In order to evaluate Moyes’s tenure at United, I have done a short review of the United squad. Credit to Tom Elias for a good discussion.
The goalkeeping position is, thankfully for United, one in which they have relatively little to worry about. David de Gea looks to be improving, particularly in the areas once seen as his weaknesses, and Lindegaard might be a contender for the best back-up goalie in the league. In the defence, the three key stalwarts of the late-Ferguson era defences – Vidic, Evra and Ferdinand – are all beginning to show their age in a big way. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans are all progressing well, but as of yet none come close to the commanding centre-halves that Vidic and Ferdinand were in their prime. Rafael looks like a capable right back for the future, though left back is a concern unless Buttner turns out to be a much better player than his 11 league appearances in 2 seasons would indicate.
There are problems in midfield as well. Michael Carrick hasn’t had his best season, though remains an unappreciated player. At 24, the days of expecting Tom Cleverley to suddenly morph into a world-class playmaker are surely over. Fellaini’s signing was a mess of a process, and it’s difficult to work out how Moyes intended to use him. He hasn’t been deployed that regularly for United. At Everton he operated in a hybrid target man/playmaker role. While that worked well at Everton, Fellaini seems to lack the creativity needed to truly excel against top sides. Darren Fletcher has struggled for fitness, and has always been more of a squad player than a dominant first-team presence. In short, United’s centre lacks both a true holding midfielder or a creative presence. Michael Carrick’s ability as a deep-lying playmaker aside, it’s hard to see that any of these players truly belong at United. If Fellaini can rework himself as a holding midfield player, then he might have a future at Old Trafford, but a change is needed.
Moving up the field, the deployment of Shinji Kagawa has been confusing. Both Ferguson and Moyes have regularly played him out wide, causing his former manager Jurgen Klopp to complain wistfully about how his talent is wasted on the flanks and argue that he should be played inside, as a playmaker. The prospects of that happening appear bleak, with the arrival of Juan Mata. If the Spaniard can find the form that lead him to consecutive player of the season titles at Chelsea, then United can breath a sigh of relief. On the wings, Januzaj looks like the real deal, but is too young and too raw to carry the team on his shoulders. Valencia is talented yet one-dimensional, a far cry from the versatile wingers such as Ronaldo, Bale, Robben and Ribery who play out wide for other top European sides. Ashley Young and Nani look roughly the same as they always have: decent squad players and good depth, but little more than that.
Up front, things are much rosier. Rooney and van Persie might be in the final third of their careers, but both still ooze quality. Hernandez is a great back-up, providing a different threat to Rooney or van Persie with his sharp movement and ever-present goal threat. Danny Welbeck continues to be the archetypal manager’s headache: the underscoring striker. Welbeck combines excellent physical attributes with good movement, an impressive work rate, good technique and a baffling lack of goals. He obviously can score goals – sumptuous chipped finishes come to mind – yet does so at a far lower rate than he really should. Deciding Welbeck’s future should he continue his frustrating form will be a tough decision for whoever replaces Moyes.
Ultimately, there are relatively few players who are currently at the level United need them to be. De Gea, Mata, Januzaj, Rooney and van Persie are the only players who other top sides might be seriously interested in. Rafael, Smalling, Jones and Evans are all good squad players who could potentially make a leap up in the next year or so. The likes of Valencia, Carrick, Hernandez and Lindegaard are all good role players who probably have a future at the club should they wish to remain there. Welbeck, Kagawa and Fellaini stand – like the club they play for – at a crossroads. There is obvious talent there, but time is running out for all three to turn that into success at United. The rest of the squad is either too old to form a serious part of United’s future plans or have simply never shown the quality to succeed at the highest level.