Manchester United: 6 Reasons Why the Red Devils Are Struggling
For observant and long-term fans of the English Premier League, it's rare to see the undisputed champions of English football, Manchester United, lose a game with a five-goal deficit. It's absurd to even imagine, let alone suggest with any sort of seriousness.
However, nearly a month ago in a high-profile clash against crosstown and bitter rivals Manchester City, the unthinkable happened. Manchester United, at the fortress Old Trafford itself, were humiliated like never before, in a match most fans of the Red Devils will hope to soon erase from their memories.
Though the Red Devils haven't lost a single game in any competition since then, a string of sub-par and unconvincing performances has left an eerie feeling around all corners of Old Trafford nowadays. Instead of taking the game to the opponent, as most have grown accustomed seeing Sir Alex Ferguson's men do week in and week out, Manchester United seem a shadow of the team they were last season.
Currently sitting second, five points adrift from league leaders Manchester City, as well as having had to endure some tough outings in Europe, the Red Devils are in a precarious and unfamiliar situation. It's one that's left most wondering what happened to the team that so easily dominated both in national as well as continental fixtures.
This slideshow tries to examine six possible reasons Manchester United may be currently struggling in their footballing endeavors.
Rio Ferdinand's Sudden Loss in Form
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If you were Sir Alex Ferguson, you could be forgiven for thinking at the beginning of the season that Rio Ferdinand, an internationally proven and experienced defender that's become a household name worldwide, would make the ideal defensive partner for captain Nemanja Vidic.
It's arguably one of the reasons why the Scott didn't jump into the transfer market for a more proven defender, instead opting for Blackburn's 19-year-old prodigal center back Phil Jones.
Unfortunately for Sir Alex, as well as the Manchester United faithful, Ferdinand seems a player far removed from his usual self. A string of sub-par and unimpressive performances is causing the Red Devils' boss plenty of headache, as he had hoped that a player as seasoned as the Englishman would provide plenty of stability at the back.
On the larger scale, Ferdinand's sudden loss of form is proving to be quite detrimental to the club, especially in Europe, where Nemanja Vidic's suspension has left the Englishman leading the back line. Something he has yet to do convincingly this season, and arguably one of the key reasons Manchester United find themselves where they are now.
Mismanagement of Dimitar Berbatov
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It's odd and probably unprecedented to see a player finish joint-top scorer of the league one season yet be coined as excess baggage the next. However, with Manchester United's Dimitar Berbatov, the very same thing has happened.
After finishing an hugely impressive season with the Red Devils in the 2010/2011 season, Berbatov seemed destined to continue his form as one of the main outlets of Manchester United's offense the next. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old Bulgarian, his manager had other ideas.
After being demoted to the bench for most of Manchester United's games so far, Berbatov has made minimal impact when brought on. It's telling that he's only scored two goals so far this season, the first coming just over a month ago in a Carling Cup tie versus Aldershot Town.
And though he did manage to score a dubious goal during Manchester United's 2-2 tie with Benfica in the midweek, he was dropped from the League squad entirely that drew Newcastle United 1-1 the weekend after, with Sir Alex opting to include youngster Fredrico Macheda ahead of him.
It's safe to assume that had Berbatov played a more central role in Sir Alex's plans, Manchester United may just have found results and wins easier to come by this campaign. Unfortunately, his mismanagement of a player with undoubtedly so much left to offer has resulted in not only a decline in the player's confidence but also the team's performance.
No Proven Shot Stopper
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Most Manchester United fans will argue that David de Gea has more than adequately proven to, or will eventually end up filling the void left by ex-keeper Edwin van der Sar. To most other fans, though, it's quite clear that despite possessing potential en mass, de Gea, so far, is not the man to deliver Manchester United the sort of silverware they've grown accustomed to.
The Spaniard, who was highly touted and admired upon his arrival to the club, was brought in as a possible replacement for the legendary keeper van der Sar. However, after some nervy early season performances, including the most recent blunder against Benfica in the UEFA Champions League, it's growing increasingly clear that one of the reasons Manchester United find themselves in this predicament is due to a lack of experience between the posts.
There's no doubting de Gea's raw talent and immeasurable potential. Unfortunately, the one thing Manchester United cannot afford to do is be patient, as with ever passing week or lost point, Manchester City gain a firmer stranglehold on the Premier League title.
Something that, if they successfully achieve this season, would haunt Red Devils fans for years to come.
A Lack of Experience in Squad Depth
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Perhaps the biggest change between Manchester United teams of seasons past and those of today is stark the loss of experienced personnel in the team and on the bench.
It was only two years ago that Manchester United had players as seasoned as Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar within their ranks. Now, though, United's team is comprised mostly of players that, though have won major honours, lack the sort of experience required to pull themselves out of the type of grey patches they currently find themselves in this campaign.
Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs remain the only real figureheads in the team that have "seen it all." And though the two Englishmen, despite not being able to hold a candle up to Giggs in this regard, have plenty of experience between them, they seem the sort of players lacking the adequate passion or motivational skills to push on or lift up younger teammates.
It then seems Sir Alex Ferguson committed the cardinal error of not replacing experience with experience. Instead of dwelling into the transfer market in search of some seasoned veterans, Sir Alex decided to let his team, one that lost three club icons in the space of just one year, try and go about winning the season themselves.
Paul Scholes' Retirement
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This point ties in with the last one, more specifically, the unbelievable mistake made by Sir Alex Ferguson of not replacing the legendary midfield playmaker Paul Scholes.
Scholes was, simply put, the heartbeat of Manchester United's midfield. The undisputed greatest passer in both the team and the league of the past 10 years or so, the Englishman was a player invaluable to the team. He was the creative hub of the squad, as they relied on him to unlock mean defenses or score trademark scorchers from distance in times of need.
It's no wonder then that Manchester United seem to be struggling the very season following Scholes' departure. Of course, the fact that he wasn't properly replaced doesn't make things any easier on the team, as they now have to rely internally for creative solutions.
Something that will undoubtedly be hard when this is the same team that's relied on Scholes' midfield abilities for the last 17 years.
Over-Reliance on Wayne Rooney
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Make no mistake about it—when Wayne Rooney is fit and firing, so is Manchester United. If Rooney is on form, the Red Devils become comfortable favourites for just about any tie or fixture. Take him out of it, though, and what you have left is a considerably weaker United team with no recognizable or world-class talent up front.
Ryan Giggs, though still impressive for his age, is past the point of producing inspiring and uplifting performances. And while there's no doubting Nani's abilities, he seems more suited to play the "deputy" role than actual "main man" one.
It's a simple equation really, and one Sir Alex would have done well to have rectified in the summer transfer market. Luckily for him, the January one is just over a month away, and with Manchester United still second in the table, there's yet time to rectify some of the wrongs of this season.
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