Manchester United manager David Moyes brought in two new signings this summer but who will become his best starting XI this season at Old Trafford?
Formation: 4-5-1 or 4-4-1-1
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
I do think the Spaniard could have used some experienced competition coming in this summer. He improved so much last season but he’s still only 22 and Anders Lindegaard is really not going to ensure the number 1 he keeps his form and focus.
Chelsea signed Mark Schwarzer on a free transfer and I think United could have really used a guy like him coming in to mentor De Gea and genuinely challenge him but, alas, he’ll just have to continue his development and if he does that, there’s certainly not going to be anyone taking his place.
Central Defence: Namanja Vidic & Rio Ferdinand
United’s backline picks itself these days – the improvement we’ve seen in Jonny Evans means he’ll probably start a lot of the time but for the big games, you’ve got to pick your captain and your best defender so, for me, if they’re both fit Rio and Vidic get the nod.
Evans and Phil Jones are going to be crucial to Moyes’ success this season and they are, for me, the long-term replacements for their elders – Evans and Jones will eventually overtake Vidic and Ferdinand in the pecking order but I still think they’re the most reliable partnership at present.
Fullbacks: Patrice Evra & Rafael
Again, these two pick themselves – Patrice Evra is one of the best fullbacks in the world and Rafael is on course to become one – his maturity and improvement was really impressive last term and his presence in that backline has become just as important as Evra’s. He’s has really grown into that role.
Central Midfield: Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini & Wayne Rooney
The arrival of Marouane Fellaini at Old Trafford throws up an interesting selection conundrum for Moyes – on the one hand the big Belgian is a powerful physical presence in the middle of the park and on the other hand he makes a great target man higher up the pitch.
Then, to compound this dilemma, Michael Carrick was easily one of the Red Devils’ best performers last term and he ought to really keep his starting place.
Furthermore, United’s most capable creative midfielder is Shinji Kagawa who, despite his inconsistent form and fitness in his debut season, is still one of the most technically gifted players of his generation. Where is Moyes going to play him and how is going to utilize these three players in unison?
Meanwhile, to make matters even more cumbersome, Wayne Rooney functioned effectively as a playmaker last term in a deeper position where he can have the most impact on the play – he and Kagawa are both perfectly suited to that number 10 role and whilst Rooney has the shirt, I’m not altogether sure he’ll get the nod there 100% of the time.
Kagawa, for all intents and purposes, is not a winger – his best position, as Jurgen Klopp has said, is as the free attacking midfield maestro but Rooney is so effective in that position. With that in mind, it’s going to come down to form, fitness and confidence, which, at this stage are still relative unknowns.
My money would be on Rooney to force his way back into the starting line up in that role over the course of the season. His leadership qualities are also going to be a factor.
With that in mind, if Rooney edges ahead of Kagawa to play as the second striker or number 10, it would make sense to have Fellaini just behind him, or beside him, holding up the ball, making space and bringing Rooney into the play.
Carrick slots in behind, protecting the back line and playing his passing game from long range as he did so well last term and both he and the Belgian can break up the opposition’s play when United are without the ball.
Wingers: Valencia & Nani
Very very tricky – mostly because Danny Welbeck’s form at present makes you want him in the team but he’s not going to get the nod ahead of Robin van Persie is he? Do you play him wide? If so, what about the renewed form and fitness of Nani and Antonio Valencia, not to mention Ashley Young and Wilfried Zaha?
For me, I think I’d switch either Nani or Valencia onto their opposite flank where they are encouraged to come inside and run at defenders which is what they both do best and by doing that they create space for others and draw defenders to them, creating pockets of space for Rooney or Kagawa or Van Persie to operate in.
Valencia’s speed stretches the play and Nani’s tricks and movement when he’s at his best make him a real threat out wide. The youngster Zaha will still be adapting and developing and I think Ashley Young has unfortunately become something of a utility player due to his struggles with injury, which have obviously hampered his form and confidence too.
Striker: Robin van Persie
If he’s fit, he plays. It’s as simple as that. He is so important to United in terms of his goals and his assists too but he does tend to go missing in big games which is why you have the likes of Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck on the bench, ardently trying to force their way into the team – they will be important to keeping Van Persie focused.
I also have a sneaking suspicion that the Dutch ace will have another drought at some point this season and I’m not as confident Moyes will restore his confidence as well Ferguson did last term (remember the hug?). Moyes has plenty of top quality ammunition just waiting to get on the pitch and that’s’ going to be a life-line for him in tough fixtures but Van Persie is always going to be the favourite up front because of his quality and the fear-factor he has on teams.
What do you believe Manchester United's best XI should look like?
image: © Paolo Camera