Picking a Manchester United Starting XI to Include Thiago Alcantara
Amidst the news that Barcelona's fleet-footed central midfielder Thiago Alcantara is, according to ESPN, "very close" to a move to Manchester United, thoughts turn to how the European under-21 championship winning captain will be used at Old Trafford.
Largely used in a central midfield role for both club and country in a 4-3-3 formation, the Spaniard will arrive in Manchester where a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation has long been the way under legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Whilst the latter has often been the norm under new boss David Moyes at former club Everton.
Therefore, utilising a 4-4-1-1 formation, here's a look at picking a Manchester United starting XI to include the La Masia graduate who may be the latest Spaniard in the Premier League next season.
GK: David De Gea
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The former Atletico Madrid goalkeeper enjoyed an excellent last campaign and fully asserted himself as United's undisputed No.1.
An outstanding shot-stopper, he is also excellent with the ball at his feet. Last season felt like a coming-of-age for the 22-year-old.
Under the guidance of the club's former goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, he developed physically and became more confident in commanding his area: a physical battle with Andy Carroll at Upton Park, when De Gea gave as good as he got, answered a lot of questions about his ability to deal with the rough and tumble of the Premier League.
Such was his good form, he was named in the Premier League team of the season and this summer played his part in Spain's under-21 success in Israel.
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The combative Brazilian full-back has taken the No.2 shirt, last worn by club stalwart Gary Neville, and has matured to become the former England international's genuine heir at Old Trafford.
Tigerish in the tackle, good in possession and increasingly a threat in the final third, Rafael continues to grow into one of the Premier League's best in his position.
He made 37 appearances in all competitions last season, scoring three goals.
CB: Rio Ferdinand
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Perhaps not as quick as he was five years ago, Ferdinand remains an excellent reader of the game, positionally secure and with the defensive nous that ensures he is often ready to put out danger at the source.
Despite a back problem that requires constant maintenance, the 34-year-old has made 70 appearances for United over the last two seasons and continues to offer a reassuring presence whenever in the starting XI.
Though the likes of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones continue to improve and would appear to very much be the future of United's defence, Ferdinand's experience ensures that he remains the man for the biggest games today.
CB: Jonny Evans
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A few seasons ago the Northern Ireland defender's Old Trafford career appeared to be at a crossroads, such was the pummelling he received at the hands of Carlton Cole during a miserable League Cup tie against West Ham United.
Nonetheless, the 25-year-old has come back stronger and developed into a more than solid centre-back. Strong in the air, swift in the challenge and a decent passer from the back, his good early-season form saw him pen a new deal with the club in December and become arguably Sir Alex Ferguson's first-choice for big games last season.
With club captain Nemanja Vidic still not quite the same authoritative and dominant presence that he had been before his serious knee injury, Evans shades their rivalry in terms of a place in our starting XI.
LB: Patrice Evra
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The French international full-back has been a staple of the club's defence ever since his arrival from AS Monaco in 2005 and he made 34 league appearances for the Red Devils last season.
Always eager to join in the attack and with the pace to recover his defensive positioning, the 32-year-old remains United's main choice at left-back ahead of Alexander Buttner.
RM: Luis Antonio Valencia
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Last season may not have seen the Ecuadorian at his flying best, but he remains United's best option for width and directness down their right flank.
A powerful runner and an excellent crosser, Valencia's stationing wide on the right offers United a different proposition to their other flair players, his preference in reaching the byline as opposed to others crossing from deep/cutting inside.
CM: Michael Carrick
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The deep-lying playmaker has arguably begun to get the recognition his performances for United deserve.
Nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award and a role in the team of the season were just rewards for a campaign where he was perhaps United's most consistent performer as they won the league title.
An intelligent passer off either foot, the England international sets the tempo for United. His cerebral style of play has been an integral part of United's successes over the past seven years.
His positional nous and maturity in possession make him the ideal partner for Thiago in a central midfield axis.
CM: Thiago Alcantara
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The final of this summer's European under-21 Championship offered a perfect microcosmic look at Thiago Alcantara.
His first-half hat-trick apart, the Spaniard showcased his full ability. Intelligent passing was mixed with brilliant individualism as he eased past defenders, whilst he also showed fine leadership to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and make things happen for his side.
Alongside the reliable Carrick, the brilliant Spaniard—son of the '94 World Cup winner Mazinho—would be offered the perfect platform from which to further showcase his talents and to link play with United's chief attacking threats.
LM: Shinji Kagawa
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Though not nominally a left-sided midfielder, the Japanese international offered glimpses of his talent from that position at Old Trafford last season.
Additionally, Japan boss Alberto Zaccheroni has used him from that role at international level, giving him license to come in-field and create central overloads, something that David Moyes did well with the South African Steven Pienaar at Everton. He may well look to do similar with Kagawa at United.
Sharp and impish with good vision and clever one-touch play, a role from the left coming centrally to work in unison with Thiago may well give United's opponents a major headache in 2013-14.
CF: Wayne Rooney
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For all the rumours about his future—and most lately, according to ESPN, whether he did or did not hand in a transfer request towards the end of last season—the England international remains a fine footballer.
On his day, he is capable of turning a match single-handedly.
Still only 27, his vision, passing range and technical acumen remain fantastic assets to the champions; his high work-rate and positional intelligence make him an ideal foil for both Thiago behind and Robin van Persie in front.
If David Moyes can get the best out of the player he gave an Everton debut to as a 16-year-old, then he'll remain an integral part of the club's future.
ST: Robin Van Persie
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The Dutch striker proved that he made the right move last summer, his 26 league goals firing United to the Premier League title.
Creative with intelligent movement and capable of scoring a variety of different types of goals, the Dutchman is one of, if not the, Premier League's premier striker.
Very much in the prime of his career, he will remain the Reds leading marksman in 2013-14, adding cutting edge to their play.