5 Ways Manchester United Must Improve to Win Back the EPL Title from City
Here's an interesting factoid for you: Since the 1989-90 season, Sir Alex Ferguson has never gone two seasons without winning silverware of some sort.
Also, since winning his first Premier League title in 1992-93, Ferguson has averaged greater than one EPL title every two seasons (12/20).
What does this mean? Well it only serves to confirm what most of us already knew: SAF and Manchester United will push Manchester City all the way next year, and will most definitely be one of the top contenders for the EPL title.
But how exactly will they go about reclaiming their usual place as kings of the EPL? We suggest five good ways to go about ensuring this in the coming slides.
Ditch the 4-4-2
Manchester United may have occasionally utilized other formations in last year's campaign, but their primary formation was usually the 4-4-2.
While the 4-4-2 has a long history of being one of the most reliable, consistent formations in the English game, Euro 2012 showed that it really has gone out of style, and struggles to keep up with many of the formations of modern football.
Against Italy for example, England's 4-4-2 was badly schooled by Italy's 4-3-1-2, and Italy's domination of possession and shots was largely due to how inadequately the 4-4-2 dealt with Andrea Pirlo.
Now that Manchester United have recruited Shinji Kagawa, an attacking midfielder who can also operate as a second striker, it makes little sense for them to stick to their 4-4-2.
The 4-4-1-1 is an option, with Kagawa playing behind Wayne Rooney, and the 4-2-3-1 would operate in a similar manner. Both would allow Rooney to focus primarily on scoring goals, and leave the link-up play to Kagawa.
Recruit a World-Class Central Midfielder
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Manchester United's biggest missing piece for some time now has been a creative midfielder. Though the 4-4-2 has become a somewhat outdated formation, it can still prove effective if run by the right pairing of midfielders. Michael Carrick and a 37-year-old Paul Scholes are not that pairing.
Joao Moutinho and Javi Martinez are signings who could really give a boost to United in midfield. Moutinho would be ideal; his box-to-box abilities and well-rounded repertoire of skill makes him a rare breed in world football.
Javi Martinez, though not a creative midfielder per say, would still give United a big boost of quality in midfield.
Kagawa was a big step in the right direction for United, but by himself he might not be enough to take on the mighty Manchester City. A good, high-quality CM would make United's job much easier.
Keep Key Players Fit
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There's no denying that Nemanja Vidic was badly missed by United last year. In any given year, Vidic is typically the best defender in the EPL, and United really missed his presence in front of David de Gea last season.
But Vidic isn't the only United player who was missed last season. Chris Smalling, Anderson, Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher all missed big spells of playing time. All would've helped United launch a better campaign against City for the title.
Next year, SAF will have to be a little bit more careful with his players if he wants to win the EPL title back. Guys like Smalling, Anderson and Cleverley will all likely be asked to play an important role in United's campaign, and will be needed for depth and talent off the bench.
Unload Unhappy Players
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While I've always been a big proponent of good squad rotation and depth, too much depth can have a negative effect on a team's performance.
Generally speaking, Manchester United don't stockpile players the way Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona do, but they do have an unnecessary overload of players in certain positions.
Up front for example, Dimitar Berbatov has become entirely surplus to requirements. Whatever the formation, it's highly unlikely that United will play more than two forwards or forward-esque players.
That means it's Rooney and one of Kagawa, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez or Dimitar Berbatov, in that order of preference.
Given that United will have three solid, talented options for one spot without Berbatov, it's highly unlikely Berbatov will see much playing time at all next season, and it'd be better to give him the opportunity to finish out his career elsewhere.
There are also many strikers from the youth system (Will Keane, John Cofie, Joshua King) who could be given the chance to prove their worth as a result.
Federico Macheda and Correia Bebe are another two players who've been given many chances to prove their worth and should probably part company with United. But their situations don't need to be as urgently addressed as Berbatov's does.
Win the Big Games
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Manchester United have never been a team to struggle with the minnows of the EPL. Other clubs will drops points here and there to the weaker teams of the EPL, but United are notorious for being able to efficiently dispatch their opponents, often securing last-gasp wins.
This is why despite all their failings, weaknesses and injuries last year, United were actually in position to secure the EPL title prior to the Manchester derby at City. A draw or a win would've put United well on their way to another title.
But Vincent Kompany's header rewrote the script for the game, handed City the victory, and instead put City deservedly ahead in the title race.
Of course, Sergio Aguero's heroics were ultimately what secured the title, but that moment would've never been possible without City's win in the second Manchester derby.
United didn't actually fair too badly vs the big teams of the EPL, but they'll need to go better than 0-0-2 vs Manchester City if they want to beat them to the title. It may just be two games, but that's a six-point differential, which can be massive in deciding any title race.