. Every week I read about Bebe and how good he is playing as a winger. His game is up 200%. Fergie will have 5 wingers including Zaha. Our wide men have been terrible this season. Bale has said he would be interested in a move if Tottenham fail to reach the top 4 but 75 million is his selling price. We could sell Anderson, Nani,Young, Cleverly and Wellbeck and we’ve got our money. And I don’t know whats wrong with Valencia. Zaha is a class player, so is Nick Powell. Fergie will retire at the end of the 2013/2014 season, so Iam sure he is going to bring in top players to have one last shot at winning the Champions league and bow out in style.

    • Mongoletsi

      Really? Bébé? He ran past a Benfica defence; not read owt else about him though. Got any links?

  • Coach Herbie

    If Fergie does not bring in Levendowski, then he needs to give Hernandez more time on the field. Van Persie has played a lot of games and he maybe burnt out as he has not scored in 12 games. And what will happen with Rooney? He will be 29 years old by next season.

  • Pikey McScum

    Commenter said:
    Monday night?

    Thursday morning

  • Spudiator

    Commenter said:
    Bale was on trial at our academy when he was 16 years old but he was told he was not good enough, so he tried out at Tottenham and the rest is history.

    Wow, you do have a spectacular skill for spouting utter shite! Just an idea, why not try checking your facts first?

  • captainhormone

    Spudiator said:
    Wow, you do have a spectacular skill for spouting utter shite! Just an idea, why not try checking your facts first?

    Lol…you’ve been herbied

  • Dinkinflicker

    As unlikely as it may seem, I have a feeling we’re going to be in for Bale in the summer. We may even look to throw Nani into the deal, although I’d just settle for throwing him into a fucking river to be honest.

  • uncleknobheadffs

    captainhormone said:
    Lol…you’ve been herbied

    its about time phelan got some respect on here, hes the only one of us who knows whats what, he knows much more than ed, or even cal regardless of schlong, who of the rest of us can say weve lived a life as a former shite fat player from burnley turned shite fat cone collector, chief pointer at things and shite rant poster, its about time we took his inside info with the credit it deserves, hes the better, more credible version of ivan but with more facts about transfers and valencia being world class, he was the only one on here who champined bebe first as a striker and then as a winger, and now look, hes making mincemeat of the portuguese divisao for that team hes playing for as far as i know

    he predicted rafael in midfield over two years before it happened, he was the only one who had the bottle to say vidic is a better left back than centre back, based on what hed seen in training

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    Out… Nani, Anderson, Valencia, Young, Scholes, Fletcher…

    In… Bale, Gotze, Strootman…

    Yeah… that’d do me…

  • uncleknobheadffs

    i wouldnt mind that mccarthy off wigan

  • uncleknobheadffs

    thats if we cant ever get wilshere obviously

    bale and wilshere

  • Pikey McScum

    We’re veering into “transfer thread” territory here, and you know how much I abide threads being ruined…

    Who was that Benfican cunt we were supposed to be signing from those Benfica cunts, then we didn’t cos we’re a bunch of transfer bottling, no money cunts?

    • Andrew

      Gaitan

  • uncleknobheadffs

    all the shite about strootman and the other cunts is transfer shite

    bale and wilshere is bigger than that

  • Pikey McScum

    uncleknobheadffs said:
    all the shite about strootman and the other cunts is transfer shite

    bale and wilshere is bigger than that

    Bigger than what?

    Bale and Wilshere proper big players, definitely.

    Likely to join United ahead of Strootman and whoever else? Not a fucking hope

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    uncleknobheadffs said:
    all the shite about strootman and the other cunts is transfer shite

    bale and wilshere is bigger than that

    Bale and Wilshere are as likely as Ronaldo and Messi… won’t happen.

    I don’t think Strootman will either… but there’s more chance.

  • Leif Sward

    I wouldn’t be against the occasional use of Buttner as a left winger. The lad appears to be a much better attacker than defender, has got some skills and is always after a goal. Bale was a left back before Redknapp stumbled across playing him out on the wing. I’m not wanting to make that comparison just to point out that its rarer for a fullback to be trusted further up field than for a midfielder playing fullback.
    In my opinion he’d carry more of a threat than Young!

  • uncleknobheadffs

    you could tell duringthe sunderland game vidic thinks buttner is fucking shite

    hes spot on tbf

  • sidney

    Awful tattoos and haircut n all.

    The best thing about him is that he’s given Evra a kick up the arse. He was an abomination at times last season, whereas this season I don’t think I’ve shit myself once over him defensively.

  • RobDiablo

    captainhormone said:
    Lol…you’ve been herbied

    Not genital herbies, I hope; there’s no cure for this disease.

  • sheesh

    Buttner had a good game against Sunderland. One of very few players who can claim to have played well.

    He has more balls than Valencia and young when going forward. If he gets a run of games he could give Evra something to worry about. Sid is right too. Evra has been much better this season.

  • Bill

    There is definitely something about Buttner, he’s similar to Jones in that way. A bit raw but has the alpha male aura about him. Playing him on the left wing could be worth a go and as stated above Evra has sharpened up his act up since Buttner has arrived.

  • RobDiablo

    I think most of us can agree that United’s biggest problem (apart from its owners) is the number of squad players spread across the midfield in the first XI. In order to fix the problem, it would be tempting to sell Anderson and all the wingers and start over, but that is not really feasible. With the possible exception of Nani, none of the players being sold would fetch a price that would allow for the purchase of like-for-like replacements, never mind upgrades in quality.

    A ‘sell six to buy two or three’ strategy might work, if it wasn’t for the already existing need to buy at least two quality CMs. For too long, Sir Alex has ignored the need for a world class partner for Carrick, and now it is coming time to buy and start grooming Carrick’s replacement as well. If we replace Carrick with the same kind of quality used to replace Keane, United will be forced to regularly play five across the midfield, weakening its attacking options.

    It seems to me, that without some serious money being made available to Sir Alex this summer—and that money being spent on quality midfield players, United will not be able to compete at the highest levels at home or in Europe for much longer. So, I’d sell Nani and Anderson, and use the money to buy a CM. I’d have to hope that Valencia returns to form and that Zaha can hit the ground running, while continuing to rely on Welbeck and Rooney to cover on the wing for one more season, and then I’d look to buy wingers in the summer after this.

  • uncleknobheadffs

    if taggarts still here in five years carrick will still be in midfield for us

  • RobDiablo

    uncleknobheadffs said:
    if taggarts still here in five years carrick will still be in midfield for us

    So will Giggs.

  • Bill

    If we sell Nani and Anderson financially that should pay for Strootman’s fee and reduce the wage bill in one stroke. Buy Schlupp to cover left back and striker. Fabio back in, Buttner could either go out on loan or stay and push for left wing too. With Zaha coming in the squad is improved as is the starting XI.

  • captainhormone

    uncleknobheadffs said:
    its about time phelan got some respect on here, hes the only one of us who knows whats what, he knows much more than ed, or even cal regardless of schlong, who of the rest of us can say weve lived a life as a former shite fat player from burnley turned shite fat cone collector, chief pointer at things and shite rant poster, its about time we took his inside info with the credit it deserves, hes the better, more credible version of ivan but with more facts about transfers and valencia being world class, he was the only one on here who champined bebe first as a striker and then as a winger, and now look, hes making mincemeat of the portuguese divisao for that team hes playing for as far as i know

    he predicted rafael in midfield over two years before it happened, he was the only one who had the bottle to say vidic is a better left back than centre back, based on what hed seen in training

    True true

  • Pikey McScum

    Has the Strrotman links with us only come from Alf’s glowing reports on him, or is there actually any credence to this yarn?

    “Fuck that… there’s something about him, gets on my wick… weasly little cunt, needs a good slap”

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    uncleknobheadffs said:
    you could tell duringthe sunderland game vidic thinks buttner is fucking shite

    hes spot on tbf

    Every body thought Vidic was shite when he first came… Evra as well… I don’t know what to think about Buttnuts yet, but Fergusons’ record when it comes to defensive talent is pretty good…

    Buttnuts needs a run of games to show up… might get them if we lock the title early…

  • Mongoletsi

    So, what we saying for City? Don’t play any of our actual wingers? I’m down with that. OR put Nani right (where he’s definitely better) and hope he turns up for the big game. Don’t forget he was really good with Portugal last summer. He’s got the talent, the problem is in his head, and getting regular games.

    Valencia was actually decent last game but otherwise he’s just burnt out.

    Young? Nah. Would rather play Rooney/Kagawa/Welbeck out there.

  • Coach Herbie

    Nani admits that he has had a terrible season, but he says its mostly do to injuries and now he says he is trying to get his form back. He is also saying he is not leaving. If Nani is going to play, he must play at right wing or not at all! Kagawa needs to start. Buttner probably won’t play in this game but he does need more playing time. As for our academy, we might as well save some money and close it down because as long as Chelsea and Man.City continue to spend millions on buying world class players, we have no choice but to keep spending also because if we try and bring in academy players to rebuild our team, we will find ourselves out of the top 4. Its a unfortunate but its a fact! We need to forget about winning trophies and start rebuilding the team from our academy players. Where is the loyalty and dedication? The academy is our future.

  • RobDiablo

    Commenter said:
    If Nani is going to play, he must play at right wing or not at all! Kagawa needs to start.

    One of your more lucid posts.
    I agree, Nani should play on the right, but it’s getting crowded there, since Sir Alex is unlikely to give up on Valencia or sell the newly purchased Zaha. I don’t believe that there is much money in the transfer kitty, and getting a quality CM has got to be the priority. So, if a winger is going to be sold, it must be one who will fetch a decent price, and that’s Nani. Kagawa should only start if he can play behind the striker, which puts him on the bench if RvP and Rooney start.
    Scrapping the academy sounds crazy, but, if United was free to spend its profits in the transfer window instead of shipping them to Florida, it might actually make sense. Our academy no longer produces players of the quality United needs to compete at the highest levels, but it does act as a source of income when we sell players to bottom and mid-table sides. That’s a decision for the bean-counters to make.

  • marlon

    Valencia might be better as a right back. He finds it easier to beat a man running from deep where he can use his pace to accelerate past players. We need back up for Rafael anyway, unless that’s what Fabio does next season.

    Was Giggs our last real LW?

    • Mongoletsi

      // Was Giggs our last real LW? //

      I guess. Richardson was last to try I think.