By Thomas Doyle.
1. The defence has become a liability
After Chris Smalling’s fine form last season the purchase of Phil Jones in the summer, many fans and pundits agreed that Manchester United possessed an extremely strong defence for the 2011/12 season.
However, recent form suggests that Sir Alex Ferguson can no longer rely on his defenders to carry United through games as they once did. And whats more, it doesn’t appear to matter whether the line-up features seasoned professionals, as against Manchester City, or the younger members of the squad such as Fabio, Smalling and Jonny Evans.
With all due respect to Crystal Palace, it seems that even Championship teams now come to Old Trafford with the belief that if they attack then they will score, and the manager will have to tighten up at home to restore the fear factor.
2. Left back is becoming a problem position
Again, you only need to cast a glance back to this summer to find the prevailing opinion that Man United were well stocked at left-back. With Patrice Evra making the position his own after usurping former fan favourite Gabriel Heinze, and with the promising Fabio da Silva as an exciting reserve, there was no foreseeable danger.
Unfortunately, Evra appears to have stagnated this season, and while he works hard in forward positions, he has been caught out with alarming regularity at the back; most notably in the 6-1 home drubbing against City, and more recently against Benfica.
With Fabio spending more time in the treatment room than on the pitch and still showing a worrying propensity for picking up cautions, Ferguson may look elsewhere to shore up a position that he must have felt was a reliable one.
3. Are United’s striking options too limited?
Paul Wilson of The Guardian wrote a piece on August 6 proclaiming that United had a ‘magnificent seven’ of striking talent to campaign on all fronts, yet the forward positions have presented Ferguson with a dilemma.
Javier Hernandez’s season has only just got going after frustrating injuries, and while Danny Welbeck arguably claimed a starting place with an impressive start to the season, injuries have also cut his involvement short of late. Ditto Michael Owen.
Despite his penalty strike, Federico Macheda was desperately poor against Palace, while Mame Birame Diouf did little to suggest that he will be at Old Trafford beyond the end of the season. Wayne Rooney has been called upon to drop back to midfield, yet despite all of this Dimitar Berbatov has constantly found himself on the fringes of the squad; mystifyingly, he was left out against Newcastle on Saturday, when his composure would surely have given Untied a greater chance of three important points, especially considering City’s draw at Liverpool the following day.
In reality, any or all of Owen, Berbatov, Macheda and Diouf could be on their way in January or the summer, so it looks as if Ferguson will be on the lookout for a new striker sooner than Wilson, and any of us, could have predicted.
4. Ravel Morrison needs more game time
Despite only coming on as a half-time substitute, Ravel Morrison did enough to suggest that he deserves more time on the pitch so that he has the possibility of fulfilling his rich promise. He tested Palace’s keeper with a couple of stinging shots, and his imagination delighted a low turnout.
United’s midfield of late has been stagnant, yet Morrison’s touch, speed and passing ability could inject some unpredictability into a midfield that looks increasingly methodical, with two wide wingers supported by two solid (and whisper it, plodding) holding players.
Darron Gibson is still being given playing time despite Ferguson’s desire to move him on in August, so Morrison, and Paul Pogba, should be given more time to see if they can handle the pressure of the United first team. Both certainly have the talent, so Ferguson must yet again give chances to youth as he has done in the past.
5. Certain squad players will not get this chance again
It seems like an obvious opinion, but there are a number of players who turned out against Palace on Wednesday that may well never feature for United again. The Carling Cup offers squad players and youth players an excellent opportunity to impress their managers, and potentially play their way into the first team, and even feature as an important member of a trophy-winning side.
Unfortunately, a number of players on Wednesday blew their chances (Macheda, Evans and Gibson will feel it was an opportunity missed), and will struggle to feature as the games grow in importance.
The one saving grace for them is that with injuries in the squad, December is a good time for playing wanting minutes, yet the chance to progress to the semis would have given many on the fringes at least one more high-profile game to show Ferguson why they deserve a chance.