After the disappointing losses to Everton and Newcastle, there’s little doubt that David Moyes’ Man Utd needed a couple of wins to put their season back on track, and fans will be delighted about the manner of their victories at Aston Villa and Stoke in the last week.
Despite their relatively comfortable wins in the Premier League and League Cup, it’s important that this Man Utd team don’t get too ahead of themselves. This season has been a disappointing one so far for Moyes’ side, and a lot of work still has to be done before the first year of the Ferguson to Moyes transition can be regarded as even a slight success.
With January looming, Moyes and United now have an opportunity to rectify some of the mistakes they made in the summer. Without wanting to sound too dramatic, the moves that United make over the next five to six weeks are going to have a massive impact on United’s ability to qualify for next season’s Champions League; something you would think is the minimum requirement for Moyes this term. With that in mind, we thought we’d take a look at five things United really need to do in January:
Buy a midfielder
This is of course what Moyes and Ed Woodward spent all last summer trying to do, but they need to go one stage further than trying this January. United were the laughing stock of the last transfer window after bidding for a whole host of midfielders all over Europe, only to be rebuffed by them all; ending up with last resort Marouane Fellaini.
Anyone who has watched United this season will know that the gamble of Fellaini has not paid off even one iota, and although it might hurt, the club need to write off the fact that they paid £27.5m for the Belgian and start again. When Michael Carrick has been injured, the Red Devils have failed to field a midfield presence and this has been a large part of their insipid performances. Moyes’ side need a tough midfielder who can drive forward with the ball and make things happen, as this will free Wayne Rooney up to do what he does best.
The trouble for United is that value is hard to come by in the January market, and with all of the big midfielders in Europe most likely cup-tied in the Champions League, they will need to unearth a hidden gem if they are to get their money’s worth. Make no mistake; despite the difficulty of this task, United must do this, as the alternative is most likely a lack of Champions League qualification and the storm that will come with it.
Decide what to do with Wilfried Zaha
The ex-Crystal Palace winger was Alex Ferguson’s last signing, and at £15m, he wasn’t especially cheap. So far Moyes has been reticent to play Zaha, and in January he must decide whether or not the player is part of his first team plans. If not, he needs to get him out on loan so that the promising youngster can continue to progress; otherwise this could end up being £15m down the drain.
At least attempt to sort out the Wayne Rooney contract
As we all know, something was not right in the relationship between Wayne Rooney and Man Utd last summer, and there were a number of reports suggesting that the English striker had had enough at Old Trafford and wanted out. In the end he stayed, and he has been United’s best player by a country mile.
Rooney’s current contract runs out in the summer of 2015, and consequently he is well overdue an extension. If United fail to make him sign on the dotted line soon, they will be forced to sell him this coming summer, as they simply cannot risk losing such a valuable asset on a free transfer the following year.
It may be that Rooney hasn’t signed because he is waiting to see whether or not United qualify for the Champions League; and given that the competition for places this year means that non-qualification is a distinct possibility, Moyes should also be planning for the potential possibility of Rooney departing Old Trafford.
Do some media training with the manager and staff
Not only have United been fairly underwhelming in a number of their fixtures so far this season, but the Moyes reign has also been dominated so far by ill advised naivety when dealing with the media. We have catalogued Moyes’ media mistakes already on this site, so we won’t repeat them, but instead will use recent comments from executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to make our point.
Speaking to the United fan magazine ‘United We Stand’, Woodward intimated that he wouldn’t be massively concerned if United have ‘a bad year’ as he believes they have the financial strength to the change the team if need be. He also pointed to the case study of Liverpool to suggest that even United don’t win things, they will still continue to be able to flex financial muscle. Woodward may well believe that, but really, it seems obvious that it’s not a good idea to broadcast that view for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, it is a statement that accepts failure, and this is a stark contrast to the Man Utd mantra, which has always appeared to be ‘win at all costs’. The notion of failure was not one entertained by the empire run by Ferguson and David Gill, and it will be alarming for fans to see that the Moyes and Woodward regime has rather different goals.
Secondly, whilst United fans may be willing to take perhaps one season of lower-level performances, this will only be with the goal of allowing the team to build and become stronger again. Woodward’s comments about Liverpool still being able to sell shirts despite their underwhelming performances over the last 20 years suggest a potentially longer period of underperformance. Equating United with Liverpool suggests potential for the Manchester-based club to head down the same slippery slope that their rivals went down in the 1990’s and is exactly what the fans do not want to hear.
The last and perhaps most compelling reason why Woodward’s comments were ill advised is that they aren’t actually true. United had enough difficulty getting quality players in the summer despite having just won the league, and if Woodward thinks they will be able to have their pick of world-class talent next summer having not qualified for the Champions League, he’s barking up the wrong tree.
These sorts of mouth-before-brain have characterised United’s media presence so far this season, and they need to stop. They’re embarrassing for the club, the players and the fans.
Decide who your first choice wingers are and stick with them
Eyebrows were raised when Nani was given a new five-year contract in the summer, and the same eyebrows went even higher when the Portuguese failed to establish himself in the starting line-up, with Moyes preferring the mediocre Antonio Valencia and the underperforming Ashley Young.
The Scot has tended to rotate his wingers, and with the arrival of Adnan Janujaz, it now appears that three (potentially four if Kagawa counts) wingers are now fighting over one wide position. Despite his fantastic finish against Stoke on Wednesday, Ashley Young has been desperately poor this season, whilst Valencia has not been much better. If Moyes sticks with the same mediocre players, he’s likely to get the same mediocre results, and it might be time to wave goodbye to at least one of the two.