Feb 12

The worst United squad ever

Tag: Manchester United,Opinion Piece @ 8:37 am

United Squad 12-13This is the worst squad United have ever had, it’s the worst team United have ever fielded, Sir Alex doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing and it’s the beginning of the end for Manchester United as they steadily decline into the abyss.

What a load of total old bollocks! We’ve made our best start to a Premier League season, we’ve accrued more points now than at the same point in any other Premier League season and scored more goals than at this point in 1999….where does all this nonsense come from? Why are so many people of that opinion? Why is evolution going unrecognised?

Why do I mention 1999? Well, obviously it’s the greatest year in our history so it should always be the barometer, but never the minimum expectation. If you examine 98/99 you’ll see some startling reasons why people are tempted to get carried away with our current situation, make comparisons and even suggest we’re better now than we were then!

After 26 games in the PL in 98/99 United had amassed 14 wins and 60 goals including an 8-1 away win at Forest at this time of the year. Previous to that United’s form had been patchy with draws littering the first few months of the season. Our 26th game was also drawn, this time against Arsenal at home when Andy Cole equalised after Nicolas Anelka gave the Gunners the lead shortly after the break. Average age of the team that day? 26.

League Table after 26 games in 98-99United sat on top of the league after that game just one point clear of Chelsea, two clear of Arsenal.

A lot can happen in 14 years. Villa were fourth just seven points behind and Leeds United were fifth a further two points behind. Derby County were behind those with all three ahead of the likes of Liverpool, Spurs and Everton. In fact, while putting this together and searching for a few facts and figures it’s alarming how many teams have been replaced in the PL in those 14 years. A total of 10 teams were different back then with many of those relegated since subsequently feeling the pinch suffering financial difficulties (Blackburn, Wednesday) or even folding (Wimbledon) and others sinking not just one division but two (Forest, Leicester, Leeds). This highlights the calamitous effect dropping out of the PL often has on clubs [Aston Villa beware].

From Boxing Day in 98′ United went on an unbeaten PL run all the way to the finishing line which saw them total a mere 79pts, the second lowest total we’ve gained to win it and only the third lowest in PL history to win it. So far this season we have a staggering 65pts with a possible 36 to play for, but we’re rubbish.

Andy Cole grabbed a crucial goal (a memorable chipped volley over then Spurs keeper Ian Walker) to win 2-1 at OT on the final day of the season in 99, a game in which by the way, we came from behind in. Sound familiar?! It was a theme back then too, we even opened the season by falling two goals behind to Leicester City at Old Trafford before but managing to scrape a point with a last minute Beckham freekick.

14 years on and United find themselves 21pts clear of Arsenal who’ll be lucky to finish in the Champions League places, 16pts clear of Chelsea and their roubles plus, more importantly, 12pts clear of a team who back then were languishing in the none too unfamiliar surroundings of the 3rd Division but who are now our nearest challengers.

Fulham (promoted) and Wigan Athletic were also in that league in 99, there really have been some unbelievable rises and falls in such a relatively short space of time and Swansea City haven’t even been mentioned yet! They were in the fourth tier of English football until their meteoric rise began a year later with promotion via a playoff.

Anyone notice a constant throughout all this? Well, United haven’t finished outside the top 3 of the PL in that time, have made it through the group stages of the Champions league almost every season and won the odd cup competition here and there too. Whereas most clubs have seen peeks and troughs, we’re not doing too bad are we? Shouldn’t we be more grateful?

After the same 26 games this season, United have amassed an unbelievable 21 wins by playing some of the worst football in our history (remember that’s 7 more wins than at this stage in 99′), scored 63 lucky, unrehearsed, terrible goals (3 more than at this stage in 99′) all whilst coping with a squad that’s widely regarded as the worst we’ve had. Maybe it’s all down the refs bias towards us?

Let’s take a look at the squad starting up front:

Yorke, Cole, Solskjaer, Sheringham vs van Persie, Rooney, Hernandez, Welbeck.

Full International, Full International, Full International, Full International vs Full International, Full International, Full International, Full International.

18 goals (full season), 17 goals (full season), 12 goals (full season), 2 goals (full season) vs 19 goals (12 games to play), 10 goals (12 games to play), 8 goals (12 games to play), 1 goal (12 games to play).

I think the forwards in this dire squad of ours are doing ok, don’t you?

99 vs 13 United Best LineupsWhat about our much maligned midfield?:

Back in 99′ we boasted Keane, Beckham, Scholes, Butt, Giggs, Cruyff, Greening and Blomqvist…..come on, they don’t get much stronger than that but we’ll take a look.

Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Cleverley, Anderson, Nani, Young, Valencia, Powell and Kagawa. Hang on a minute, apart from a real replacement for Roy Keane (which we might never see the like of again), that’s a pretty formidable ensemble of options we’ve got to choose from and oh, they’re all full internationals with a blend of youth and experience, legs and no legs, guile and invention, central and wide play. I don’t see a problem apart from the odd occasion when we need an enforcing figure. Enter Phil Jones? Did his performance go unnoticed v Everton yesterday? Oh…and the average age of yesterdays squad? 27 despite Giggs at 39 now compared to 25 then!

Our midfielders chipped in with 22 goals in 98/99 – the current midfield could possibly be doing better but between them they’ve notched up 9 and counting.

The Defence:

Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Denis Irwin, Ronny Johnsen, David May, Jaap Stam (in the eyes of many one the best CB’s to play for the club), Henning Berg and Wes Brown. Forgive me if I’m wrong but that was 6 decent centre halves, 3 decent righbacks and two decent leftbacks (one of which is in my view the best leftback United has ever had in Denis Irwin).

Compare that to the current defence of Rafael, Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic, Smalling, Evans, Buttner, Jones and a major talent on loan to Leicester City in Michael Keane, you’ve got similar bodies but a little less experience at centre half overall (but far more pace and future potential), 2 good leftbacks, one vastly improved rightback with numerous options as cover. The problem must lie elsewhere then. The reason this squad’s labelled as the worst ever must be out there somewhere, because it’s not the defence despite a few lapses of concentration.

Goalkeeper:

Ok, here’s where it must be. I’ve had my say on David de Gea and many assume I think he isn’t a decent goalkeeper thanks to the article which I call him a clown in! I guess it’s a fair assumption but to be honest, I do think he’s a decent keeper but he needs to work on basics, like catching. It would be folly to compare him to then United GK Peter Schmeichel (in terms of United career) at this point. No one compares to the Great Dane and possibly never will but de Gea has enough time on his hands to challenge Schmeichel’s mantle as United’s greatest ever keeper IF he doesn’t intend on doing a Ronaldo in a few years.

De Gea has shared the number one shirt with Anders Lindegaard this season whereas in 99′ Schmeichel was more than established with Raimond van der Gouw his understudy. In recent weeks De Gea has cemented his place between the sticks and is quickly becoming the undisputed number one in most peoples eyes, mine included.

In terms of comparing stats then, I’m grouping the defence and goalkeepers together and after 26 games, in comparison to 99′, they’ve conceded just 3 goals more than them. So where’s the anomaly then? Because it’s not to be found here or anywhere else in the squad.

So, not only is this season’s squad/team on track to break a few records (if it keeps on the way it’s going), it’s by far and away out-punching the squad/team that created the greatest season any club has ever achieved.

What’s different then? Why are so many people accusing or suggesting United are not playing very well or a patch on previous teams/squads of the past?

I’m not sure but my strongest thought is that Sir Alex has changed over the years, his philosophy has evolved from creating an outstanding team of 11 with just enough strength in reserve to cope; to constructing a squad that’s talented, robust and capable enough to deal with any challenge that’s thrown at it, a squad that could easily create many decent teams rather than one outstanding one that could, in the face of an injury crisis, become derailed and discredited by default.

Sir Alex's evolving philosophyCompetition for places is paramount to this. Man management is key too, all his players know their chance will come but crucially they also know it will be extended IF they take the chance presented to them. Conversely, if they don’t, they know their chances might be limited until such time it’s earned once more.

The biggest drawback to this is highlighted in Rafael and De Gea. Thanks to injuries to their competition, they found extended runs in the side where maybe they wouldn’t have, especially Rafael. He, Smalling and Jones shared rightback last season and in my view it’s counter productive. Rafael’s immense improvement this season is solely down to games; games he may not have had the chance to play in had Sir Alex had the option to tinker with. Where would Rafael’s progression be now had Smalling and Jones not missed a large chunk of the season? People were asking questions, me included, they’re not anymore, quite the contrary after his brilliant display on Sunday.

I was confident at the start of the season and wrote this when we signed RvP, this when United’s handicapped odds were produced, cast this vote on what you all think United could win this season and this about City and their imminent troubles.

What do you notice about the two seasons? Why is this squad getting so much stick?

For me the league is as good as wrapped up and the trophy could be handed to us on Derby Day at OT the way things are going. City have Chelsea at home next with Lampard dragging them towards runners-up spot ahead of City. They go to Everton before Derby Day too. If they slip up against those two (which is by no means unthinkable) and United navigate their way through QPR and West Ham away with at least a win and a draw, beat (as we should) Norwich and Reading at home; then beating none other than Sunderland
away (how sweet it would be given last season) on the 30th March could well do it with 16pts the gap, 12 to play for. It’s possible – if City continue their poor run of form.

I’m probably up for a few verbals for calling it wrapped up but, for reasons beyond my control, I knew a long time ago the league was ours, now it’s just a matter of time because United know they can’t make the same mistake as last year AND there’s little chance City could get anywhere near as lucky as they were.

Then it’s just the Champions league and FA Cup……….and we’re done! [pinch of salt, I’d settle for vialiant efforts in both, the league’s the one for me]

That would be some achievement for such a shit squad.

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No Responses to “The worst United squad ever”

  • Brilliant piece. My sentiments exactly. Have been a supporter for 60 years and a season ticket holder during the Doc’s reign and still a visitor to OT. Best overall side I have witnessed yet.

  • while i agree with the overall sentiment of the piece and i do believe the pro liverpool media is trying to discredit this modern united side…i think we have to realistic about this current side and its recent achievments…if you take the 99 side…they faced a formidable arsenal side with wenger at the peak of his powers….and it was at the height of the anti united bias in football as well with every small team coming to old trafford or welcoming us at their grounds with a performance they only managed twice a season…..often kevin keegan or steve mcclaren teams would lay down for arsenal in the nineties early noughties and then produce an heroic performance against united…and although united are still hated it isnt at the same levels as chelsea and man city share the vitriol a tad now..lets examine this current team…i believe our successes in recent seasons owe more to the failures of our rivals than our own brilliance..ie we wouldnt have won the league in 2011 if roman hadnt sacked wilkins and derailed and humiliated ancelotti when chelsea were coasting just before christmas..i believe romans gave us a few titles when chelsea have had better teams because of the way he has treated his managers…and if you look at city i dont think anyone could argue they have a better team but appalling team spirit and an overated manager who has managed to turn a team of billionaires into also rans..our success owes more to team spirit in recent years than actual brilliance…the current team has 2 world class players and both play up front..the aol99 side had 6-7 perhaps more world class players…and i disclude scholes and giggs from an age perspective only from the modern side…RVP has saved us this year and thats hard to deny…if he hadnt joined fergie would be picking the dreadful wellbeck again every game like he did last season.wellbeck cost us the league last season and if RVP hadnt come it would be more of “danny works really hard” “he has so much energy” yeh but he never scores for goodness sake….wellbeck hasnt had the same chance to hamper us this season…altho he has made a fair stab with his 1 goal in 27 games….which his team mates explain is purely because he plays on the left of a front three like ronaldo did….conveniently forgetting both evans and evra have scored 4 each.for a reality check would the 99 side have been outplayed by barca twice?? i dont think so.

  • A good piece, written with a bit of passion, and if I may say, a pair of rose tinted glasses planted firmly on the end of the nose.
    It’s fine to say that this season compares well with 98/99, but the comparison is not dealt with rationally, in that year we were more closely matched by our rivals, hence the difference in the points gap, if you compare this season with last, when we lost the title by an odd goal and a static celebrating QPR, you get a completely different story.
    City have not been the team they were last year,and our lead is as much due to them dropping points as it is to us gaining a win when a draw seemed likely, Sunday is a case in point, I wonder how many actually placed bets on Saints beating them 3-1, very few, and I would think that very few United supporters expected a result as good as that for us.

    So my question is are we really better than last season, or are the opposition not as good, the statement is true of Arsenal, and of City, Chelsea too have not lived up to the promise summer buys promised, since 1999 the threat from Liverpool has diminished to a dim light.

    When a team has to rely on two near 40 yr olds to spark life and creativity into a midfield there is something wrong,when you have a midfielder who wont tackle, and backs off to his own 18 yd line putting his defence under pressure, you have to realise there is something wrong.

    This squad/team has won games by the skin of it’s teeth, so many get out of jail cards have been played this season, you wonder if Fergie bought every Monopoly set going !

    Fergie made one landmark signing, if not for that bit of genius, this piece may never have been written.

    Aragorn is admin @
    Talkingreds

  • nice piece, Ian!

    A couple comments:
    1) So where is the difference. Well, you allude to it in your piece: the midfield. In 98/99 they contributed 22 goals whereas today’s MF only has 9 goals. That is the big difference to me. Scholes and Giggs in 99 are not the same today. Scholes and Giggs were world class, world beaters, and football artists. Today, they are professors emeritus — they know their football but can no longer perform like they used to (except the odd game from Giggs). Respect they deserve nonetheless, but the reality is: our midfield is more of a provider than a contributor.

    2) You mention average age as 26 (’99) vs. 27 (today). Sure, Giggs adds about 1 year to the average today, but back then we had 36 year old Schmeichel vs. 22 year old De Gea. The fact is: RvP is 29, Carrick is 31, Vidic is 31, Rio is 34, and Evra is 31 are our top and oldest players. We have potential, but the youngsters are not shining as brightly as we expect… mainly due to FA legal changes in youth team and recruiting.

    3) Why are we shit? Well, if you ignore the ABU media, we are not. But 1998/99 is the greatest Achievement in modern football (imo). It had never been done before until United did it in 1999. We overcame a Group of Death, a top Arsenal squad, Inter, Bayern, Barca. Such levels of success set a high precedent and makes Great the new Normal. It’s just because we are humans and we base present events on the past. We want more… and more… and more.

    United are great and the Treble looms large if we can dispose of Madrid this round.

  • On United vs Madrid:

    Can anyone see a man-marking of Ronaldo (with Jones, for example) as a smart strategy? I don’t:
    1) Jones is rash in his challenges and Ronaldo is much better than Bale and Fellaini. I see tons of dangerous freekicks if Jones man-marks Ronaldo.

    2) Man-marking Bale or Fellaini may work since the other players on their respective teams are a level or 2 below their star. However, at Madrid, all their players (in attack at least) are world class players. Man-mark Ronaldo and you open up space for Ozil, Higuain, Benzema, etc…

    3) We didn’t beat Barca in 2008 by focusing on Messi. We played as a team against their entire team. Discipline. That is what we need. Madrid’s defense is their weakness — let’s counter attack them by playing deep and tight. Over the top to Rooney or Valencia or Nani and then to RvP or Chicharito for the killer finish. Boom-boom football!

    • It’s a case of doubling up on him when necessary imo, force him down avenues he doesn’t want to go (not there’s many of those!).

    • @Opti: Stuff his supply lines by pressing in MF would be a better approach. His speed and power cannot be defended against by man coverage and doubling up will just leave options for others. Anderson would be a good option for this.

      • @Redrich: I think I agree with you here. All this focus on Ronaldo is counter-productive. He is 1 of 10 outfielders. Team performance is needed today. If we end with a score draw or lose by one goal and score, we should be favorites to progress.

  • Ian. I think the current barometer of our CL possibilities was set by 2 Final losses to Barca (in which we didn’t even come close, tbh).
    In ’99 there was no team like Barca and even in ’08 they were not the polished product they are now.
    Inter and Chelsea beat them because of a style of play that is not natural to us, for us, we simply have to go head to head and that’s where my doubts lie.
    If we are lucky enough to have someone else lock down Messi and get a lucky break or two then we could be in with a decent shot this year. If we come up against them anywhere in the next 3 rounds (assuming we dispose of Madrid) it would take a monstrous leap of faith to put us over the top.

  • The myth about United being a poor side is purely media driven. Im not claiming some vast Anti-United conspiracy is at play, just lazy journalism. How many “United in Crisis”, “United in Decline” or “Fergie is losing it” articles have you read in the past 5 years? Those articles are just as populars as the various “Arsenal in Crisis” or “Wenger out” editorials that follow a high profile defeat. Its just a cheap and easy way to rehash the same material but get fresh hits and comments.

    Mix that with a little Anti-Glazer sentiment and you have a clear cut case of confirmation bias at work. Posters on here like Moscow and Grognard have been screaming from the top of their lungs that we are 1 season away from complete meltdown, but year after year they are proven wrong. I have heard some people suggest that the league is weak. When you point to English clubs record in the CL over the past 5 years, they say that proves nothing. But let a few continental teams beat up on PL teams in the Europa League and you will see plenty of the confirmation bias I am talking about.

    This team is absolutely oozing with talent and its laughably absurd that people are doubting the quality. I couldnt care less to be honest, long may it continue. I prefer us as the underdog who somehow just keeps winning year after year.

    Writing about United in declione might make you feel better or sell papers, but it doesnt make it true. While everyone was scrutinizing the toxic glazer debt and mocking fergie for not going wild in the transfer market, SAF was quietly building his last great side.

    • @johnsom33: Actually mate, I was right and we won fuck all last season. We then bought the best player in the league and now we’re in a completely different position.

      Tell me what is fielding a +70 midfield in the title decider, to throw away an 8 point lead with 6 games to go? Kindly piss off.

  • …Having said all that I am extremely terrified of Ronaldo. We have the quality to deal with Madrid but not the Greasy one.

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