Wednesday 23 May 2018

Top heavy United lack leaders and width

With Michael Carrick having moved from the pitch to the dugout upon his retirement, United will need a new captain ahead of 2018-19. United usually give the armband to the longest serving player, with Antonio Valencia having donned it for much of the season just gone. But he's not a natural captain - a skipper in name only -  and therein lies the main shortcoming in Jose's United. We had four different captains in the Champions League this season - from Valencia to Young via Pogba and Smalling. It never used to be this way - a far cry from the halycon days under the totemic on-pitch leadership of Roy Keane, Gary Neville and Bryan Robson. They were synonymous with the club. Pogba doesn't stand out as captaincy material, neither does Young and Smalling can hardly be put in the same bracket as United's previous defensive titans Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic - both of whom led the team with distinction as great captains in a great United side.

United do not lack personalities, but there are no true, natural leaders in this squad. No one to grab a game by the scruff of the neck, no one to turn to dig the team out of a hole when the going gets tough, just as Keane used to. No one who stands up to be counted, no one to form a protective shield from the manager and take a struggling player under his wing. You can feel a certain degree of empathy for Jose in this regard - captains are born, not made, and you can't just go out, buy a player and give him the armband. The art of captaining a side just doesn't work like that. Think of the Class of 92 - a once in a lifetime group of homegrown players, a group that had leaders and strong characters in abundance.
Perhaps that same academy system now is not producing enough talent and characters to become leaders. Players are put on such a lofty pedestal at such a young age. Arsenal had Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira, Chelsea had John Terry and Steven Gerrard often seemed to single - handedly drive Liverpool to victory. The best clubs all have strong captains as talismanic figureheads of the side, but those types of players have increasingly become a dying breed.

The squad is also top-heavy, jam packed with a plethora of number tens but no natural width with only one out-and-out striker in Romelu Lukaku. Valencia and Young are inverted, inside-out full-backs that can't beat their man and don't give you width, often cutting in, with Jesse Lingard, Alexis Sanchez, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford all similar in style as number ten-type players, meaning that the cogs in the Reds attack often play too close together and too narrow - making life much easier for opposition defences with the final third clogged up in central areas. The traditional flying winger in the mould of a Ryan Giggs or an Andrei Kanchelskis don't really exist anymore in these modern multifunctional times, but United have no natural width. Jose wanted a left-sided player last summer but didn't get his man - namely Internazionale's Ivan Perisic - which would have helped solve this.

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