Manchester United Squad Review 2012-13 Part III: MidfieldBy: Ian | June 11th, 2013
Name: Antonio Valencia
Position: Right wing
Summary: Quite simply an incredible reversal of form for the Ecuadorian in 2012-2013. It may be hard to recall, but the very same Antonio Valencia was voted Man Utd’s fans’ and players’ player of the year for last season, along with Utd’s goal of the season. On 2 April 2012, after a series of energetic displays, Valencia produced his best ever performance in a red shirt by getting hold of a match against Blackburn Rovers and making it his. Provided an assist for the 2nd goal, but drew even greater plaudits for an astonishing first goal where he powered infield and unleashed a Roberto-Carlos-esque shot that sailed in. Seemed destined for great things after that excellent season, and was awarded the famous number 7 shirt for his efforts. Since those dizzying heights, Valencia has journeyed to another planet in terms of performance and what a woeful one it is. Dazzling wingplay has been replaced by what I have termed ‘Emiko-style’ football after the stutter-stop motion described in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. Caught almost permanently between cutting in or providing a cross, and ultimately providing nothing, Valencia has frustrated beyond belief, more so given a steady stream of games. Has recognised his poor form himself, and has attributed it to a loss of confidence given injuries and resulting lack of match fitness. Took until April for Valencia to score his first, and to date, only goal of this season; a tap-in against West Ham.
Verdict: A few feeble beacons of hope as time dragged on, but largely a write-off season for someone who showed so much promise. The seeming anomaly between potential and actual performance is the main contributor to his low score. The question remains: “Have we already seen the best of Valencia?” Sir Alex stated he was not looking to sell, but now, who knows?.
Season Score: 2
Position: CM (generally)
Summary: Part of the sensational spending spree of the summer of 2007, of which only Anderson and Nani remain (Hargreaves and Tevez having moved on), Anderson has never hit the heights of which it was said he could achieve. Would the Brazilian reveal those talents this campaign? Yet another campaigner sidelined through injury towards the end of last season, Anderson started the season brightly. The Credit Card Cup as I call it (Capital One) was the scene of most of his involvement, with a excellent goal scored in the third round against Newcastle and a dynamo performance against Chelsea in the sensational 5-4 game of the fourth round, where he registered a hattrick of assists. What was a drab game against QPR was then enlivened through the presence of Anderson, helping the team to a 3-1 victory. A further goal came in December in the easily forgettable 4-3 scramble against Reading. Injury prevented this early run continuing and unfortunately, nothing of the like has been seen since his return. The opportunity exists for someone to cement a solid place alongside Carrick in the centre and it would be wonderful if Anderson rose to the challenge.
Verdict: Frustrating season again for Ando, though I do not compare it to the levels of Valencia and Nani. His injury record is not good, but there were positive signs this season that when he gets some game time, he can do well. I still have reservations over his fitness, quite incredible I know at a club like Utd, but he really does seem sluggish at times. Perhaps, like Rooney, he needs game time to get his fitness, but it does seem to abandon him when he needs it. Two years to run on his contract, I don’t see him leaving just yet despite his inability to perform to his potential. Moyes may have different plans.
Season Score: Until December, 7, January onwards, 5.
Name: Ryan Giggs
Position: LM – though mainly CM these days
Summary: Goodness gracious, where do you even start? Is it the world class ball over the top to Van Persie to earn the draw against West Ham in the cup? Is it the phenomenal stamina, not to mention two goals scored, he displayed in playing the full 120 minutes against Chelsea in the 5-4 encounter? Is it the goal against Everton that ensured the continued run of scoring in 23 consecutive league seasons and all Premier Leagues ever? Perhaps it is the goal against QPR in his 999th performance? Or rather the occasion of his 1000th senior appearance, when he was easily the best Utd player on the pitch against Real Madrid at Old Trafford? Whichever you choose, it has been another season of records, evergreen performances and sheer wizardry from the most remarkable player to pull on a Utd shirt (yes, I do mean that). Giggs ages like fine wine, as has been pointed out by some of the most devote football and fine wine fans across the globe. It hasn’t all been plain sailing, there have been occasions where the game has not been right for his involvement and he’s looked a little lost. But generally, he has risen to the occasion and pulled out another telling involvement. I personally will select the pass to Van Persie against West Ham. Pure genius.
Verdict: Sensational when called upon. Fully deserved his contract extension to take him into his 41st year as signed on St David’s Day.
Season Score: 8
Name: Michael Carrick
Summary: The midfield component of Utd’s title-winning spine, Michael Carrick has enjoyed his best season for Utd, without and with argument. Sir Alex likes to play many different combinations, but the first name on the teamsheet has been Carrick. After a superb season in midfield, it may be easy to forget he actually started the season in defence due to the essay-length list of injuries Utd possessed at the back. Having played there before, it was the natural selection, but Carrick came into criticism as Fellaini easily beat him to score in the season opener. I don’t hold that against him, it’s not his position, and his performances since more than make up for such small errors. Described as Utd’s metronome, the setter of the pace, the link between defence and attack, Carrick has been the man pulling the strings. The only thing, the only thing, missing has been goals, just the two, but then he has never been a heavy scorer in the same way Paul Scholes has never been a good tackler. In what he does do, the basics, he has performed them excellently and this provided the reliable foundation for pretty much every Utd game in which he featured. He is no star name, but take Carrick out of the squad, and see what Utd lose. His absence is perhaps more notable than his presence if you like, but that is no bad thing, as long as he is not underappreciated for his sensational efforts this season. It would seem he is not, due to his nomination for the PFA Player of the Year award.
Verdict: Second only to Van Persie and his goals, Carrick has been Utd’s star man in 2012-2013. Should add more goals to his game though, he has a great strike on him. Anyone remember Roma?
Season Score: 10
Name: Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha (you know him as not-again Nani)
Position: Winger (either side produces similar results)
Summary: The master of frustration, the king of the cock-up, the supreme ruler of the wasted opportunity. Marmite man, love him or hate him, is Nani in a nutshell. Capable of scintillating brilliance and the most abysmal 26th-tier awfulness, all in the same half, Nani has had another season of up and down. However, it cannot be called progress, having featured in roughly half the number of games as he managed in the last two seasons and contributing about half as less goals. This has been all the more disappointing given the poor form of the other wingers, Young and Valencia. The wing has been crying out for a permanent occupant and Nani on form would be a perfect candidate. Sadly, despite flashes of skill like his goal against Chelsea in the 5-4 game, this has not occurred, with time missed in between November and January with a hamstring tweak. Perhaps the most notable point of Nani’s season was his raised foot in the infamous Cuneyt Cakir incident against Madrid. A high foot, a delay of an age, and the raising of the red card. I still reside in the ‘it was harsh’ camp, but the subsequent fallout of that incident was good neither for Nani nor Utd. Madrid took full advantage of the card to gain the upper hand in the Champions League tie, and although it can be said they might have done that anyway, they didn’t exactly need the help. Should Utd have progressed, I think they too would have struggled against the mesmeric performance of the Germans this year, but going back to the red card, I think it made both Utd, and Nani, lose focus. Utd went out of two cup competitions in the same week, and Nani has made no telling contribution since.
Verdict: I have never been a Nani fan, despite what he can do, but I would not be sorry to see him leave. If Zenit are still interested, they can have him. There are players far cheaper, and less skillful, who can provide the goods far more consistently, which is what is required. Still a year to run on his deal, an extension reportedly difficult due to demands of a raise from £90,000 to £130,000 a week, which, if true, I find absolutely revolting. There have been occasions where he hasn’t deserved £9 a week, let alone anything else. Having done nothing in my opinion to show he deserves such a ludicrous wage, and if no compromise is reached, to sell this summer is the only option left, otherwise he goes for free. Personally, I think he has had enough opportunities.
Season Score: 4
Name: Ashley Young
Summary: A player who had a stunning debut three weeks or so and has failed to deliver since. The 8-2 Arsenal game aside, Young, in my opinion, has never really shown enough quality to merit his transfer from Aston Villa. A blistering start has given way to greater consistency this term, and not of a high level. Considerably less games, with a record blighted by injury. Missed September and the majority of October (knee), absent for a month from mid January (knee again), and out again beyond the loss to Man City (knee ? No, ankle obviously.) In a season where Utd have had an amazing number of different goalscorers, you may have expected to find Young, an eight goal contributor a year ago, in that list. Instead, only a few assists are in his name. Second season syndrome? Maybe.
Verdict: Reserving judgement given the number of injuries, but needs to rebound very strongly next term given the arrival of Wilfred Zaha.
Season Score: 3
Name: Paul Scholes
Summary: The other veteran and one-club man on the books, Scholes surprised many with his retirement reversal in January 2012. However, he was excellent in that campaign, and the extension into 2012-2013 was a no-brainer. Sadly, injury has denied the midfield magician another opportunity to dictate proceedings more than Donald Trump in a board meeting. This perhaps freed up Carrick to have the season he did, but a great shame nonetheless. Things started well, a 700th appearance against Wigan in September saw Scholes on the scoresheet. Overall, the maestro managed 19 appearances before injury cut his season short in a straightforward FA Cup fourth round victory over Fulham in January. He returned to appear in the final two games against Swansea and West Brom, and that was to prove the last we will see of the little magician. Given how quiet Scholes is over club matters, and indeed in general, the papers have had plenty of time to waste useless column inches over the matter of whether or not one of the greatest ever midfielders of the game will simply wrap up things for good now, with absolutely no fanfare and at complete contrast to his ‘first’ retirement: the Champions League final against Barcelona in 2011. That’s the way he would have wanted it to be. We say goodbye for good to Scholesy, with 20 years of memories of fabulous volleys, nanometre-perfect field-length passes, year-late tackles and this story from Cristiano Ronaldo: “‘When we were in training, I used to do a lot of tricks which hardly any players at club could do. Once I was showing my skills to Scholes. After I finished it, Scholes took a ball and pointed towards a tree which was about 50m from where we were standing. He said ‘I’m going to hit it in one shot’. He kicked it and hit the tree. He asked me to do the same. I kicked about 10 times but couldn’t hit it with that accuracy. He smiled and left.”
Verdict: Not the send-off season he deserved, but there are plenty of other special memories when one thinks of Scholes.
Season Score: 5 (cut short through injury)
Name: Tom Cleverley
Summary: After two excellent loan moves to Watford and Wigan, and a testing-the-water season at Old Trafford, 2012-2013 was set to be the time when Cleverley showed what an excellent young prospect he was. Overall, the result has been a mixed bag, but with some very positive indicators. Cleverley has a very distinctive way of playing, and particularly shooting, whereby he shifts his weight to his left allowing a certain amount of control and power to be let through the ball with his right. This has led to some fine passing at times, and a cross/shot against Newcastle in the League Cup that he insists he meant (Who you kidding Tom? It was a cross). He also scored against Newcastle earlier on in the league, and replicated his good finishing against Sunderland in December. A further conversion came against West Ham in the FA Cup, for a total of four goals for the season and around thirty appearances. His presence has largely faded away towards season’s end, with possibly an amount of fatigue creeping in. Youthful and inexperienced enough to be forgiven his mistakes this term, and although he is nowhere near a middle-of-the-park talisman, the signs show Cleverley can become a useful presence in the Utd squad.
Verdict: A good trajectory of improvement that some others could definitely look at. Has used the experience of his loan moves well as he continues to develop. A further step up again required next season.
Season Score: 6
Name: Darren Fletcher
Summary: A battler through-and-through, Fletcher has applied the same commitment in his fight to master his ulcerative colitis condition. Promising signs were seen early on as Fletcher made his first competitive appearance in ten months against Galatasaray in the Champions League. A goal then came in November against QPR, a header to convert a Rooney corner. January saw the announcement that Fletch would be ruled out of the season remainder due to surgery looking to resolve his condition. The operation by all accounts required Fletcher to be in sufficient health to carry out, and now was the time to act. Cruelly kept from action, confirmation has been issued Fletcher will receive a league winner’s medal regardless, injury being the only bar to his making sufficient appearances. Whether his medical issues will resolve themselves permanently remain to be seen, but fingers crossed.
Verdict: Unfair to even consider making one.
Season Score: N/A
Name: Nick Powell
Summary: A very promising youngster who was making headlines for Crewe down in League Two, Powell was snapped up by Utd last summer for a fee of around £6m (including all possible bonuses). Even given his high status in the Crewe squad, top scorer and a complete sweep at their awards dinner – first ever, no one expected him to burst onto the scene immediately. So really there is little to base this review on, but of what we have seen, everything looks fine and dandy. Scored a nice goal on his debut against Wigan in September and ironically, looked far calmer and composed out on the pitch than some of his more experienced teammates. Even so, his role has been periphery and largely restricted to the under-21’s, with just six appearances for the first team.
Verdict: A likely loan target for other clubs, I would think. Utd have had varying success with this, Welbeck and Cleverley got good game time and experience, but on the other hand, Angelo Henriquez barely saw a ball last season and Fabio was left to the mercy of QPR’s shambles.
Score: Not really applicable, but from what we saw, seems harsh to go lower than a 5.
Name: Shinji Kagawa
Position: Errr, whatever the term is for ‘just behind the strikers, occasionally falling back to midfield’
Summary: Another summer signing, Kagawa was distinctively higher profile, being part of the superbly tight-knit team of Borussia Dortmund. A midfielder with a hugely impressive games-to-goals ratio, Shinji looked like a brilliant signing, for if there is one thing you could perhaps criticise Utd for at times, it is that their midfielders do not chip in regularly enough with goals. They score, don’t get me wrong, but not enough really given how much time they spend in the opposition half. Kagawa notched his first goal pre-season against Shanghai Shenhua, so it didn’t take him long to get off the mark. Come the start of the season, he stayed the full 90 against the opening loss to Everton and five days later, scored on his home debut. His passing looked crisp and several assists were registered too, until against Braga in October, when Kagawa twisted a knee, an injury that kept him out of action until January.
It took some time after that for Kagawa to fire again. When he did, he did so brilliantly, in the kind of display he was bought for in the first place. He single-handedly destroyed Norwich by scoring a hattrick in a 4-0 win (alright, not single-handedly, there was a fourth goal), and looked deadly with some great finishing on show. All in all, however, he finished the season with just six goals in 20, compared to 12 in 28 for his first season at Dortmund (he managed 17 in 43 the following year). So why have these statistics fallen? Well, the injury didn’t help, but it is more to do with how he has been used. Former manager, Jurgen Klopp, has been publicly vocal about how Shinji has been used out of position. He suffered a similar loss in recent years when Nuri Sahin left his protective clutches, with Goetze leaving this season, possibly with Lewandowski to follow. So you could understand his gripes when he says if he got more time with them, Dortmund could become truly amazing (they reached the Champions League final, so great achievement already).
I agree with Klopp. Kagawa was rated among the world’s top 100 players, and he deserves a starting role, similar to Carrick. Maybe Ferguson was testing Kagawa, seeing his impact in different positions, but he is a first-teamer, no doubt about it.
Verdict: Showed promise occasionally, but suffered from injury and squad rotation. With Scholes’ retirement, Fletcher’s illness, and the futures of Anderson and Nani in the balance, Utd are set to look quite light in the midfield department. I sincerely hope next season proves to be something special for Kagawa, he is ready.
Season Score: 7
So do we agree? Am I being harsh in places, too generous elsewhere? Overall, I think this is the area where Utd have work to do. Look to next season. Scholes has gone. Giggs will be 40. Fletcher, if present, can’t be expected to do anything too quickly. Powell is young. Anderson and Nani are uncertain to be around, if they are, they need to do a lot of work. Same goes for Young and Valencia in terms of work. That leaves few names of reliability. I really hope a high-quality midfield signing is on the horizon.
Strikers reviews to come soon. In the meantime, comments are always appreciated below.