With another International break upon us, now seems like a good time to reflect upon the 2017-18 season so far, and give a rating (out of 10) to each squad member’s contribution to the Club’s campaign to date:
- David de Gea- GK- (9) – The Spanish lad has been pretty much faultless so far and has simply confirmed the opinion held by many pundits and fans alike, that he is now the best goalkeeper in the world. He is a world-class player, and forms a formidable ‘barrier’ to opposition attacking players seeking to score against United. Let’s hope he remains at Old Trafford for many years to come as David is virtually irreplaceable. I approach every transfer window with trepidation that he’ll be whisked off to Madrid before we can do anything to prevent it….
- Victor Lindelof- CB- (5) – The Swedish International joined United from Benfica for £31 million in the summer, and whilst it is far too early to judge whether Victor will be a success in the longer term, his limited appearances to date have been worryingly characterised by errors and a seeming lack of self-confidence. Jose Mourinho appears to have been prepared for this, and has used Lindelof sparingly, mostly during Champions League or League Cup games. We can but hope this is only early ‘teething’ problems for Victor, and that he will emerge to become a top centre-half in England.
- Eric Bailly- CB- (7 ½)- The Ivorian has proved himself to be a superb defender… when he is fit to cross the white line! Eric’s “whole-hearted” approach to the game is to his credit and wins him huge admiration from the fans, but it has caused him to miss several games through injury, which given his ability, is a huge loss to our defence. I believe Jose would like to rotate Eric so that he is in position for our ‘big’ Premier League and later-stage Champions League games, but the failure of Lindelof and, to a lesser degree, Chris Smalling to convince as able ‘deputies’ for Bailly and partner Phil Jones has seen the manager having to select Bailly more often than not.
- Phil Jones- CB- (7)- Jones has again proved that, when fit, he has the ability to be a good Premier League centre-half… Phil’s problem has been staying injury-free for longer than 10 minutes, and cutting out the ‘gaffs’ he is prone to committing (the bizarre own-goal he scored at Chelsea on Sunday, but was lucky to have rescinded for a push by Alvaro Morata, being a prime example). On his day he can be an excellent player, but consistent reliability is still a ‘maybe’ rather than a ‘given’.
Marcos Rojo- CB- (N/A)- Marcos is still recovering from the cruciate ligament injury he suffered last season against Anderlecht, but his return is both imminent and to be welcomed. He will add valuable competition for places and experience to our defence.
- Paul Pogba- CM- (7… would be 8 but for injury)- Paul’s reputation amongst some United fans has grown during his injury absence with a hamstring problem over the last 6 weeks- they were perhaps slow to recognise just how good he is, and more importantly, how crucial his presence is to this United side. Before he limped out of the game against F.C. Basel in September, Pogba had overseen the transition of this United side from dour, defence-minded attritionists who fought their way to two trophies last year, to free-flowing, pacy counter-attackers who struck fear into our early-season opponents. Since he departed, the side have lost all sense of spark and adventure, reverting to Mourinho’s safety-first ‘type’… Pogba can’t return soon enough. He is, quite simply, our best outfield player by some considerable distance and crucial to our hopes of winning any competitions we are participating in.
- Juan Mata- RM/CM- (6)- The little man has struggled for consistent form this term, not aided by losing out to Henrikh Mkhitaryan for the no. 10 role when Pogba was fit & firing, instead having to fit in on the right side of the midfield. The Frenchman’s enforced absence has had a detrimental impact on Mata, who is now inexplicably not getting considered for Mkhitaryan’s position despite the Armenian looking like a little lost puppy for the last month. A frustrating year for Juan so far. I’m not sure the manager trusts him as he might, though his careless loss of possession which cost us a goal at Huddersfield hasn’t helped his cause.
- Romelu Lukaku- CF- (8)- The big Belgian hitman started his United career in glorious form, seeming to score with nearly every opportunity that came his way…but that now seems like a lifetime ago. Since the departure of Pogba (are you seeing a pattern forming here yet…?), the number of goalscoring opportunities being presented to him has plummeted and he hasn’t been helped by the manager clearly opting for a ‘safety first’ formation and tactic whenever United have come up against perceived title rivals of late. Some fans have been questioning his ‘worth’, which I think is ludicrous; the guy was bought to score goals, and he will IF he is given some service- that has singularly been lacking for the last month, so Lukaku’s dip in form is hardly surprising to those with any inkling of how the game is played. He needs to work on his first touch, but he is better than many fans give him credit for.
- Zlatan Ibrahimović- CF- (N/A)- Zlatan, like Rojo, has been recovering from the serious ligament injury he suffered against Anderlecht last season, and his sheer ‘presence’ and self-belief will be a welcome asset in the dressing-room on his return to action. Just how much ‘action’ he actually sees is open to debate, since I think it is hugely unlikely Jose opts to play both him and Lukaku together very often, but the big Swede will hopefully prove his value in the second half of the season as the games arrive thick and fast.
- Anthony Martial- LM/CF- (8)- You could never have foreseen Martial in the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer role of “super sub”, but in effect the young Frenchman has been just that for United this term, coming off the bench (usually to replace a tiring Marcus Rashford) to terrorise opposition defenders who have expended all their energy trying to keep Rashford quiet. His cameo appearance against Tottenham at Old Trafford last week was a case in point, his pace and cool finish past Hugo Lloris ending as the difference between two committed sides. Anthony may consider himself unfortunate not to have got more game-time to date, particularly as I feel he would be a viable option to replace the out-of-sorts Mkhitaryan in an attacking-midfield role, but his value to the squad is not under-estimated by anyone now.
- Chris Smalling- CB- (6 ½)- Smalling is a limited defender in my opinion, good at what he is there to do (shackle opposition forwards), but generally poor in distribution with the ball, poor at coming out from the back in possession and surprisingly ineffective from set-pieces in the opposition penalty area. He has been decent when called upon by Mourinho (largely whenever Jones or Bailly have been injured, or when the manager wants to employ three centre-backs in his formation) but in my opinion he is a “poor man’s” Jonny Evans, and I’d have kept the Northern Irishman at Smalling’s expense a couple of years ago. His choice as some-time captain is bewildering as I never see him providing any vocal leadership whatsoever during games.
- Jesse Lingard- RM/CM(A)- (6 ½)- Jesse has proved himself to be a useful substitute at times, and he’ll run himself ‘into the ground’ for the team, but he strikes me as a bit like a human ‘terrier’- useful for nuisance value, but not a player you can rely upon to ‘change’ a game in your favour. He has a knack for finding space and making good runs in packed midfield areas, but he will never be more than a useful squad player in my opinion.
- Andreas Pereira- CM- (N/A)- Andreas apparently chose to ignore the manager’s plea to remain at Old Trafford this year, and went out to Valencia on loan. It’s fair to say that we could have done with him in Manchester as a viable option to replace Paul Pogba whilst the French midfield general is out injured, and in hindsight Pereira may privately regret his decision to go to Spain, but it’s done now. Hopefully the young Brazilian will return in June ready to fight for a shirt in our starting XI next season, though his decision to snub Mourinho won’t help his chances.
- Michael Carrick- CM- (N/A)- Michael doesn’t warrant a rating as we’ve hardly seen him this year, and whilst that was to be expected during what is almost certainly the last season of his illustrious career, his timing in picking up an injury whilst both Pogba and Marouane Fellaini were similarly unavailable was very unfortunate indeed. May be useful to have around going into 2018 but it will be in a limited role.
- Daley Blind- LB/LM- (6 ½)- The versatile Dutchman has recently lost out to Ashley Young for the left-back position in the team, but it is no poor reflection on Blind, who gives you exactly ‘what it says on the tin’- solid, professional displays; full commitment; decent crossing ability and he can take a penalty when required. Daley is the “Phil Neville” of his generation, a solid reliable pro.
- Ashley Young- RB/LB- (7)- Ashley has defied both the advancing years and his many critics to carve out a role for himself as a hard-working, reliable wing-back who is comfortable on either side of the pitch. That he also has superb ability when it comes to crossing a ball into the area is a huge plus, and I find it hard to understand why so many fans are almost waiting to pounce on him for any perceived mistake… Young gives 100% for the shirt, and whilst he may not be the best wing-back we’ve ever had, he does a decent job for us.
19. Marcus Rashford- LM/CF- (7 ½)- the young man continues on an upward trajectory in his career, now recognised and feared by many rivals as someone who can be lethal if allowed to run at pace towards the penalty area. Marcus has superb close-control of the ball for such a tall kid, and is no slouch when taking free-kicks either. His fearless, direct style has won him the affection of the fans, and he is another whom I hope will rise to even greater heights once Paul Pogba returns to action.
- Sergio Romero- GK- (6)- Sergio is surely the best ‘reserve’ goalkeeper in England! The Argentinean keeper would walk into a quite a few Premier League clubs’ starting XIs, and it’s to his credit that he seems happy to play second fiddle to David de Gea, and never lets us down when called upon to perform.
- Ander Herrera- CM- (6)- the little Basque player was arguably United’s “Player of The Season” last year, but has struggled to find that same high level and consistency of performance after having to sit-out the early games of the campaign as Jose Mourinho went with a combination of Pogba and new signing Nemanja Matic in the central midfield positions. Pogba’s injury threw open the door for the more physical Marouane Fellaini rather than diminutive Herrera, and the little man has had to wait until Fellaini got injured as well to get his chance…and to be honest Ander has struggled to have a positive impact alongside Matic, though he is coming into a side low in confidence compared to earlier in the season. Works his socks off for the side, but too often is let down by unimaginative passing or niggly fouls. Hopefully he will improve, or he faces another spell on the sidelines when Pogba returns from injury.
- Henrikh Mkhitaryan- CM(A)- (4)- no-one else at the Club has suffered such a stark nose-dive in form since Paul Pogba’s departure than the little Armenian, whose early season performances now seem like a dream rather than reality. He looks a shadow of the player who was helping Pogba destroy the likes of West Ham United and Swansea City in the opening weeks of the campaign with vision and sublime skills. I’ve been surprised that he has been selected to start several games recently, so poor has been his contribution, and at present he certainly doesn’t merit starting ahead of the likes of Juan Mata or Anthony Martial. Longer term, his recent displays throw huge doubt on Henrikh having the temperament to be Manchester United’s no. 10 for years to come… very worrying indeed. Looks bereft of confidence and has contributed almost nothing tangible for the last 6 weeks.
- Luke Shaw- LB- (3)- if Mkhitaryan has been a growing disappointment, Shaw has been a source of puzzlement and increasing irritation. I had such high hopes for Luke; I truly thought he’d be this generation’s Patrice Evra, a marauding full-back who would complement the likes of Martial and Rashford down the left side whilst retaining the ability to be an excellent defender when needed. It seems those hopes are now forlorn as he seems unwilling or unable to make a comeback from the bad injury he suffered against PSV Eindhoven several years ago. Both Louis van Gaal and Mourinho have questioned his desire, and intelligence, to become a top player for United, and if he throws away his chance to fulfill his potential he won’t be the only one to suffer crushing disappointment at that outcome.
- Tim Fosu-Mensah- RB/CB- (N/A)- Tim has been on loan at Crystal Palace this season, which can’t have been an easy dressing-room to be part off. He has played reasonably well in Palace games I have witnessed (admittedly not many), and the experience of playing regular Premier League football will hopefully be to both his and our benefit in the seasons ahead.
- Antonio Valencia- RB- (8 ½) – Tony has made the full transition from attacking right-midfielder to complete right wing-back over the past couple of years, and you have to give the boy immense credit for completing that journey so seamlessly. He is simply an incredible athlete who dominates nearly every opposing left winger he faces, both physically and for sheer pace. Still needs to work on his crossing, but he’s far from the worst crosser at the Club. A marvelous professional and a credit to himself and his family. Adored by the fans.
- Marouane Fellaini- CM- (7)- The lanky Belgian would never win a ‘popularity contest’ around Old Trafford, but he has proved to have his uses within the squad, never giving less than 100%, and having undoubted ability in the air and can be better with his feet than some would credit him. He had started to form an effective partnership with Matic before getting a knee injury whilst on International duty in October, and made his return with an admittedly poor 2nd half appearance against Chelsea on Sunday. Like Herrera, I really can’t see a starting position for him if and when Paul Pogba returns to the side, but he is a useful squad player who offers something different.
- Nemanja Matic- CM- (9)- Whoever made the decision to allow the giant Serb to leave Chelsea in the summer made a huge error of judgement, in my opinion, though I’m delighted they did! Matic has been superb in the holding midfield role, making the game look ridiculously easy at times and has been instrumental in ensuring United have one of the best defensive records in Europe since the summer. He has had to deal with having three very different ‘partners’ alongside him (Pogba, Fellaini and Herrera), but looks comfortable with whoever is there. Recent tactical set-ups by Mourinho have left United short of numbers in midfield, creating more work for Matic, and I’m sure he too can’t wait to see Pogba returning to his side!
- Sam Johnstone- GK- (N/A)- Sam has been on loan at Aston Villa, and has superb ability as a keeper. Whether his long-term future is with United remains to be seen, but he is starring regularly at Villa Park and will make a career for himself in the professional game.
- Matteo Darmian- RB/LB- (6)- The quiet Italian lad has been a model professional, filling in at both right-back and left-back when required, and never giving less than his best. Personally, I see him only as a right-back, and only as a reserve for Tony Valencia, but he is a useful squad player. Needs to improve his crossing ability…could do with watching a few DVDs of Gary Neville’s career!
- Axel Tuanzebe- CB- (N/A)- The young man has been restricted to a single appearance against Swansea City in the League Cup (which he excelled in) but looks to have the ability to succeed at United in the longer term.
- Scott McTominay- CM- (6)- Again, Scott has been restricted to a handful of appearances but certainly has the ability to be a complete midfielder, and didn’t look overawed nor out of place during his recent start in the Champions League against Portuguese giants Benfica. Reminds me of former United star Darren Fletcher, and if he can emulate the Scot then McTominay will be a fine graduate from the academy. Recently signed a new 5-year deal at the Club.
- Joel Pereira- GK- (N/A)- The young keeper has made only a single substitute appearance against Burton Albion in the League Cup, so can’t be rated.
- Cameron Borthwick-Jackson- LB- (N/A)- Cameron has spent the autumn on loan at Leeds United, where he has struggled to break into the Championship side, only making a single league appearance against Preston North End to date. It’s hard to see him having a future at United now.
So, there it is folks. Whilst the current mood amongst Reds is sure to be despondent after the recent disappointing slump in form, it should be put in the context of United sitting in 2nd position in the Premier League with a very healthy goal-difference, and having conceded very few goals to any opponent. We have also comfortably topped our Champions League Group and look assured of progression to the knock-out phase of the competition next spring. We have achieved all this largely without our best player, who, frankly, can’t return soon enough. Our over-reliance on Paul Pogba has been cruelly exposed by his lengthy absence with a hamstring injury, and if we had Owners who actually invested in the Club’s playing squad as they should we perhaps wouldn’t be having to yearn so keenly for Paul’s return. There are still ‘holes’ in the squad, in terms of top-class quality, but no manager can legislate for suffering long-term injuries to players all from just two positions on the pitch, and in those circumstances we have kept pace with everyone except our cross-town rivals very well. Let’s hope the Christmas period sees a healthy number of points secured by the red team from Manchester, including three at the expense of the blue team on 9th December….