As Manchester United fans, we have grown to expect greatness. When May comes around, we expect to be in the hunt, if not celebrating, titles. Whether it’s the top of the league or hunting down a Champions League trophy, we expect some shiny silverware. However, that has not been the reality for almost a decade now. We have had to endure the likes of Manchester City, and soon-to-be Liverpool, taking the Premier League and recently, having to see Liverpool and Tottenham face off in the Champions League Final. It has been tough to watch, to say the least.
So how far off is MUFC from competing against England and Europe’s best? In this article, I try to break down United’s Starting XI to see which players on the team, in my opinion, are capable of bringing United glory and which positions need to be upgraded in order to compete with the best.
First, let me preface this article with a few things.
1. This is more of a reflection of where these players can be in a year or two, not where they are now.
2. I’m not factoring in the quality of depth. Any trophy winning team has the depth to give players breaks, compensate for injuries, and relieve players in bad form. This is simply a reflection of the Starting XI.
3. This is also not a vote of confidence of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. I’m #OleIn but he needs to continue to grow and improve. Also, this analysis operates under the assumption that Ole maintains is 4-2-3-1 lineup.
Where United is ready to compete:
LW – Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford is the man that will be leaned on to bring United back to Champion contending form. He has it all – pace, skill, hunger, and a love for the badge. He just gets “it.” If/when United makes it to the top, Rashford will be the star player. The team is night/day different when he’s out on the wing. He has world-class ability and he’s only getting better.
CAM – Bruno Fernandes
When I originally outlined this out, Bruno had just started with United. I told myself that I was going to wait and see how things played out before anointing Bruno as the man driving the force at #10. I told myself that Pogba was the only guy on the squad that could do it until proven otherwise.
Well, I’m throwing all that to the wind. I have been proven otherwise. Bruno, Bruno, Bruno – the Portuguese magnifico! Since he has landed at United, they have been a completely different team in attack. He is constantly looking to find a players making runs and spraying passes all over the park. He’s also not afraid to take a shot at goal. He has been an absolute godsend. I will admit that it is probably premature to get so head-over-heals about Bruno but I’m all in. Bruno can carry this attack (and team) a long way.
CDM1 – Scott McTominay
I believe we’re only seeing the beginning of McTominay’s prime. He has really grown into his own this year and he absolutely changes the game when he’s on the pitch. In a couple years, he’s going to be a world class midfielder. The academy really shined when it came to his development. He’s the mean-mugging, intense player United needs in the central of the park. In fact, he’s a player most of Europe would be excited to have.
CDM2 – Paul Pogba???
I’ll start by saying that I think Paul Pogba leaves in Summer 2020 or Summer 2021 and United is unlikely to be competing for titles before then. It would be foolish to rely on him to fulfill his role as being the United renaissance man.
However, for the sake of argument, let’s be foolish. On his day, Pogba has no parallel in world football. His combination of strength, size, speed, and skill can alter a game at a moment’s notice. The talent is unmistakable.
The thing is – we don’t often see that side of Paul Pogba. He can be lackadaisical at times, completely indifferent at times. There are many games where it seems like he can’t be bothered. He’ll give away the ball and jog back. He’s the antithesis of a player that’s out there “playing for the badge.” It is probably worth noting that it is possible he is playing out of position. As mentioned earlier, with Pogba’s skillset and goal scoring ability, it would seem that he’d be a better fit for the 10 than in central midfield. But, for whatever reason, Mourinho and Ole have felt it best for him to play in that role, only to be met with mixed results.
The other thing of note is the emergence of Fred. He has finally started to look like the big money signing Mourinho and Co. thought he was years ago. If Pogba wants to slack off (or leave), Fred might be the guy here. Is he good enough? That’s another question.
In summation, when it comes to skill, there is no doubt Pogba is the quality of player one needs for a title winning team. When it comes to effort, desire, and fit, there is much to be desired. He’ll be gone soon and the argument will be moot.
LB – Brandon Williams
Luke Shaw has had a recent resurgence. It sort of seems like he does this every season. He ends the year real hot, spends the summer slamming meat pies and ales, and comes back out of shape. This year, he got challenged a lot earlier by the enthusiasm and skill of young Brandon Williams. While Shaw has been great the past month or so, I think Ole ultimately sides with the younger player.
Brandon Williams seemingly came out of nowhere and set the world on fire. He goes out there and fights for the badge every time he’s on the pitch. So far, it seems Williams strength is in attack as he done a wonderful job getting forward, getting the ball into the box, or even putting a shot on goal himself.
He has been solid in defense so far. Truth be told, I think Shaw might be the better pure defender, but with time and maturity, I think Williams can improve and shorten the gap.
CB – Harry Maguire
Harry Maguire is a proper CB in the Premier League. He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s a leader, and his head is f***ing massive. He’s the kind of guy United as needed for quite some time. I’d like to see him be a little more effective in the box on the offensive side but he drives the ball forward and wins a lot more headers than he loses.
RB – Aaron Wan-Bissaka
During the average game, Wan-Bissaka’s name isn’t heard much – and that’s a wonderful thing. He is an absolute tackling machine. So few of players have the skill to dispossess without fouling like AWB. He’s quick to go-to-ground but effective. He’s been doing a better job of getting forward, which he definitely needs to do more of, but he does a great job at what he’s asked to do – defend the wing.
GK – David De Gea
On his day, DDG is a world #1. When he’s on, he’s the best keeper in the world. However, he seems to go through these streaks of inconsistency and laughable gaffes. Remember the Everton miscue earlier this year? That cannot happen on a title winning team.
In reality, De Gea has saved United on many occasions. He’s still an elite, top-tier keeper. If Man United wanted to upgrade at keeper, it would be nearly impossible. Unless….
GK – Dean Henderson??
Dean Henderson is the wild card here. He has been an absolute star in the renaissance that has been Sheffield United. He’s young, he’s English, he’s a youth academy guy. This is the Busby way. It’s hard for me to see him taking over at keeper next season but De Gea is on thinner ice than most of us want to admit.
Where United needs to improve
CF – Let me start by saying this – I am a HUGE Tony Martial fan. He comes France and the English press said he had no chance. However, Anthony Martial hasn’t brought the consistency that we all seek. He has the pace, the skill, and the cool finish in front of net. He might be the best finisher on the team. However, it is just not there consistently. Anthony Martial would be an amazing second option but not consistent enough to conquer Europe. Mason Greenwood needs time and lots of it.
RW — ???? Please bring Jadon Sancho. Dan James brings the pace and enthusiasm that we all love. But, in my opinion, he doesn’t have the skill of a United front man. This has been the biggest hole for United for a long time. Please bring in Jadon Sancho.
CB – Definitely not Lindelof. Lindelof is an FA Cup guy. Need solid running mate with Maguire, someone more athletic, pacier. Eric Bailly seems like a great running mate but he cannot stay healthy. In order for United to regain the throne, they need a beast in the back (that can stay on the field).