Manchester United's 5 Biggest Flaws This Season
And so the Premier League reaches its conclusion.
This week, the 38th—and final—round of fixtures will take place before the players who have so entertained us for the last nine months take a well-deserved holiday to the Bahamas for some much-needed R&R while we run the rule over their performances.
In this instance, we will be taking a look at Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United and examine how they have performed this season.
Their campaign has been a mixture of success and set-backs—the Premier League title was won with four games to spare but failure to reach the final of any of the domestic competitions and another elimination from the Champions League means the season has hardly been blemish-free.
Mistakes have been made and new manager David Moyes will have some work to do if he is to successfully build on the following five flaws for the new term.
The Leaky Defence
Though Manchester United's defence has steadily improved since the turn of the year with goalkeeper David de Gea keeping nine clean sheets in his last 17 matches, it does not—and must not be allowed to—paper over the cracks of a defensively unstable season.
From August to January, United notched up their worst defensive record in 11 years, conceding 28 goals and an average of 1.47 per game. The last time the Reds endured such a woeful defensive record they came third in the table behind Liverpool and league winners Arsenal.
Fortunately, they were still able to clinch success in the Premier League, but only because of the goal-laden campaign enjoyed by Robin van Persie, who dug his team out of a hole on more than one occasion.
United's back-four inadequacies can be pinpointed to a number of factors. One of which is the ever-ageing trio of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, who have all been off form at one point or another this season.
Another factor is Ferguson's reliance upon the relatively inexperienced Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling, who have all looked a little wet behind the ears at times.
Though the latter three will undoubtedly mature into great players, the former need replacing sooner rather than later with established talent so the Reds can enjoy sustained competitiveness.
Lack of Quality on the Wings
Another flaw this season at Old Trafford has been on the wings. While the likes of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia once enjoyed successful spells on the flanks, this season they have joined Luis Nani in becoming disappointingly ineffectual.
It is worrying that United have three widemen who all look as though they are in decline, and this is something David Moyes will need to address when he takes charge on July 1.
All three are wasteful in possession, but none more so than Nani, who repetitively squanders opportunities time and time again by shooting from improbable distances instead of passing to a better-placed teammate.
With Wilfried Zaha joining from Crystal Palace in the summer, it seems likely that at least one of these men will give way, and the smart money would be on a Nani sale.
Lack of Team Spirit
Manchester United have been undermined by a lack of team spirit at times this season. In early March, in the wake of the Red's elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid, the headlines were dominated by Wayne Rooney and his surprise omission from the squad rather than the result itself.
When full concentration should have been invested in finding out why Manchester United failed to progress in the competition, all eyes instead drifted to Rooney.
Likewise, during United's final home game of the season against Swansea, instead of all the attention being lavished on the retiring Sir Alex Ferguson, the selfish Rooney again dominated proceedings by apparently asking not to play.
On a day when Ferguson's last ever home game at Old Trafford should have been impeccably observed, the ex-Everton man yet again overshadowed proceedings with his breathtaking levels of arrogance.
Lack of Productivity from the Supporting Cast
By "Lack of Productivity from the Supporting Cast," I simply mean too much burden was heaped on Robin van Persie to score the goals in a campaign where he virtually single-handedly won the Premier League title for Manchester United.
In January, a report in The Sun illustrated the reliance the Reds placed on the Dutchman.
The report claimed United would have won just five Premier League games and earned half of their 52-point tally at the time of writing. It also noted that they would have been languishing in mid-table without him.
Though such claims are hearsay and should be taken with a pinch of salt, they do serve to underline just how valuable a player van Persie has been.
Thankfully, the ex-Arsenal man enjoyed an injury-free season, but what if he had succumbed to what has almost become a trademark lengthy layoff through injury?
Wayne Rooney has only scored 12 league goals this season, Javier Hernandez nine and Danny Welbeck one.
That's not a good enough return from the supporting cast and is something that needs to improve in the next campaign.
Failure to Win the FA Cup
As unbelievable as it may sound, Manchester United will have entered a 10th year having not won the FA Cup by the time next season's cup final is played out in May 2014.
Their last victory came in the 2004 win over Millwall and since then, they've finished off each season empty-handed.
The sight of relegated Wigan Athletic lifting this season's trophy must surely have angered Ferguson and reminded him that his team really should have done better in this season's competition.
United let slip a 2-0 lead at home against Chelsea in the quarter-finals before going on to lose the replay, the former of which really was unforgivable.
Though the winning of the Premier League was a tremendous success, there are a lot of United fans who'd appreciate a longer cup run next season after a decade of disappointment in the FA Cup.