It’s been a strange season for Manchester United.
Louis van Gaal was given a blank cheque in the summer to mop up David Moyes’ mess from the previous campaign. In came Ander Herrera, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao to make United’s front-line look like one only possible on a FIFA video-game. However, there were still question marks surrounding United’s lack of defensive quality, and how the club would cope with losing stalwarts Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra.
Fast-forward to March and United should consider themselves lucky to be occupying the Premier League’s 4th place position. Their attackers haven’t produced the expansive, free-flowing football we expected and their patchwork defence has been shaky all year. But for the sensational form of David De Gea, United would in a position similar to the one that Moyes left them in.
The fact that van Gaal has used 21 different defensive combinations this season says it all. Either as a flat back 4 or a back 3 with wing-backs, United have struggled to find any sort of solidity at the back.
What has remained a constant figure regardless of van Gaal’s formation is the use of a deep-lying midfielder. The role requires sitting in front of the backline and breaking up opposition play, while also providing a link between defence and attack via penetrating passes. Van Gaal has deployed two players to occupy this role throughout the season; Daley Blind and Michael Carrick.
Carrick has split opinion amongst fans over the years. Whether you like him or not, the fact that he was a consistent member of the United team for over 8 seasons under Sir Alex Ferguson speaks volumes. Carrick silenced some of his critics during the 2012/13 season where he was nominated for the PFA Player of the Year Award and is now considered a senior member of the United team.
The former Tottenham man’s passing ability is second to none. You name the pass, and Carrick has it in his locker. The fact that he played alongside Paul Scholes in the heart of United’s midfield for a number of seasons will have contributed to the development of his excellent distribution.
When van Gaal came to United, he brought Daley Blind with him. Blind was a regular in the Netherlands side under van Gaal and had an excellent World Cup campaign, often playing as a left wing-back. However, his best position, one which he played regularly at previous club Ajax and the one he has looked most comfortable in at United this season, is the defensive midfield role.
At £14 million, Blind was bought with the future in mind. There is no doubt that he has all the attributes to one day replace Carrick as United’s midfield pivot. However, due to the form of Carrick, the Dutchman has often played as a centre-back or left-back, and has adapted perfectly to these roles.
The only chances Blind has had in the role have been when Carrick was out of the side with an injury. This shows that Carrick is van Gaal’s first-choice in the role and deservedly so. He was appointed United’s vice-captain following Darren Fletcher’s departure in January, highlighting how much van Gaal values the England international.
Carrick has occasionally filled in at centre-half for United, and hasn’t looked out of place there either. His exceptional reading of the game paired with his range of passing means he has looked accomplished at the heart United’s backline. It might be a position Carrick could end up playing more regularly as he gets older, especially if Blind makes the midfield position his own.
Blind and Carrick have only started 5 games together for United, and not once have both played in midfield. Most recently against Liverpool, Carrick was chosen as the midfield pivot and Blind played at left-back. Because they are similar midfielders, it means van Gaal can only start with one or the other in that position. Playing 2 holding midfielders would mean sacrificing one his attacking options such as Di Maria, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney or Robin Van Persie, which is understandably something van Gaal doesn’t want to be doing.
In the short-term, Michael Carrick remains Manchester United’s go-to man. The fact van Gaal has awarded his vice-captain a one-year contract extension highlights his importance to the club. But at 33 years of age, van Gaal accepts Carrick won’t be performing at the highest level for much longer.
Blind is very much seen as the heir to Carrick’s thrown. He is showing potential to not only replace him in the future, but to turn into a better all-round player than Carrick. This season Blind has contributed more goals and created more chances than Carrick has. The Dutchman is only 25 years old, so he has time to develop his game. For now though, United fans should just be pleased they have such strength in one the most important areas of the field.
Jack Wilshere’s injury shows why Arsenal shouldn’t renew his contract
The 26-year-old has been struck down by yet another injury.
Jack Wilshere will be pleased with the progress that he has made since returning to Arsenal from his loan spell at Bournemouth.
He was initially nothing more than a squad player that was out in the cold at international level too, but the midfielder worked hard to gain more game-time in North London.
Across all competitions, he has played more than 30 matches and his form earned him a call-up to the England squad.
It looked like he was getting a once-promising career back on track, but almost like clockwork, he has suffered an injury to set him back once again.
Gareth Southgate confirmed that he wouldn’t be travelling to the Netherlands for Friday’s match and the quotes were reported by Sky Sports.
“It is not a specific injury and over time they flare up and they need to settle down over a couple of days.
“We are hopeful it will settle down pretty quickly. It’s an ongoing problem and it’s not something new for him. He’s very disappointed not to be involved in the game.
“He’s trained well though but if you think about the journey he’s had in the last two years and his big injuries then he’s progressing really well.”
Although it is encouraging that it isn’t a serious injury, it is a reminder that Jack Wilshere remains a risk for both club and country.
It is difficult to build a team around a player that is susceptible to miss matches and the quote from Southgate is a worry as he refers to an ongoing problem.
Arsenal have had a difficult campaign and they will be planning a rebuild over the next 48 months as they transition away from the Arsene Wenger era.
They will have to make tough decisions on many players at the club and Wilshere’s future will be brought into focus over the next few weeks as his contract expires at the end of the season.
There have been numerous reports regarding contract talks between the two parties and there is hesitancy on both sides.
This latest injury suffered by Wilshere and the comments from Southgate referring to an ongoing problem show why it is Arsenal who need to end this association.
Wilshere can’t be relied on to stay fit and to feature prominently in a busy schedule. Arsenal will have ambitions of challenging at the very top of the game and will likely be involved in European competition every season. They need to have a squad of players that are reliable and the 26-year-old isn’t that.
Aside from that, Wilshere represents what Arsenal have become over the last decade. He is a player that had a lot of potential, but he has failed to fulfil it and been very inconsistent at the highest level. Of course, he isn’t to blame for the club’s problems, but he is also unlikely to offer the solutions.
This season has been a nice farewell campaign for him. It would have been sad if his Gunners’ career had ended after being shipped out on loan to Bournemouth.
He has returned to earn some of his credibility back, but the club need to move on and progress if they are to get back to the top of the English game.
A lot of contentious decisions will need to be made and the first should be the release of Jack Wilshere this summer.
Why Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw has crossed the line
The Portuguese manager has been highly critical of Luke Shaw this season.
The fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw plumbed new depths when the left-back was substituted at half-time in Manchester United’s FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The 22-year-old had been handed a rare opportunity to impress at Old Trafford but lasted only 45 minutes.
Speaking about Shaw in his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Luke, in the first half, every time they came in his corridor, the cross came in and a dangerous situation was coming. I was not happy with his performance.”
The differences between the pair now appear to be irreconcilable. Shaw, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014, has been used sparingly by Mourinho. The former Southampton starlet has made just 18 Premier League appearances under the Portuguese in a career that has been blighted by injuries.
Being substituted at half-time is almost as embarrassing as it gets for a player and Shaw’s mood will not have improved after being publicly criticised by his manager. It’s certainly not the first time Mourinho has chosen to talk candidly to the media about his concerns with the 22-year-old.
Some players require an arm around the shoulder to perform at their peak, while for others it takes a kick up the backside. Mourinho, opting for the latter, does nothing without reason and has clearly tried to spark a reaction from Shaw, without success.
From being one of English football’s brightest prospects after making his World Cup debut aged just 18, Shaw, who has seven England caps to his name, is in danger of not fulfilling the potential that convinced United to spend what was then a world-record fee for a teenager.
Mourinho’s tactic of singling out individuals who have not met his standards is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, who never blamed his players in public. It has divided opinion among pundits, with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier claiming the United manager is ‘destroying’ Shaw.
Mourinho is an expert at using smokescreens to distract from his side’s unconvincing performances. And this latest controversy has moved the narrative on from United’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla.
Tough love is one thing, but the sustained, public attack on Shaw is unacceptable. If Mourinho genuinely believes he is not good enough to represent United, then fair enough. But to continually vilify the youngster’s performances is a step too far and one that could irreparably damage Shaw’s confidence.
This is not to say that Shaw is a completely innocent bystander. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, also questioned his desire and general conditioning when he joined United four years ago. Indeed, the Dutchman signed Shaw up to a tailored exercise regime in an effort to improve his fitness.
But while van Gaal’s treatment had the desired effect, Mourinho’s has done the opposite. Being publicly humiliated on a routine basis does neither party any favours.
In all likelihood, Shaw’s disappointing United career will come to an end this summer. A fresh start away from the toxicity under Mourinho is exactly what he needs.
Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week
The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.
With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.
Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.
In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.
Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.
One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.
The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.
Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.
This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.
If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.
It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.
Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.
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