In The Pulpit: Squad Analysis (Part One): Which United players are going to leave?

Opinion

Merry Christmas everyone! 2018 is almost upon us and we all know what that brings. That’s right, it’s the opening of the transfer window (bugle plays)! Rather than write a tome on why everything is wrong and getting worse, I thought I would do a half season analysis on the state of the squad.

This will come in two parts, those who I think might go and those who we should build the team round. Or at the last minute I might change to ‘people we should buy’. I’m just so damn zany! Anyway, I thought it might be nice to start with the players who will spend January googling ‘what is it like to live in Italy?’

Matteo Darmian

He’s arguably been United’s worst performer over the last month. The Italian was particularly poor against Bristol City, being consistently outclassed by Championship players. That’s not a good look, just like his weird mutton chops.

The most maddening thing about Darmian is that it’s not easy to describe his strengths. He’s not particularly fast, he’s not really that strong and he offers nothing going forward. You would think this would all point to him being a clever defender who’s good in the tackle, but that’s not really the case either.

His time should be up and after him being so poor against Bristol it looks like it might be. With Tuanzebe in the squad, Fosu-Mensah out on loan and several other players being able to cover at right back, there’s basically no reason to keep him around. I’m sure while he was at Torino he did something to make United want him. Whatever it was, he’s not doing it now.

Chance of leaving in January: 8/10 Chance of being sold before next season: 10/10

Marouane Fellaini

For a period he was the most Marmite player in the United squad as he’s largely made of yeast. Wait. That’s not correct. Sorry I’ve lost my simile booklet. He divided opinion, does that work?

Anyway, some people argued that his physical presence gave United a different method of attack unlike any other team in the league. They would also point to his impressive performances under David Moyes at Everton and that time he did a header.

The anti-Fellaini camp would point out that Marouane can’t tackle, pass, shoot, dribble, move at pace, take a throw in etc. Basically, beyond being a battering ram to throw on for the last ten minutes, he offers nothing. He’s not a talented footballer and certainly shouldn’t be playing at Manchester United.

Initially, Mourinho seemed very much in favour of the Belgian, trying him both in defensive midfield and as a marauding central midfielder. However, neither particularly worked and now Fellaini is out ‘injured’ with his contract running out at the end of this season. He’s free to talk to other clubs and it seems likely he’ll be moving on to Turkey. United shouldn’t fight to keep him. They should put him on a boat and push him out to sea like they did to Frodo and Gandalf at the end of Lord Of The Rings. (Note – after watching this scene back, I realise that they left voluntarily, which is not how I remembered that scene playing out. I think this is because I was desperate to push them out to sea, due to them wasting 9 hours of my time).

Chance of leaving in January: 6/10 Chance of being sold before next season: 8/10

Daley Blind

I really like Daley Blind. The poor bloke has spent most of his United career at either full back and centre back, where he has managed to look like he’s at home in those positions, despite being limited physically. He kept Lukaku out of the FA Cup semi final on our way to winning it, despite being half his size.

I still think he’s the player most capable of replacing Michael Carrick. He’s got a brilliant footballing mind, can easily win the ball back and actually has the ability to pass it further than 10 yards. We don’t need to buy a Julian Weigl type, we have a lovely bloke already capable of playing that role.

However, in the current setup, United don’t have a player in that position. Far more importantly, Mourinho seems to have absolutely no interest playing Blind there, preferring the energy of Ander Herrera instead. The manager also doesn’t seem to like him playing centre back (plus we have a nearly unlimited supply of specialist centre backs) and he’s now behind Young and Shaw in the left back position.

It’s with a heavy heart that I say that I think he’s on his way out the door. I would be really surprised if it’s in January, but if Mourinho is still there next season there’ll be no chance that Blind is in the squad. I reckon he’ll end up at Barcelona to play at centre back. There’s a mad prediction.

Chance of leaving in January: 4/10 Chance of being sold before next season: 9/10

Juan Mata

Similar to Blind above, I like Juan Mata a lot. However, unlike Blind, I prefer the concept of Juan Mata to the actual player. A highly technical, diminutive playmaker who gets goals and assists sounds brilliant. The reality is quite different. I thought he might be our David Silva, but he’s simply not that good.

Although the stats over his United career show that he’s been rather effective in his United career, Mata often looks like the odd man out. He is far too slow for this United attack, regularly slowing counter attacks down to a crawling pace. Also, he offers absolutely no defensive protection, which in the modern era is no longer permissible. When he plays as a right winger this is particularly a problem. Teams are able to attack our right back with no fear of being halted.

I do think that we should give Mata some sympathy, as he was signed during a torrid time for the club and has often had a lot asked of him. He always gives it his all despite him being routinely played out of position. But I fear the game has moved on from him.

United with surely invest in a winger in the near future, which would push Mata out of his position as second choice right winger. In the number ten role he appears to have lost his place to Lingard and again, United look likely to purchase a replacement. With the Spaniard approaching 30 and his contract running out, United should allow him to return to Spain. Let the lovely man relax on the Andalusian coast or somewhere else equally beautiful. The man has earned it.

Chance of leaving in January: 2/10 Chance of being sold before next season: 7/10

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

A lovely free hit for me here. The big Swede is 36 and was only signed on until the end of this season anyway, he’ll definitely be leaving once his contract is up.

The early signs of his return appear to point to a man whose knees are barely assembled. Having already lost a yard of pace due to his age, he now appears to have lost all the yards. Being subbed off at half time against Burnley when we need some goals is a good indicator of what he’s currently offering.

Chance of leaving in January: 0/10 Chance of being sold before next season: 10/10

The Centre Back (Chris Smalling?)

The current United squad has too many centre backs. Listed in what I think is order of Jose’s preference, they are: Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof, Axel Tuanzebe. That’s six centre backs despite us only playing two a game. I would quite like us to consistently play three at the back, which would mean we have the perfect amount, but clearly, Jose likes a back four. So, as I stated above, we have too many centre backs (apologies, that got a bit Jeff Goldblum).

One of them will have to go in the near future, especially as they would all fancy themselves as a first choice Premier League central defender. If my order above is correct, the final three are the only ones in real danger.

We can rule Axel out immediately. Mourinho has often stated how impressive Tuanzebe is and whenever he has played he has looked very assured. Also, he’s a local lad and he’s only 20. He has plenty of time.

So we’re down to two: Lindelof and Smalling. The former was signed by Mourinho and despite his struggles in his first few appearances has improved in recent games. Like Tuanzebe, he’s also young enough that he might get better and will surely be given more time. Plus, he appears to actually be able to play the ball out from the back, which is a novelty in this United team.

That leaves Smalling. Now 28 (28! Where does the time go?) it looks like his time has ran out. Under Van Gaal he was starting to look like United’s first choice, but since the Dutchman left he appears to be going backwards while all the others have improved. There’s still time for him to find a bit of form and push himself back into contention, but if the choice is made to get rid of a centre back he seems the most likely.

Chance of leaving in January: 0/10 Chance of being sold before next season: 6/10

There you have it! Place your bets now, because that’s who is going to leave in the near future. Now marvel at my Nostradamus like foresight, as we sell Anthony Martial, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford and I weep into my #JoseOut bed sheet.

Every week in this column, I’ll end with a ‘Jose Out’ rating. This is a rating out of 10 to show how much I would like him to be sacked. I’m not a fan of the man and haven’t been from the beginning, but I feel I should represent my feelings as they move from week to week. It’ll be a gauge to show how much you should hate me and how much of a traitor I am for ‘not supporting the team.’

Jose Out rating: 8/10. Creeping ever higher. The recent performances have shown the weaknesses in his methods and he has began to lash out. A matter of time (even if that ‘time’ is 18 months).

About the Author

Bob Priestley
Manchester United fan and writer of 'entertaining articles' or 'a collection of words' depending on who you listen to