Ever since the pre-season games, the influx of youth, the rise of the reserves and youth teams and the scintillating start to the season, comparisons are already being drawn to the 1992 youth and questions being asked as to just how good this United side can be.
Drawing up a like for like comparison with each player from both generations could well be easy, however I don’t believe that’s the way to compare. The one thing that stands out is the mentality of the two sides, the team ethic and above all the desire and self belief they have. Both teams constantly live the United mantra of ‘attack, attack, attack’. Previously we were crucified for our over reliance on Ronaldo and Rooney, for not having a consistent midfield and for supposedly flukey wins and Championship trophies as our football didn’t match the tiki-taka Barcelona style.
The one thing I love about both United sides is that we have our own style, every single player seems to be ingrained with a belief of playing together as a squad, fighting for one another and above all, playing for the shirt and the fans. We just never give up.
- Jones, Smalling, Young, Cleverley and Welbeck are the core English players of this new look United side.
If we look at our future/potential back-line, the youth of de Gea, Jones and Smalling seeps through. Plenty has been said about Jones and Smalling, the ’99 CL Final side consisted of Stam and Johnsen with Neville and Irwin in the full back positions, with the legendary Schmeichel between the sticks. Can de Gea become as good as Schmeichel? To be honest, I hope not. I want de Gea to be de Gea not Schmeichel, I want people to remember him for himself. van der Sar’s supposed weak characteristic was his ball distribution, de Gea has a high success rate of something like 77% in the Bolton game, and this is definitely a positive especially as it allows us to play a quick counter attacking game and catch the opposition on the break. The back four also protect him so well, rarely pass back unless needed, quick to cover de Gea if there is a ball and opposition player approaching and whenever possible speaking to him and keeping shape of the backline, which consequently allow him to make rudimentary saves which are no doubt good for confidence and self-esteem.
Jones and Smalling complement one another perfectly. Even though Smalling has played more games at right back, they both are full of confidence and the cliché, for defenders pretty nifty with their feet. Smalling has already proven to be a threat in the air when attacking the ball, and the pace of Jones to recover the ball when the opposition has it ala Bale will be something we will keep seeing. In the defensive area it is where they are naturally at their best, cool, calm and collected. Able to attack and defend from set pieces, steal the ball on the ground without drawing a foul and then bringing in the midfield with quick one touch play and sending United on ultra attack mode with the wingers moving forward at pace with the full backs overlapping.
It is often said that we could never replicate the Beckham – Keane – Scholes – Giggs midfield, and truthfully I don’t think we can. They were a special bunch of players who seemed to play so intricately, they knew their own game plan but also understood each other, telepathically. Scholes is a player who is irreplaceable, Giggs likewise. Keane, a midfield destroyer, is someone we haven’t come close to replacing. However, controversially, I don’t think we need to replace them. Ferguson has brought in a different breed of player. He has changed and adapted our midfield and the players within it according to the needs of the evolving league and for progress in Europe.
- Nani and Anderson flourish under this youthful and energetic United.
If we consider a midfield of Nani – Cleverley/Carrick – Anderson – Young, they are very different players but equally impressive and equally as attack minded, whilst also being able to defend and disrupt the oppositions play, particularly Carrick. Nani and Young are constantly changing wings, pulling the opposition defenders out-of-place, creating spaces for Anderson and Rooney to move into and often an awesome ball into the area for Hernandez/Rooney or someone to get on the end of.
The signing of Young a masterstroke then when we consider the position Giggs played since breaking through, since he reverted to the centre of midfield we haven’t quite had a left winger of the ilk who goes ‘flying down the wing’. Making astute decisions when to come inside a defender or on the outside, which we saw happen often v Arsenal.
It is the change in midfield that I feel will allow this generation to create their own legacy, comparisons will always be drawn, but these four can really make their mark on Manchester United Football Club for the next decade. I don’t feel we need a Sneijder-esque player, particularly because I don’t feel we have ever played that way. Other teams do, it was similar when the Ozil transfer frenzy went into overdrive, and whilst there was interest, I feel to accommodate these players we would have had to change the way we play revolving our attacks around them, whereas at the minute, with Rooney floating, Nani and Young constantly alternating and the overdue progress of Anderson, we have more versatility in our play.
The games this season, particularly v Arsenal and v Bolton, have shown us that this side can play a different game if required. Hernandez, being the buzzing player that he is, almost magnetically draws defenders away from their zonal area leaving gaps for the others to attack and create chances and score from. The Rooney role now, as a link between attack and midfield again shows that when required we can change our formation, particularly when defending or trying to get the ball back into the final third. The burst of pace from Anderson and desire from the wingers in full throttle is seriously scintillating to watch.
In Hernandez the talks of Solskjaer started early, the partnership between Cole and Yorke was compared to Rooney and Tevez in 2008, whereas now I feel the breed of strikers we have is very different. More skillful, street wise and variance in the manner in which they approach their opponents. Hernandez’s strengths lie in his ability to head a ball, see a space and follow through to score a goal, draw a defender away from a space and when necessary give a pass in, somewhat different in his stature to Rooney who is more forceful, skillful, set pieces, heading and the use of both feet.
- Rooney, the new Cantona?
What I absolutely love about Rooney and Hernandez is how often they just keep it simple, or do they just make it look easy? Arsenal are often vilified for over complicating this, but these two see a space, make a pass and move into it to receive the next looking for a chance to score or create a chance for each other. Sometimes, the simple things in life are nicer to appreciate as there is such an over-emphasis on ‘joga bonito’ football, putting a ball in the net is what counts.
This is in addition to the fluidity of our attacks,looking back at the Arsenal game, points were raised regarding 4-2-4, less reliance on hugging the touch-line and more on playing through the middle with intricate passes subsequently a smoother interchange of positions. With a position like this, almost having the two holding midfielders we are breaking in numbers leaving the opposition reeling and guessing, passing the ball to Rooney with support from the wingers.
Wayne Rooney is not Messi or Ronaldo, he is Wayne Rooney and should be appreciated as such.
I genuinely believe we are watching a great United side being formed, potentially better than that 2008 side, whether they reach the peak of the youth from 1992 remains to be seen. But with Larnell Cole, Pogba, Petrucci, Morrison, Keane and plenty others still to come through, the future is bright.
I do believe sometimes we don’t give SAF the credit he deserves. We were all questioning what he was doing in the summer buying a defender, a winger and last year buying Smalling a player who made his break at Maidstone United, but now we know. Almost, like he can see the future. He has certainly prepared this side for the next x number of years and for whichever manager takes over. I look back at 2005 and consider the Benfica game to be a turning point for us, the Carling Cup run setting us up for what was to come, but even then, we couldn’t have dreamed of this.
As for how good we can be, I do think we will always be title contenders, matters such as injuries or external circumstances can’t be guessed, but as strong as our opponents are getting so are we. Chelsea and City may well keep improving, but the mentality and self belief we have gives us the edge in addition our mix up youth and experience also has a deciding factor. SAF is certainly desperate to beat Barca and win a CL, I feel for him that as he has conquered Europe and built a side capable of doing so, this Barcelona side come. However, with these United players they are primed for Europe. We will know more in the group stages but I always expect us to be aiming for semi-finals as a minimal.
City will always improve, as they progress they will attract a different calibre of player who will see the possibility of success and finances as a more attractive propositions, which is why I think our reserves and youth players need to be blended in and become more of a focus for us. Attracting the best will become more difficult as we consider the finances as well.
Allowing the reserves and youth time in the Carling Cup would certainly boost confidence, but it’s the FA Cup I want us to win. Our record at new Wembley leaves me feeling sad.
This season though, the Premier League table is what we should be looking to top and retaining.
In the next decade or so, the trophy cabinet will need expanding. I also believe we have several WPOTY candidates in our midst…but that is for another time.