Manchester United: Previewing the Reds' Potential Problems Next Season

Jake Nisse@@jake_nisse_BRFeatured ColumnistMay 3, 2013

United players react to an FA Cup loss to Chelsea.
United players react to an FA Cup loss to Chelsea.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

After clinching their 20th domestic title in a 3-0 victory vs. Aston Villa, Manchester United's season is effectively over.

Though they have three EPL fixtures remaining, Sir Alex Ferguson will likely use these games as a chance to give game experience to youngsters such as Alexander Buttner and Nick Powell. 

Despite winning the title with ease, United were not quite a perfect team this year, and Ferguson will use their summer break thinking about how to avoid some problems they had, no matter how small they may be.

One of the most glaring issues in this year's United squad was their surprising lack of production from their wingers Ashley Young, Nani and Antonio Valenica. While this group surely does not lack talent, it seems this year they all lacked the consistency to give Sir Alex a surefire starter on the wing.

Young struggled with injuries for much of the season (Sky Sports), Valencia's left foot and crossing weaknesses were exposed and Nani frustrated fans with his ball-hogging ways.

With a quick look at the numbers, it is painfully obvious that United's wing-backs, Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra, were more offensively productive than the Reds' wingers:

Goals  Assists
Rafael da Silva 3 3
Patrice Evra 4 5
Nani 1 2
Antonio Valencia 1 4
Ashley Young 0 3

While United's wingers combined had a measly two goals and nine assists, Rafael and Evra were both solid offensive contributors, all the while performing admirably on the defensive side of the ball.

Whether or not Ferguson feels it will be necessary for him to sell one of United's wingers, all three could be in danger of losing significant playing time next year with 20-year-old Wilfried Zaha on the way (The Mirror). Though he's playing in the Championship, the Englishman's numbers are certainly stronger than United's wingers, with six goals and eight assists for Crystal Palace.

At such a young age, Zaha will have time to grow and improve as a player, hopefully proving the cost of his rumored £15 million transfer fee (The Mirror).

United's defense, however, will not be given nearly as much of a leash, as Ferguson has watched an experienced back line made to look like rookies at some points this season.

These struggles, with eight clean sheets in the last 11 games, have likely been forgotten for the most part by the fans and even the players, who have been defending more confidently since February.

Those struggles, though, which included three-goal performances by Reading and Newcastle, will not likely be forgotten by their manager, who knows full and well how heavily his team was carried by Robin van Persie in the season's early stages.

Like the wingers, the back line did experience some injuries, as the constant absences of Phil Jones (Daily Express) and Nemanja Vidc (The Mirror) left the Reds without two vital cogs in their defense. 

With these injuries coupled with the sluggish play of Rio Ferdinand, (ignore his PFA Team selection, per the Daily Mail) United have often hurt themselves by conceding early. Even though this problem has led to an impressive nine comeback victories, it also shows that United are ultimately working harder than they need to, which could affect them down the line in another year's title race. 

The Reds' have been linked to defenders such as Mats Hummels (Daily Express) to solve their occasional defensive woes, but with club CEO Ed Woodward denying any possibility of a "summer spending spree," (ESPN FC) it is unlikely that the club will make such a transfer. 

Instead, Ferguson will have to do better in maximizing what is left of his aging defenders Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic.

American sports fans have seen San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich constantly rest veterans Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, leaving them with plenty of gas in the tank for the NBA playoffs.

While there are no playoffs in the EPL, there are certainly more important games that Ferguson will want his most experienced players in the lineup for. By letting them rest for less important games, he will leave players like Vidic, Evra and Ferdinand fresh throughout the season, while also gradually preparing youngsters like Phil Jones and Jonny Evans to be the long-term replacements. 

Ultimately, Ferguson will probably spend all summer attempting to fix these problems, even after a fantastic EPL campaign.

That's what makes him so great.

(All stats and info via ESPN FC)


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