Manchester United: Picking a Starting XI to Win the UEFA Champions League
Manchester United have all the pieces to be a genuine threat throughout England and indeed Europe this season.
Following their trophy-less season, the Red Devils have bought well over the summer transfer window and have given themselves a great squad for the year ahead. It is deep, it is talented, and there's no reason to suggest why the squad they have isn't able to produce a championship-winning team.
And if it's championships we're talking about, there is simply no bigger prize than the UEFA Champions League. Here's a potential starting side from United that could win that trophy.
Agree or disagree on anything—let me know in the comments below.
GK: David De Gea
Starting off with one of the easiest ones—David De Gea almost picks himself in goal for Manchester United, with the Spanish international continuing to grow into of the top goalkeepers in the English Premier League.
Despite his youth and excellent reflexes, De Gea no doubt still has areas of his game to improve on. He is, however, the No. 1 goalkeeper at Old Trafford and will continue to be for many seasons to come.
LB: Alexander Buttner
Okay, straight off the bat, let's get stuck in to some controversial stuff—Alexander Buttner over Patrice Evra at left-back for the Red Devils.
I like what Buttner brings to the table here and I think for European opponents and different styles of football, the former Eredivisie player could be a very helpful addition for United in the group stages. And with strong performances in the group stages, Sir Alex Ferguson could be tempted to play the 23-year-old deeper on in the competition.
I understand that the vice-captain Evra is unlikely to be rested too many times and that Buttner is a clear signing for the future; I agree with all of that. What I am saying is that Buttner could be utilized effectively in the Champions League in particular, and could be one of those bizarre but inspired decisions from United.
CB: Nemanja Vidic
Coming back to a bit more normality, Nemanja Vidic will assume his place in central defense—commanding the back four and those ahead of him on the pitch as a good captain does.
Vidic is still one of the best central defenders in the English Premier League, and is a must-include in any United starting lineup this season if there is anything to play for.
CB: Rio Ferdinand
The same goes for Rio Ferdinand.
The England international was the subject of speculation that he would be ushered out this season for a new generation of defenders such as Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, but from what we've seen of Ferdinand so far this year, that simply isn't going to happen.
He has been strong in defense; clearing the ball effectively and assisting the flow of attack ahead of him on the pitch. His age does mean he isn't a long-term solution for United, but with the experience and skill that he currently displays, it's hard not to include Ferdinand here.
RB: Rafael Da Silva
Rounding out the back four at United is Rafael—a player who, at the start of the year, I had playing backup to Phil Jones at right back. However, from watching Rafael so far this year, what is becoming clear is the importance that his attack down the right flank brings to the Red Devils.
Sure, it might leave them exposed at times and sure, Rafael needs to learn when and where the appropriate times to attack are, but his impact down the right wing has been huge for United so far.
The Brazilian international is playing superb since his spell at the 2012 London Olympics, and if he can continue that form through this season, there's no reason why he wouldn't be picked for a match against the continent's best in the Champions League.
CM: Tom Cleverley
The two central defenders for Manchester United have been strong so far this year—complementing each other well and offering a good balance of holding and distributing.
I like the inclusion of Tom Cleverley over say, Paul Scholes, simply for longevity. The Scholes-Carrick combination has been strong at Old Trafford for some time now, and it may well work once or twice this season, but it simply isn't a long-term option for the Red Devils and perhaps not even the most effective combination Sir Alex Ferguson could use.
CM: Michael Carrick
Having said that, Carrick has been superb so far this year, and most of that has gone largely unnoticed—which isn't necessarily a bad thing a all.
The England international has played over 50 Champions League matches for United—making him an invaluable asset in terms of experience and leadership. That is especially true for his relationship and combination with Cleverley.
United will be needing their central midfielders to hold the middle, defend brutally and distribute the ball effectively in attack. Having a strong understanding and combination is key to that, and the Cleverley-Carrick dynamic is the most likely combination to yield success for the Red Devils.
Nani here, gets his start over Ashley Young, in a tight and difficult decision.
Both players are more than capable of filling this spot, and I completely expect Young to be utilized effectively as a substitute throughout a myriad of positions this season. However, for the big matches in the UEFA Champions League, I'm leaning for Nani.
The Portuguese winger just brings that little bit extra that Young doesn't quite yet have; that moment of game-changing skill and creativity or that ability to score big-time goals when his team needs it most. And given that the Red Devils aren't going to win the Champions League by playing conservative, comfortable football, those game-changing moments could be the difference between a solid tournament and European glory.
And for that, I say give me Nani.
CAM: Shinji Kagawa
Shinji Kagawa picks himself here, with the Japanese international proving so far this season that he is arguably United's most valuable attacking asset.
His ability to set up the attack and push forward—a true trequartista, if you like—will wreak havoc on defenses in the Champions League and provide United with the opportunity to utilize their wingers to greater effectiveness.
With Cleverley and Carrick holding behind him, Kagawa has the luxury to push forward, and show how strong his attacking skills can be in the European competition.
RW: Antonio Valencia
Hard not to include Antonio Valencia on the right wing for United, with the winger's highlights last season. He will be an important player for the Red Devils over the next few years.
His consistency will keep his starting place in the team, though his lack of a solid left foot is likely to cause alarm bells for some at Old Trafford this season.
Having said that, his assist work and strength going forward are hugely helpful for United, and he is a player that must be included if they are to win the UEFA Champions League.
ST: Wayne Rooney
There is no other player you could play here than Wayne Rooney. Yes, Robin van Persie is amazing, has four goals already and could be the signing of the summer from Arsenal. I get all of that.
And I'd take Wayne Rooney every time.
The England international has proven himself over recent years to be one of the top strikers in the world of football and a player that defenses must watch out for at all times. In a 4-2-3-1 formation, Rooney will be effective dropping back and building the attack through Kagawa; helping those around him into the attack and to play quality football.
Rooney is a big-game player, and one that can score goals and create chances from nothing. For that, it's hard to pick any player over the striker here.
Please note that this squad is not perfect for every match, and nor am I suggesting that it should be used that way. This is merely a lineup that will help United's chances at winning the Champions League and the lineup I would use for a big-game match.
As far as substitutes go, I'd have Anders Lindegaard, Phil Jones, Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes, Ashley Young, Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck—though again, this would change throughout the competition.
I'd love to know what squad you think would work best for the Red Devils' Champions League chances this season—particularly if you agree or disagree with anything I've got listed here.
Please comment below or hit me up on Twitter: Follow @dantalintyre
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