Picking a Manchester United Starting XI to Include Lucas Moura
Recent weeks have left us with the knowledge that Sao Paulo midfielder and Brazilian prodigy, Lucas Moura, is a man in demand, not least of which by Manchester United.
If such stories touted by the media are to be believed, this tells us that the Red Devils are certainly adamant in landing their man and despite the massive amount of names linked with the English giants, Moura is a true target for the club in every sense.
The 19-year-old is currently in England preparing for Brazil’s Olympic football campaign for which they are favourites to win.
Last night saw the teenager play a role in his nation’s decisive win over Great Britain in the host’s only warm-up match before the competition gets underway.
This gives English clubs the ideal opportunity to try and strike a deal for any foreign talent and with Chelsea allegedly close to tying up a deal for Lucas’ teammate, Oscar, it seems United may strive to land a South American starlet of their own.
Even if Moura were to complete a move to Old Trafford, however, just where would he fit in and amongst which players?
Read on to find out.
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
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After a shaky start to his career in England, David de Gea rallied around to prove himself as a more than capable stopper in the second half of the 2011-12 campaign.
The Spaniard faced a shedload of criticism for his feeble frame and inability to compete aerially or otherwise against some of the Premier League’s more brutish talents.
As a result, Anders Lindegaard was handed ample opportunity to usurp the No. 1 throne and, at times, it looked as if the Dane would eventually win.
However, De Gea, the £20 million summer signing from Atlético Madrid, proved his worth and managed to finish the season with 13 clean sheets, six of which came in the last seven weeks of the campaign.
While that defensive record is certainly helped by a very capable Manchester United defence, the Red Devils’ back four were by no means at their strongest during 2011-12, leaving De Gea to bail out his side, even from the penalty spot.
After recovering from an uncertain period, Sir Alex Ferguson is sure to place his faith in David de Gea in the coming competition.
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Currently starring for the Brazilian national team in preparation for the upcoming Olympics, Rafael seems set to be in for the long-haul at Old Trafford.
The 22-year-old was recently rewarded with a four-year contract extension that will see him play in the red of Manchester United until 2016.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the player’s twin, Fabio, who was just farmed out to QPR with Patrice Evra firmly occupying the left-back slot.
Regardless, Rafael’s luck appears to be in and the youngster is being tipped for a bright future on both the club and international stage.
Last season saw Rafael finish with four assists showing that the defender is more than capable of getting up the field and helping out in attack.
What’s more, the full-back managed to accumulate passing success rate of 88.1 percent, a phenomenal record for any player, let alone a defender.
However, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling will pose hefty competition to the Brazilian as while it may not be the English pair’s primary position, the duo both offer more in terms of defensive stability and discipline, something Rafael needs to continue working on if he is to reach the heights put before him.
Left-Back: Patrice Evra
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Although Leighton Baines and several other left-backs continue to be linked with a move to Manchester United, Patrice Evra remains the club’s go-to man in the slot.
The Frenchman has by no means had an easy time over the past two seasons but doesn’t seem intent on letting racial controversies or age affect his standard of play.
At 31-years-old, Evra is no spring chicken but his pace when on the ball or off of it wouldn’t give that factor away.
In truth, the defender’s play has declined slightly in the past two seasons, something that was typified in his eventual surrendering of the starting left-back place to Gael Clichy at Euro 2012.
However, averaging 48 games per season for the past five consecutive years is a feat not to be laughed at and something that Evra has done but many would not be able to.
The fact that the former Monaco star has managed to survive amongst the upper echelon of English football in the box-to-box manner in which he plays is astounding and when you consider the seed at which he does it, the achievement becomes all the more amazing.
With Moura at the club, United would have yet another talent capable of playing on the wings as well as more centrally and another potential attacking partner for Evra with Ryan Giggs now firmly on his way out of the game.
Centre-Back: Nemanja Vidic
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The 2011-12 season provides us with little in terms of Nemanja Vidic statistics, simply due to the fact that the defender wasn’t there for most of it.
The Serbian stalwart badly twisted his knee in a Champions League tie against FC Basel, bringing an abrupt end to a campaign that had only six Premier League matches to its name.
With that in mind, reports claim that the defender’s recovery continues to improve and that Vidic should feature in Manchester United’s starting line-up when the Premier League does roll back around.
Up there with some of the best central defender in the world on his given day, Nemanja Vidic is one of the first names down on any United teamsheet.
Centre-Back: Rio Ferdinand
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Despite increasing pressure from the younger alternatives of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, the pair will have to settle for a backseat for the time being, with their mentor and teammate, Rio Ferdinand, securing the starting berth.
Ignoring the fact that he is now 33, the Twitter-friendly Ferdinand (at least the elder one), remains a top talent and has done well to prolong his career at the elite level this far.
The Red Devil racked up an impressive 38 games across all competitions last season, only one of which came from the bench.
Astonishingly, Ferdinand finished the 2011-12 season with a successful passing rate of 90 percent; a statistic that puts him on par with some of the club’s best.
A calm head if ever his side need one, the United veteran is still the man to partner Vidic in defence.
For how much longer that will be is another question entirely.
Central Midfield: Michael Carrick
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Recently described by Sir Alex Ferguson as the ‘key’ to Manchester United reclaiming the Premier League title next season (via Guardian), it seems Michael Carrick will be the man to whom Paul Scholes passes the torch as the Red Devils’ “passing machine.”
The first real position to directly influence the possible inclusion of Lucas Moura, Carrick would presumably play role sitting further back than any other in midfield, setting the tone at which the rest of his side go forward.
Featuring in 41 games last campaign, it’s impressive that Carrick still managed to finish with a pass success rate of over 90 percent in one of the positions under most pressure for improvement.
While he may not contribute much in scoring threat, Carrick is a player who quietly goes about his business, doing the damage through influence and ammunition rather than brawn and power.
Capable of functioning as a defensive midfielder, Carrick would get the nod in front of the likes of Anderson, Tom Cleverley and the ageing Paul Scholes to play the role of anchor.
Left Midfield: Ashley Young
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Although his potential may not have been unlocked at Euro 2012, Ashley Young remains a threat on club level and if the attacker’s 2011-12 debut season at Old Trafford was anything to go by, there are only good things to come.
Competing with the likes of Nani, Antonio Valencia, Danny Welbeck and Ryan Giggs, Young managed to accumulate 33 appearances for United last season, pitching in with eight goals and 11 assists along the way.
According to WhoScored.com, 25 Premier League matches saw the winger finished the season with an average of 1.7 key passes per game, as well as showed that the summer acquisition is more than capable of cutting onto his right and doing damage.
With Moura and Kagawa in the side, Young’s position would be a slightly more subdued one meaning that the former Aston Villa star will need to work on his defence if Michael Carrick is to benefit from his assistance at all.
Right Midfield: Antonio Valencia
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Finally reaching the expectations laid before him, the 2011-12 season was the best and most successful yet for Antonio Valencia.
The Ecuadorian speedster was voted the Manchester United Players’ Player of the Year and for good reason.
A true team member, Valencia featured at right-back as well as right midfield and further up the pitch as much as was required of him by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Showing himself to be a more than capable defender, it’s just as well that Valencia looks assured playing further back as he might be asked to do so again this campaign.
As was touched upon in the last slide, Moura’s arrival at Old Trafford would mean the wings taking less precedence amongst the team with the Brazilian’s play with Kagawa through the centre then becoming the primary mode of attack.
Valencia would therefore be deployed in the role of “defensive winger,” much the same as Jean Beausejour or Victor Moses were sometimes required to do under Robert Martinez’s 3-5-2 formation at Wigan last season.
The tactic means that while the centre of the pitch may seem undermanned at times, the work-hardy wingers are responsible for helping their midfield—in this case, Michael Carrick—to make sure that isn’t the case.
With 13 assists last season, Valencia will need to maintain his form in order to keep Nani out of the team but with an average of 2.4 key passes per game and a pass success rate of 86 percent, the 26-year-old certainly looks assured.
Centre-Attacking Midfield: Shinji Kagawa
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Arriving at Old Trafford for a fee of £12 million this summer, Kagawa is almost certain to feature in Sir Alex Ferguson’s starting XI and change the Scotsman’s tactics as a result.
For some time now, playing through the wings has been the formation of choice for Ferguson but, as has been aforementioned, that style of play could soon become a thing of the past if Lucas Moura were to come to the club, too.
More on that later, though.
With Darren Fletcher, Anderson and Tom Cleverley all going through their own issues last season, the role of attacking midfield was one that went largely unfulfilled.
Kagawa is now at the club to plug that gap in between attack and midfield.
At Borussia Dortmund, the Japanese international sat firmly behind Robert Lewandowski and while supply was a priority, Kagawa made it his business to pitch in with a goal or two of his own.
Or 13, to be exact—the 23-year-old scored an emphatic 13 goals as well as eight assists, and that was just in the Bundesliga, which the Yellow and Blacks won for the second year in a row.
Operating alongside Moura, Kagawa would be able to alternate between attacking responsibilities depending on the situation, helping whoever may occupy United’s striking role at the time.
Centre-Attacking Midfield: Lucas Moura
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Now, for the important one.
With Moura in their ranks, the Red Devils would honestly have a player very similar to Kagawa, although the two do have their respective benefits.
Both are primarily playmakers that are also capable of playing from the wings but also have the knack to score a goal when the time really calls for it.
With both maestros on the field, United would adopt a “Christmas tree formation” and while last year saw the wingers operating alongside the forwards, the new way would see the likes of Young, Valencia and Nani play from much further back, although that wouldn’t limit their attacking desires.
With an aggregate age of 22, it seems that Ferguson is attempting to create a long-term partnership between Moura and Kagawa and seeing as how both operate behind the strikers first and foremost, that is likely to be the scene where they will feature most often.
Neither player will be coming to Old Trafford to sit on the bench and, as such, a change in formational habit looks assured.
Through the years, a mind such as Fergsuon’s has showed the kind of malleability and versatility required to succeed at the top and this year will be just another example of that.
If Moura were to complete a move to United, his responsibilities at Sao Paulo would be the same as those in his new surroundings.
After all, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Striker: Wayne Rooney
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Much to the dismay of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, Lucas Moura’s purchase by Manchester United could mean a considerable decrease in playing time for the pair.
With two attacking midfielders, there would only be space for a sole striker to operate up front and that duty will always go to Wayne Rooney.
That isn’t to say that Welbeck and "Chicharito" won’t play.
Ferguson hasn’t got to the status he’s at by utilising one formation all season and depending on squad depth, injuries and opposition, the more familiar 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formations will undoubtedly make their appearances.
However, Rooney will be happy to revert to a role at which he plays his best football.
Last campaign saw the England international forced into a more provisional role but the acquisitions of Kagawa and possibly Moura would leave the forward free to roam up top.
With the ammunition coming from two of the biggest young names in the world, it would be thrilling to see how Rooney flourishes in a more attacking position.
All statistics come courtesy of WhoScored.com and Transfermarkt.com.