5 Manchester United Players Who Must Improve Next Season
By all accounts, the 2011/2012 season was far from disastrous for Manchester United.
Granted, the Red Devils were bounced prematurely from both the Champions League and the FA Cup, but they also managed to finish with a points tally (89) that would have clinched Premier League glory in any past season since 2006.
Nevertheless, a trophy-less campaign is an unsuccessful one by Manchester United standards, and a number of established players will be required to step up their game next season if the same result is to be avoided.
Here are five players for whom the spotlight will especially fall on.
Phil Jones is an immense talent for his young age.
He is hard-working, tenacious and endlessly energetic—a raw gem with the potential to be a future mainstay in the United team.
The only issue is, where in the team will he line up?
Jones has not yet impressed enough to earn a regular spot at right-back, in the centre of defence, or even in a defensive midfield capacity—he is the jack-of-all-trades without excelling at one.
Therefore, if Phil Jones wishes to have a better sophomore season than his first, he will need to either choose or be assigned a definitive position, and concentrate his development in that specific area.
Otherwise, he faces a future similar to one John O'Shea—a marginalised role player who could never hold down a regular place in the team.
With his brother Fabio sent out on loan to QPR, even more pressure will be on Rafael to continue to improve next season.
He will more than likely start the 2012/2013 campaign the No. 1 choice at right-back, and barring injury, will be given plenty of opportunities to consolidate that responsibility.
But it has been his recent injury problems that have perhaps prevented him from kicking on and developing to the extent to which United fans would like to see.
At times last year he was out-jumped, out-muscled and caught out of position at several key moments, and rotated with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling as a result.
But the boy is capable, and should back himself to improve next season, without the presence of his sibling to distract him.
For the past three seasons, Patrice Evra has struggled to maintain the form that had in the past seen him regularly named as one of the elite full-backs in world football.
But if the French left-back remains United's No. 1 choice in his position next season, his defensive awareness will certainly need to improve.
He has been caught napping on more than one occasion, his positioning exploited by opposition players grateful to be presented with an open door through United's defence.
It has therefore come as no surprise that Sir Alex Ferguson has entered the market for a left-back this summer, with Evra's decline apparent to all (via Goal.com).
But if United are unable to sign a suitable replacement, Patrice Evra will certainly need to step up his game.
With Danny Welbeck's steady rise in stature and Sir Alex's resistance to a straightforward two-striker attack, Javier Hernandez has had a difficult second season in Manchester.
His injury problems must also be mentioned as cause for his lack of impact.
But the Mexican striker only managed to score 12 goals in all competitions last campaign, eight less than in 2010/2011 and a relatively poor return for his type of player.
Chicharito's third season at Old Trafford may just prove to be his most important, and end up defining his future at the club.
He'll therefore need to take full advantage of the opportunities given him.
Coming off of a very up-and-down campaign and an international tournament in which he came in for a fair amount of criticism, the performance of Ashley Young will come in for much scrutiny in 2012/2013.
The English winger started his United career in blistering form, his two goals in the 8-2 thrashing of Arsenal a definite highlight.
But over the course of the season, his form proved more sporadic than that of his fellow wing-enigma, Nani.
His place in the team never seemed assured as a result, despite the fact that he is arguably the club's only left-sided attacker (Ryan Giggs having recently assumed more of a central role).
New signings will also push Young for his place and hopefully give him the competition needed to motivate him to improve.