As we ease bleary-eyed into 2013 and enter the second half of the season, here are ten new year resolutions that Sir Alex, now a youthful 71, could make.
1. Tell Valencia he’s got a left foot
Is there a more one-footed player in the Premiership? I’ve seen Valencia hover over the ball, debating whether to trust his left foot, and then ultimately pull out as if he was considering a terrifying bungee jump.
I love his directness – in fact, he could run at defenders more aggressively, rather than this odd stop-start movement he has developed – but there are times when his impact is limited. He’s struggling for form at the moment anyway but even at his sharpest, defenders are already preparing to run back in the direction they know he will go, for his scope is twofold: run past the defender on the outside, or stop and pass it back.
At the highest level it means he can struggle to affect games, even when presented with numerous one-on-one opportunities. Yes, he’s given Ashley Cole a torrid time or two but recall his insipid performance against Barcelona at Wembley.
The solution is simple, the practice less so. Maybe at 28, it’s too late to change his game. But I can recall endless criticisms of Ryan Giggs for being one-footed. He wasn’t until his late twenties he started to use his right foot on a more frequent basis. I don’t even care if he merely swings a leg at the ball – it creates doubt in the defender’s mind. If Giggs can do it, Valencia can too, and improve his game by some distance. We need Tony V back, not Tony VII.
2. Don’t play Welbeck on the wing
Welbeck has great potential and I’m sure Sir Alex is desperate to give him game time, hence his inclusion against West Brom. But if it is a choice between left wing or the bench, I’d give him splinters every time. He isn’t a winger, and there is a danger that a few poor performances out there could cause his confidence to drop. If he makes the first team, play him as a striker.
3. New additions in January
Sir Alex has spoilt the game. The press have been convinced our fax machine was going to explode around lunchtime on January 1st, due to the torrent of offers we’ll be firing off for strikers, wingers, defenders, keepers and possibly even a new tea lady. But now it has been confirmed there will be no incoming players. But just in case Sir Alex is not quite revealing the full story – and he’s got form – then if we do sign someone, make sure they are top quality. This applies to the summer too: we do not need to add strength in depth. We need players who can add quality to the first eleven. The message is simple: improve the team, not the squad.
4. Don’t rotate keepers
Lindegaard is a good understudy, but the key words are ‘good’ and ‘understudy’. He may even be one of the best reserve keepers in the Premiership. But the rotation was helping no-one. David De Gea is, and should stay, our number one.
5. If we play 4-4-2, make sure there is energy and drive in midfield
Despite vocal protestations from certain tweeters and bloggers, Giggs and Scholes can still contribute to United this season. However, they should be used at the right time and in the right way. Do not play them at the same time as our central midfield pairing and instead use them adroitly from the bench.
6. Give Anderson a fair run
He’s injured again. But if he can regain fitness, allow him a decent run of games. This has to be his last chance to prove himself and if he fails this final audition, it will be time to move him on in the summer and bring in new blood. He needs a fair chance though and one or two games then back on the bench is hardly likely to see him reach top form.
7. Sell Nani or use him
A barrage of criticism has headed Nani’s way this season, and he looked to be on his way out of Old Trafford. But much like Mario Balotelli could do with a nanny, Sir Alex has decided United need a Nani. It makes sense as losing a player of his calibre without a replacement lined-up would be foolish (file under Rodgers, Brendan). When fit, I hope he is brought back into the team, particularly if Valencia is unable to regain his form. Nani provides an unpredictability and flair that few can match, and while he can make me swear profusely and creatively, he’s a match winner too.
8. Incorporate Kagawa into the team
Robin Van Persie understandably hogged the lion’s share of the attention in the summer – and there’s still a shared sense of disbelief – but Kagawa was an exciting purchase too. Whilst we can boast good interplay at times, our greatest weapons remain power, pace and width. Kagawa provides a new dimension: the ability to play clever and imaginative passes in tight areas, encouraging a more intricate, intelligent element into our game.
With Rooney and Van Persie developing a terrific partnership, Kagawa’s best role is open to debate. Play him out wide where his impact will be limited to preserve the Rooney-RVP combination? Or slot him in behind RVP, jettisoning Rooney to the wing? Personally, I’d like to see a flexible three of Rooney, Kagawa and Young/Nani drifting behind RVP. If we can incorporate a fluid formation like this, with Kagawa at the heart of it, then our prospects against Real Madrid will be significantly enhanced.
9. Decide on a centre-half partnership
At the moment, most of us are simply in shock we have no defenders on the treatment table. Even accounting for the fact Jones and Smalling can operate in other roles, we essentially have five centre-halves fighting it out for two positions.
Sir Alex needs to resist the temptation to rotate too much. I’m sure he will be keen to give all of our defenders playing time but we need a settled partnership in place. Assuming Vidic will be selected, the decision is who will partner him. It’s a tough call, as Ferdinand provides authority and experience, Evans has been in commanding and consistent form, it is Jones’s best position, and Smalling, who has been very impressive since his return, provides extra pace. The cliché-lover in me would call it a headache, but it’s a great headache.
10. Give Evra a rest
Unless Sir Alex is utterly unconvinced by Alex Buttner, you have to wonder why he has not used him more often. When he was signed, Sir Alex commented on the fact Evra has played almost every game for us in the last few years and, at 31, was worried about burn-out.
Yet little has changed: Evra has played 19 out of 20 games in the Premiership. Sir Alex has to start finding games to rest him as he will be a key player for us in the second half of the season, and needs to maintain his excellent form right up to the end of May.