Who Should Manchester United Cut Loose This Summer?
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Manchester United find themselves in a very curious position in that their season is virtually over at the beginning of April.
Now I say that with the greatest respect as the way they have gone about regaining what they consider as rightly theirs has been both brilliant and brutal.
Of course, the season is not over, and Sir Alex Ferguson and his side will have designs on a 100-point Premier League finish—or failing that—by bettering Chelsea's 95-point record haul set in 2004/05.
But again there is no FA Cup and there is no Champions League, and at a stage where the games should be coming thick and fast, United now face a casual meander towards lifting a 20th top-flight title at home to Swansea City on May 12.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Ferguson will already be plotting the defence of the Premier League crown, and with ample time to reflect and review on where this season has gone right and wrong, there are a few players he will be viewing with extra scrutiny.
Monday's FA Cup Sixth Round elimination at Stamford Bridge did few favours to a couple of players, and if the Reds are to perennially progress as the Scot demands, then new blood will arrive with deadwood set adrift.
I've cast my eye over five players potentially in the firing line, but as ever, I want your feedback and analysis on who should stay or go.
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We're coming to the conclusion of Anderson's sixth season at Manchester United, and the Brazilian midfielder has still yet to fully establish himself in the side.
For the past couple of years there has been speculation as to whether Sir Alex Ferguson would cut his losses, but the Scot has kept faith without being particularly rewarded.
There have constantly been glimpses of his class, but they are too few and too far between, and a sketchy injury record doesn't help the player to find any prolonged consistency.
The former Porto protege has appeared in just 17 games this campaign and has only turned out for United 162 times since arriving in 2007.
He is held in high esteem on the terraces of Old Trafford and the norm for fans is to grant their favourites a stay of execution, but has Anderson had one too many, and will he ever deliver the goods?
Central midfield is an area where United will need to strengthen, and if Anderson can remain fit and get a run of games, he could be the solution rather than the cause to the problems.
But that's been said for the past few seasons without conclusion, so should the Reds cash in before his contract dwindles along with his potential transfer fee?
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Antonio Valencia has been steadily on the decline since an explosive first season in 2009/10, and his performances have been heavily criticised by sections of the Reds support over this campaign.
An nasty ankle injury suffered in September 2010 curtailed his progress for United, and it's fair to say the Ecuadorian has never been the same player since.
On his day his pace and penetration made him a real handful, and few regularly get the better of Ashley Cole in the manner Valencia did in his pomp.
But that heyday seems well off now, and the former Wigan Athletic man is more adept as an emergency full-back as opposed to an energetic winger.
Valencia's versatility down the right make him a useful squad player to have around, and if he can recapture some of his former glories then he may well be worth keeping.
But a lack of confidence and a series of niggling injuries hav limited his value to the United cause, and he's another who's value will only decline past this summer.
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It might be a bit harsh to put Ashley Young up for the chop because of "second season syndrome," but Sir Alex Ferguson must weigh up what his third year is likely to entail.
The England winger stepped up to the plate after a switch from Aston Villa in June 2011, and eight goals in 33 games during his first term was a commendable return.
Aside from the goals, Young zipped around the flanks with a menace and vibrancy you'd expect from a United wide man, but that same threat has been lacking over the course of this campaign.
He's yet to score, and plenty of his 21 appearances have been erratic and ineffective. None of the Red Devils wingers have particularly shone across an ultimately successful season, and the flanks will certainly be one area Ferguson will look to replenish.
Young should get opportunities between now and the close to earn himself a stay at United, but he'll have to prove there are more strings to his bow than cutting back onto his right foot and whipping balls in.
Another who's 28 in the summer and could still command top dollar if he's sold.
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Nani is the third and final one of Manchester United's wide midfielders I've put under the microscope, and he's probably got the strongest case for both being kept and sold.
His contribution this season has been has been limited having featured in just 10 Premier League games and making 17 appearances overall.
He's still capable of moments of magic, but that is interlaced with large periods of infuriating inconsistency.
Has the prodigious talent signed from Sporting Lisbon in 2007 made the sort of advancements Sir Alex Ferguson would expect?
Nani is no longer a talented kid making his way, and if United are to make strides again in Europe, they do need more from the wings.
Similarly to Anderson, it's hard to argue United have seen the full potential on their investment over six years at Old Trafford, and questions need to be asked as to whether the Portuguese international can step up a level or produce more of the same?
His transfer value would be high and there would be no shortage of suitors for his services, so would Ferguson be better off keeping him or cashing in and using the funds to replace?
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The most contentious of my picks and the one likely to spark most debate amongst the Manchester United fans.
His 16 goals in 30 appearances this season is still a decent return, but the England man has played second fiddle to Robin van Persie all campaign and his standing at the club is not what it once was.
He also seems to have lost some of the spark that made him one of the most feared strikers in world football, and Sir Alex Ferguson will need to consider whether that is due to a deterioration in his physical or mental strength—or both.
If Rooney can be restored to his former powers, he can still be a vital asset for the Reds. If the decline is terminal, however, Ferguson will have no hesitation in cashing in whilst he can command a sizable sum.
Sights of the brilliant, bullish Rooney of old have been scarce this season, and I for one will watch with anticipation as to how he performs in Monday's derby—if selected.
It's worth remembering that Rooney has scored exactly 100 times in the past three-and-a-half seasons, but it's what he can do rather than what he has done which will determine his future.
I, personally, suspect he'll be off.
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