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The worst United squad ever

United Squad 12-13This is the worst squad United have ever had, it’s the worst team United have ever fielded, Sir Alex doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing and it’s the beginning of the end for Manchester United as they steadily decline into the abyss.

What a load of total old bollocks! We’ve made our best start to a Premier League season, we’ve accrued more points now than at the same point in any other Premier League season and scored more goals than at this point in 1999….where does all this nonsense come from? Why are so many people of that opinion? Why is evolution going unrecognised?

Why do I mention 1999? Well, obviously it’s the greatest year in our history so it should always be the barometer, but never the minimum expectation. If you examine 98/99 you’ll see some startling reasons why people are tempted to get carried away with our current situation, make comparisons and even suggest we’re better now than we were then!

After 26 games in the PL in 98/99 United had amassed 14 wins and 60 goals including an 8-1 away win at Forest at this time of the year. Previous to that United’s form had been patchy with draws littering the first few months of the season. Our 26th game was also drawn, this time against Arsenal at home when Andy Cole equalised after Nicolas Anelka gave the Gunners the lead shortly after the break. Average age of the team that day? 26.

League Table after 26 games in 98-99United sat on top of the league after that game just one point clear of Chelsea, two clear of Arsenal.

A lot can happen in 14 years. Villa were fourth just seven points behind and Leeds United were fifth a further two points behind. Derby County were behind those with all three ahead of the likes of Liverpool, Spurs and Everton. In fact, while putting this together and searching for a few facts and figures it’s alarming how many teams have been replaced in the PL in those 14 years. A total of 10 teams were different back then with many of those relegated since subsequently feeling the pinch suffering financial difficulties (Blackburn, Wednesday) or even folding (Wimbledon) and others sinking not just one division but two (Forest, Leicester, Leeds). This highlights the calamitous effect dropping out of the PL often has on clubs [Aston Villa beware].

From Boxing Day in 98′ United went on an unbeaten PL run all the way to the finishing line which saw them total a mere 79pts, the second lowest total we’ve gained to win it and only the third lowest in PL history to win it. So far this season we have a staggering 65pts with a possible 36 to play for, but we’re rubbish.

Andy Cole grabbed a crucial goal (a memorable chipped volley over then Spurs keeper Ian Walker) to win 2-1 at OT on the final day of the season in 99, a game in which by the way, we came from behind in. Sound familiar?! It was a theme back then too, we even opened the season by falling two goals behind to Leicester City at Old Trafford before but managing to scrape a point with a last minute Beckham freekick.

14 years on and United find themselves 21pts clear of Arsenal who’ll be lucky to finish in the Champions League places, 16pts clear of Chelsea and their roubles plus, more importantly, 12pts clear of a team who back then were languishing in the none too unfamiliar surroundings of the 3rd Division but who are now our nearest challengers.

Fulham (promoted) and Wigan Athletic were also in that league in 99, there really have been some unbelievable rises and falls in such a relatively short space of time and Swansea City haven’t even been mentioned yet! They were in the fourth tier of English football until their meteoric rise began a year later with promotion via a playoff.

Anyone notice a constant throughout all this? Well, United haven’t finished outside the top 3 of the PL in that time, have made it through the group stages of the Champions league almost every season and won the odd cup competition here and there too. Whereas most clubs have seen peeks and troughs, we’re not doing too bad are we? Shouldn’t we be more grateful?

After the same 26 games this season, United have amassed an unbelievable 21 wins by playing some of the worst football in our history (remember that’s 7 more wins than at this stage in 99′), scored 63 lucky, unrehearsed, terrible goals (3 more than at this stage in 99′) all whilst coping with a squad that’s widely regarded as the worst we’ve had. Maybe it’s all down the refs bias towards us?

Let’s take a look at the squad starting up front:

Yorke, Cole, Solskjaer, Sheringham vs van Persie, Rooney, Hernandez, Welbeck.

Full International, Full International, Full International, Full International vs Full International, Full International, Full International, Full International.

18 goals (full season), 17 goals (full season), 12 goals (full season), 2 goals (full season) vs 19 goals (12 games to play), 10 goals (12 games to play), 8 goals (12 games to play), 1 goal (12 games to play).

I think the forwards in this dire squad of ours are doing ok, don’t you?

99 vs 13 United Best LineupsWhat about our much maligned midfield?:

Back in 99′ we boasted Keane, Beckham, Scholes, Butt, Giggs, Cruyff, Greening and Blomqvist…..come on, they don’t get much stronger than that but we’ll take a look.

Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Cleverley, Anderson, Nani, Young, Valencia, Powell and Kagawa. Hang on a minute, apart from a real replacement for Roy Keane (which we might never see the like of again), that’s a pretty formidable ensemble of options we’ve got to choose from and oh, they’re all full internationals with a blend of youth and experience, legs and no legs, guile and invention, central and wide play. I don’t see a problem apart from the odd occasion when we need an enforcing figure. Enter Phil Jones? Did his performance go unnoticed v Everton yesterday? Oh…and the average age of yesterdays squad? 27 despite Giggs at 39 now compared to 25 then!

Our midfielders chipped in with 22 goals in 98/99 – the current midfield could possibly be doing better but between them they’ve notched up 9 and counting.

The Defence:

Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Denis Irwin, Ronny Johnsen, David May, Jaap Stam (in the eyes of many one the best CB’s to play for the club), Henning Berg and Wes Brown. Forgive me if I’m wrong but that was 6 decent centre halves, 3 decent righbacks and two decent leftbacks (one of which is in my view the best leftback United has ever had in Denis Irwin).

Compare that to the current defence of Rafael, Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic, Smalling, Evans, Buttner, Jones and a major talent on loan to Leicester City in Michael Keane, you’ve got similar bodies but a little less experience at centre half overall (but far more pace and future potential), 2 good leftbacks, one vastly improved rightback with numerous options as cover. The problem must lie elsewhere then. The reason this squad’s labelled as the worst ever must be out there somewhere, because it’s not the defence despite a few lapses of concentration.

Goalkeeper:

Ok, here’s where it must be. I’ve had my say on David de Gea and many assume I think he isn’t a decent goalkeeper thanks to the article which I call him a clown in! I guess it’s a fair assumption but to be honest, I do think he’s a decent keeper but he needs to work on basics, like catching. It would be folly to compare him to then United GK Peter Schmeichel (in terms of United career) at this point. No one compares to the Great Dane and possibly never will but de Gea has enough time on his hands to challenge Schmeichel’s mantle as United’s greatest ever keeper IF he doesn’t intend on doing a Ronaldo in a few years.

De Gea has shared the number one shirt with Anders Lindegaard this season whereas in 99′ Schmeichel was more than established with Raimond van der Gouw his understudy. In recent weeks De Gea has cemented his place between the sticks and is quickly becoming the undisputed number one in most peoples eyes, mine included.

In terms of comparing stats then, I’m grouping the defence and goalkeepers together and after 26 games, in comparison to 99′, they’ve conceded just 3 goals more than them. So where’s the anomaly then? Because it’s not to be found here or anywhere else in the squad.

So, not only is this season’s squad/team on track to break a few records (if it keeps on the way it’s going), it’s by far and away out-punching the squad/team that created the greatest season any club has ever achieved.

What’s different then? Why are so many people accusing or suggesting United are not playing very well or a patch on previous teams/squads of the past?

I’m not sure but my strongest thought is that Sir Alex has changed over the years, his philosophy has evolved from creating an outstanding team of 11 with just enough strength in reserve to cope; to constructing a squad that’s talented, robust and capable enough to deal with any challenge that’s thrown at it, a squad that could easily create many decent teams rather than one outstanding one that could, in the face of an injury crisis, become derailed and discredited by default.

Sir Alex's evolving philosophyCompetition for places is paramount to this. Man management is key too, all his players know their chance will come but crucially they also know it will be extended IF they take the chance presented to them. Conversely, if they don’t, they know their chances might be limited until such time it’s earned once more.

The biggest drawback to this is highlighted in Rafael and De Gea. Thanks to injuries to their competition, they found extended runs in the side where maybe they wouldn’t have, especially Rafael. He, Smalling and Jones shared rightback last season and in my view it’s counter productive. Rafael’s immense improvement this season is solely down to games; games he may not have had the chance to play in had Sir Alex had the option to tinker with. Where would Rafael’s progression be now had Smalling and Jones not missed a large chunk of the season? People were asking questions, me included, they’re not anymore, quite the contrary after his brilliant display on Sunday.

I was confident at the start of the season and wrote this when we signed RvP, this when United’s handicapped odds were produced, cast this vote on what you all think United could win this season and this about City and their imminent troubles.

What do you notice about the two seasons? Why is this squad getting so much stick?

For me the league is as good as wrapped up and the trophy could be handed to us on Derby Day at OT the way things are going. City have Chelsea at home next with Lampard dragging them towards runners-up spot ahead of City. They go to Everton before Derby Day too. If they slip up against those two (which is by no means unthinkable) and United navigate their way through QPR and West Ham away with at least a win and a draw, beat (as we should) Norwich and Reading at home; then beating none other than Sunderland
away (how sweet it would be given last season) on the 30th March could well do it with 16pts the gap, 12 to play for. It’s possible – if City continue their poor run of form.

I’m probably up for a few verbals for calling it wrapped up but, for reasons beyond my control, I knew a long time ago the league was ours, now it’s just a matter of time because United know they can’t make the same mistake as last year AND there’s little chance City could get anywhere near as lucky as they were.

Then it’s just the Champions league and FA Cup……….and we’re done! [pinch of salt, I’d settle for vialiant efforts in both, the league’s the one for me]

That would be some achievement for such a shit squad.

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