8 Issues David Moyes' Successor Must Address at Manchester United
The ill-fated reign of David Moyes at Manchester United is over and thoughts are already turning to season's end, when a successor is likely to be appointed, taking over from temporary boss Ryan Giggs.
It's fair to say United are in a much worse place than they were just under a year ago; though they were also changing managers at that time, it was with expectancy, hope and anticipation at a new era beginning. They were champions of England, in the Champions League and had money to spend.
Now, they're not looking at any European football of any sort for next term, and they have to spend money to get themselves anywhere near the top next term. There's a lot for the newest boss to sort out, whenever he arrives.
Here are eight things he might want to start with.
A New Central Defensive Partnership
This is paramount.
United have been a phenomenal attacking force over the past decade, but they have also had great strength in their defensive partnership at the back, which helps smooth over any general cracks in the team.
This season, age and injury has seen the back line chopped and changed, with Nemanja Vidic set to depart and Rio Ferdinand quite probably following suit. Patrice Evra could also leave, as all three are out of contract.
Is the Phil Jones-Jonny Evans partnership strong enough? If so, they need to be playing together regularly, from the outset, with a third centre-back brought in to push them. If Jones' long-term position (are we still looking for that? He's 23 next season.) isn't going to be in the middle of the defence, then a big early decision for the manager will be which new centre-back to sign.
Get the Players Back Onside and Command Respect in Training
By common consent, as noted by Phil McNulty of BBC Sport, David Moyes did not have the full backing of the Manchester United players due in part to his training ground methods.
Long training sessions, a lack of ball usage, a direct translation of methods from Everton to Manchester United and even dissent amongst the coaches have all played a part, and the new man needs to immediately display an ability to command the attention and enthusiasm of the players.
With that comes the incentive for players to do well in matches, believing they are once again part of a team trying to win every game, as opposed to not losing any game. A subtle but crucial difference in the mindset of a player used to winning.
Get the Fans Back Onside with Inventive, Offensive Football
The fans at United couldn't be criticised for going over the top in remonstrating against David Moyes, particularly during matches, which is saying something considering they only saw seven home league victories under his tenure.
Even so, they'll be expecting far better, far quicker from the next appointment.
A few early wins and dominating performances, and the mood inside Old Trafford will quickly swing back toward positivity, belief and that old "we'll still win" mentality that entirely dissipated from the club this year.
What to Do with a Problem Called Fellaini?
He didn't have a particular role in the team, he rarely had a good game and the new manager can potentially count himself lucky that he's the only Moyes relic who needs to be dealt with. Essentially, Fellaini can probably look to win himself a place as a midfield destroyer, deep in the central line or else be shipped out.
United won't get close to the £27.5 million they paid for him and could even find themselves needing to loan him for a year, but there is surely no place for him in the final third of the team.
How to Use Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney in the Same Team
The January signing of Mata was a great one for United, regardless of him not hitting the ground running. One of the most creative and incisive players in the league last term, better movement ahead of him will guarantee 80 or 100 chances over the course of a season.
The key is to get him linking well with Wayne Rooney, who will be United's main forward threat having signed a new deal, and then making sure the support players make the most of those through balls and runs from Mata—who can also score plenty, remember.
So, both players deeper, with a main striker ahead? Or Rooney up top and Mata in behind?
Getting the best out of those two, linking with each other and playing off their forward team-mates, is job No. 1 in an attacking sense for the new manager.
Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj provide further creativity and versatility, and depending on how the main two are used, they could be extremely valuable assets as either starters or rotating options.
Van Persie, Welbeck, Hernandez
If Rooney is the main man, three other forwards at United need to be addressed, too.
It might not be a popular decision, but United should be looking at selling Robin van Persie. The Dutch striker plays as a centre-forward, nowhere else, even though he's not a lead-the-line No. 9. But playing him there means United essentially play with a two up top, van Persie and Rooney, forcing Mata wide all the time.
That's not a problem when it works well, but the balance hasn't been there in midfield to make it a viable option.
Javier Hernandez has been a bit-part player for two or three seasons, but Danny Welbeck's growth over the past 12 or 18 months means United should absolutely be looking to keep him around, next season and beyond. His finishing can still improve, yes, but his all-round game is impressing more with each appearance, and he offers far greater athleticism, direct penetration and pace than any of his forward team-mates.
Offloading Squad Players
That's not to suggest all squad players are gotten rid of, of course; they're a necessity in any club's list of players and play an important role throughout the season.
Some, however, have a shorter shelf life at a big club than others.
Alex Buttner, Ashley Young, Nani, perhaps even Anders Lindegaard and one or two others—not to mention a host of loan players who won't cut it at United—should all be considered expendable and replaceable at this point.
"United Need to Spend Big"....Where, Exactly?
Another common train of thought is that United need to bring in several top quality players in the next transfer window to compete at the top.
It's true that they need to restructure in parts but as much as some people are making out? Perhaps not.
Liverpool have shown this season that you can compete at the top end without spending hundreds of millions, albeit without being in four competitions. Spurs, on the other hand, have shown that spending £100 million won't do much good if a plan isn't in place to bed those players into the team and if the coach doesn't have the support or patience of the fans, the board or the players themselves.
Central midfield is undoubtedly a key area, though. Whether Toni Kroos or another, United could absolutely do with a creative, influential presence who can consistently supply possession to the attacking players...and not just with passes out wide to cross the ball in.
A £50 million outlay in this area could quite easily bring in two genuine top-class talents—then it's up to the new manager to ensure they can play together well, can provide a foundation for the rest of the team to thrive and get United moving back up the table next season.