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It might seem a little odd to decry a team that currently sits second in the league and has just won a domestic cup, but there is little in the way of true celebration for Manchester United fans. Even a cruise control win over Wigan Athletic in The Carling Cup final had much of the excitement taken from it by an under-par Wigan team. It's one thing to win, it's usually better if there is a fight for the win.

This is just the latest chapter of a season that had much of the joy stripped from it by the Glazer takeover. Every match at Old Trafford feels like an anti-climax, with so many hard-core fans off at FC United there is little patience and the old sport of finding individual players to scapegoat is re-starting. In the 1980s the likes of Alan Brazil and Peter Davenport were derided from the terraces, Ralph Milne became a cult hero as a result of it. And now the pressure is on former trainees like Darren Fletcher, John O'Shea and Ryan Giggs.

United have had a decent season, statistically. Just 7 defeats in all competitions (to Liverpool, Manchester City, Blackburn (twice), Middlesbrough, Lille and Benfica) from 44 games is a good return. If you want to compare this to the other top teams, Chelsea have been beaten 5 teams this season (Real Betis, Charlton, Manchester United, Middlesbrough and Barcelona) and Liverpool 8 times (CSKA Moscow, Chelsea (twice), Fulham, Crystal Palace, Manchester United, Charlton and Benfica - no counting the Club World Championship).

The defeats this season have usually been coupled with an abject lack of control and ball retention in the middle of the pitch. For a title challenge a team cannot have a poor midfield, and as Liverpool and Chelsea are demonstrating a dominant midfield takes you further than a stellar attack.

So the challenge before next season is to identify where to strengthen the midfield to turn the draws into wins that will allow United to challenge Liverpool and Chelsea for next years title.

RIGHT-HAND SIDE


Cristiano Ronaldo is again improving after a lean year. His goals are making up for his continuing lack of assists, but there is one area that United are failing to capitilise on. Ronaldo draws a lot of fouls in the opposition half, if United got a real dead-ball specialist in, this would be worth another 10 goals a season. With Park Ji-Sung as back-up this is the only area of the midfield that does not need reinforcing.

LEFT-HAND SIDE


Long the province of Ryan Giggs, the emergence of Kieran Richardson during a loan spell at West Brom has lent some competition on the left. Although not as strong a position as it was - this is not the area of most concern.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD


Astonishingly for a top European club there is no nailed-on starter amongst the current playing staff. To any American football team owners who might be reading/listening* this is equivalent to going into the regular season with a roster of back-up or rookie quarterbacks. The nearest to an established star United have left is Paul Scholes who is out for the season with an eye complaint that is mysteriously unconnected with football. When fit, Scholes plays well in linking with Rooney - but is not the player he was.

Alan Smith has converted adequately from the forwards - but due to injury is unlikely to play again in 2006; Darren Fletcher has a great motor, but his passing makes him another Nicky Butt - good but not great; John O'Shea lends height and aggression to a midfield chronically short of either, but is hardly outstanding; No doubt Quinton Fortune is due back from injury; and there are a number of youth players that could make the step up, but there is precious little sign of them. Giggs and Ferdinand have been tried out in midfield - but that is no long term solution.

WHAT IS NEEDED


Ideally United would want two players, a playmaker and an enforcer to offer control and options in the middle of midfield. The loss of Keane (who offered both roles) is felt keanly. If one of these players is also a free-kick specialist then United have hit the jackpot. At a pinch United could field O'Shea or Fletcher to carry water for a stellar playmaker - but this must be an absolute minimum.

There is an awful lot of deadwood to shift from the squad as well, and it could be (as I have argued previously) that Ronaldo or Ferdinand may need to be sold to provide the cash for these reinforcements - because the central midfield situation is holding back the team.

If the money can be released without the need to sell then United will be set fair. If there are no reinforcements then a top four finish will be a struggle.

You can pick your own players to fill these roles (feedback below), but it is clear that United are not too far away from a team that can consistently get 85 points per season - the kind of total that usually brings the title. Even this season United can still achieve 90 points - although their total is likely to be closer to 80. Chelsea may be coming down slightly from the heights of 2005 and as a result next season may again see an 85 point Champion team.

United are just a couple of players away from a genuine title challenge.

Antony Melvin
27 February 2006
 

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The guy's saying nothing we don't already know.

Buy two commanding midfielders that can go toe-to-toe with Lampard & Makelele, one more attacking than the other, preferably one with the ability to strike dead balls.

Establish a culture of ball posession amongst the midfield 4, learn to attack and defend as a collective team ala '99 and we'll be in for a shout with any competition.
 

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Riquelme is not too old, he's still got plenty of years but in my mind he is a very similar player to Veron and we know how that turned out. I think a player in the mould of Lampard or Ballack is more suited to the Premiership. A defensive player is really hard to find that is of top quality but I don't know how well this would go down with Man Utd fans but I've been impressed with Joey Barton this season. He does carry some baggage but I think he's a quality player.
 

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Feck sake I dont get this obsession with speed :rollani: Riquelme is not a center back going up against Henry, nor a striker out pacing the likes of Terry and Troure :rollani:

In his role, pace is not important at all. Is Paul Schole a 100m runner?? He has average spee but coped well in the EPL.

As for the Veron comparession I dont whether to laugh or cry. Veron did not have a specific role in the United team, thats why he failed. He was not an attacking midfielder, he was not a central one, nor a defensive one.

At times you had Keano, Scholes and Veron in the same team, and what happened was a confusion of roles betweem Scholes and Veron. That was purely a fault of the manager, who should have made a system to accomodate Veron and Scholes together ;)

However Riquelme only plays one position, thats playemaker. There will be no confusion at all about who is supposed to do what. And I believe he would be a 100% success in any league because of his amazing talent.

I think if we need a midfield marshal Roman is the man, but I also would like Ballack in that team too. Ballack can easily be converted into a more defensive position to be honest. He has has done it in the past for both Leverkuson and Bayern Munich ;)

And we all know the replacement for Keane is one of Diarra and Mascherano. Lets hope Fergie knows this too :frownani:
 

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2Pac said:
Feck sake I dont get this obsession with speed :rollani: Riquelme is not a center back going up against Henry, nor a striker out pacing the likes of Terry and Troure :rollani:

In his role, pace is not important at all. Is Paul Schole a 100m runner?? He has average spee but coped well in the EPL.

As for the Veron comparession I dont whether to laugh or cry. Veron did not have a specific role in the United team, thats why he failed. He was not an attacking midfielder, he was not a central one, nor a defensive one.

At times you had Keano, Scholes and Veron in the same team, and what happened was a confusion of roles betweem Scholes and Veron. That was purely a fault of the manager, who should have made a system to accomodate Veron and Scholes together ;)

However Riquelme only plays one position, thats playemaker. There will be no confusion at all about who is supposed to do what. And I believe he would be a 100% success in any league because of his amazing talent.

I think if we need a midfield marshal Roman is the man, but I also would like Ballack in that team too. Ballack can easily be converted into a more defensive position to be honest. He has has done it in the past for both Leverkuson and Bayern Munich ;)

And we all know the replacement for Keane is one of Diarra and Mascherano. Lets hope Fergie knows this too :frownani:
Juninho and Riquelme together couldnt do anything because there not workers. Riquelme is the center of Villareal and Juninho is the same we need a phil neville to complement them.
 

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Simba said:
The guy's saying nothing we don't already know.
How inviting to someone who actully posted something carefully thought thru and crafted. :rolleyes:

Diarra and Ballack would be my picks for ManU. Plenty of skill and at least one star name to satisfy the Americans.
 

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barracuda said:
How inviting to someone who actully posted something carefully thought thru and crafted. :rolleyes:

Diarra and Ballack would be my picks for ManU. Plenty of skill and at least one star name to satisfy the Americans.
I, and others, have been posting the same points made by that fellow's article here for months.

Perhaps you shouldn't be so fast to jump in with your condescending tone.
 

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Ban him Simba :D

Use your powers my son :devil:

:D
 

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Not everybody keeps track of your posts Simba. This guy made a reasonable effort at posting something thought thru. Sure, he should have find a relevant thread and posted his opinion there, but I dont think a little encouragement for the junior members would hurt.

I thought you were unnecessarily condecenting to the guy, but you obviously dont have to agree.
 

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barracuda said:
Not everybody keeps track of your posts Simba. This guy made a reasonable effort at posting something thought thru. Sure, he should have find a relevant thread and posted his opinion there, but I dont think a little encouragement for the junior members would hurt.

I thought you were unnecessarily condecenting to the guy, but you obviously dont have to agree.
...It was an article, as in, not a member contribution, as in, a journalists opinion, as in a profession where he gets paid for his opinion.

Just so we're clear.
 

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Simba said:
...It was an article, as in, not a member contribution, as in, a journalists opinion, as in a profession where he gets paid for his opinion.

Just so we're clear.
that was not clear :doh: , I retract and appologies for the misunderstanding. :)
 
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