Power Ranking Every Manchester United Player from 2015/16 Premier League Season
A dreadful season ended with Manchester United finishing a disappointing fifth in the Premier League.
The possibility of an FA Cup win remains on the horizon to add a silver lining to what has been a pretty dark cloud, but however the game against Crystal Palace ends, United's season must be considered a significant underachievement.
Ranking the players in order of their performance this season is a huge challenge. Once it would have been difficult to separate the substantial contributions made by star players to a league-winning season.
For example, should Roy Keane's inspirational leadership count for more than David Beckham's phenomenal number of assists in the 1998/99 season?
Now, with the exception of the top two, this list has become an exercise in finding the least worst.
Any ranking will have an aspect of subjectivity to it, but one of the key metrics here is the ratio of bad to good games. That means a high ranking for some players who have played relatively little football but have made a positive impact when they have been involved.
Expectation also plays a part, so outperforming expected levels sees a couple of players gain in the rankings.
There is the odd specific sentimental choice too, but given how short the season has been on entertainment value, that seems excusable.
Without further ado, let's rank every player who has had more than an hour of league football in a United shirt this season.
26: Adnan Januzaj
The lowest ranking goes to the player who has endured the most disappointing season of all. Having shown so much promise during his debut campaign in 2013/14, Adnan Januzaj has suffered more than anyone in the Louis van Gaal era.
Back in August he started back-to-back games as United's No. 10, but Van Gaal appears to have completely given up on him, and thus he sits bottom of the rankings.
He did score against Aston Villa before he left for his loan spell, but it took a heavy deflection and was one of 76 conceded by the relegated club this season, so it really doesn't count for much.
25: Phil Jones
Phil Jones needed a good campaign. Having broken through to establish himself as part of United's first-choice centre-back pairing alongside Chris Smalling last season, he has severely regressed.
Rather than showing he can overcome his repeated injury problems, he has suffered his most injury-hit season yet, featuring in just 10 league games for a total of 529 minutes of first-team league action.
When he has played he has looked rusty, which is understandable given his situation, but a disaster in terms of his career development.
He outranks Januzaj by virtue of having had a lot more involvement, but sadly for Jones, 2015/16 has been a calamity, resulting in a 15 place fall from last season.
24: Andreas Pereira
Another player in whom Van Gaal has shown little faith is Andreas Pereira, who pips Januzaj and Jones because this was his first season of first-team involvement and because he has at least shown a spark of promise.
He played a total of just 80 minutes across a total of four substitute appearances, looking bright when he did feature.
Something about him clearly wasn't to the manager's taste, though, as—in spite of United's struggles with creativity—he almost never turned to Pereira.
Better things must surely lie ahead for the player, who has rarely looked overawed on the few occasions in which he has featured.
23: Paddy McNair
Outranking Jones by virtue of having less expectation on him, and Pereira by virtue of the latter's minimal involvement, Paddy McNair has nonetheless had an ineffective season.
He was clearly in the squad as deep back-up, only playing 312 minutes in the league.
It would be a surprise if McNair made his career at Old Trafford from this point. In spite of a promising beginning, it does not look as if he has made the grade.
22: Marcos Rojo
Marcos Rojo suffers the ignoble fate of being the lowest-ranked player to have over 1,000 minutes of league football under his belt this season. He has seen a huge drop off in performance since last season.
In awarding him 12th place on the 2014/15 rankings, I wrote, "It has been a debut season that promises much going forward," praising "his all-action style and calmness in possession."
His best games then came at centre-half, but this season has been a different kettle of fish. He has made 19 of his 20 league and European starts at left-back and made little positive contribution.
He outranks Jones and McNair because he has made some key tackles. However, when WhoScored.com cite "concentration" as one of his weaknesses based on the frequency of errors he makes, many United fans would nod along in agreement. It has been a very poor season from the Argentina international.
21: Sergio Romero
Sergio Romero's reputation as a second-choice goalkeeper for many of his clubs made him an underwhelming signing when he arrived in the summer.
However, it is not his fault that Van Gaal made the crucial error of leaving David De Gea out of the side in favour of Romero during the Spaniard's early-season transfer saga.
The Argentinian goalkeeper made a couple of smart saves on the opening day against Tottenham Hotspur, but he was significantly at fault as United lost 2-1 at Swansea City.
He is a decent second-choice option, but Van Gaal's decision to play him ahead of De Gea was a poor one. He probably made fewer mistakes on average than Rojo, and he did get a couple of things right during his run to nudge him above his compatriot.
20: Memphis Depay
It has been an immensely disappointing season for Memphis Depay.
After being the top scorer in last season's Eredivisie for champions PSV Eindhoven, he has endured a thoroughly underwhelming first season in United red.
There have been good moments—in the UEFA Champions League qualifier against Club Brugge and UEFA Europa League game against FC Midtjylland at Old Trafford in particular. But there have been swathes of matches in which he seemed completely ineffective.
At first it seemed an issue of adjustment—used to time and space on the ball in the Netherlands, he was often crowded out in the English game, apparently reluctant to release possession soon enough. That morphed into an issue of confidence.
He eventually looked bereft of his swagger, and Van Gaal's reluctance to let him play himself back into form after his better games played its part.
In the final reckoning, he may consider himself fortunate to be this high up the list, so poor has he been in many of his United appearances.
He makes 20th place by virtue of a few truly inspired moments. However, he is outranked by plenty of players with less talent.
Much better has to lie ahead if he has any chance of carving out the elite-level career that seemed his destiny.
19: Guillermo Varela
Guillermo Varela is tricky to place on this list. He has played 11 times in all competitions, of which a pretty remarkable eight games have seen him play the full 90 minutes.
There have been outstanding performances—notably against FC Midtjylland at Old Trafford and against Derby County in the FA Cup.
After the Derby game, we said, "The hint of flair in his game—shown with a couple of deft flicks and improvisational touches—gives United another dimension in an attack that sorely needs one."
It has not all been positive, though. He was removed at half-time in the clash with Liverpool in the Europa League at Old Trafford after his error was instrumental in allowing Philippe Coutinho to score. He also featured in United's Champions League defeat in Wolfsburg and the league loss at Bournemouth.
His average level of performance has probably been higher than Memphis' though, and it seems reasonable to suggest he would have had even more involvement if Van Gaal did not treat creative-minded players with some suspicion.
18: Ashley Young
Ashley Young missed almost all of the second half of the season with injury, with his last start coming in January.
Before he got hurt, he had played most of his games at full-back, doing a decent job in all bar the disastrous home defeat to Norwich City. His failure to adequately track his man led to a Canaries counter-attacking goal which brought significant embarrassment to his side.
He rarely got to show his attacking qualities, though he finished the season with a goal to his name—even if he had to wait until the 87th minute of the last game of the season to get it.
His general steadiness is what has him outranking those below him here, but his lack of involvement in the later period of the season stops him from earning a higher spot.
17: Matteo Darmian
A hugely impressive start to the season turned out to be something of a false dawn for Matteo Darmian. Initially it seemed he had brought a defensive nous and solidity that would be a huge asset for the Red Devils after his move from Torino.
A season of picking up injuries and being switched from right-back to left-back and back again have meant it is a little difficult to assess Darmian's future, but it is clear that his performance level this season does not warrant a top-10 finish in these rankings.
His early performances keep him ahead of Young, but his lack of consistency stops him moving up the charts. That and his serious lack of attacking contribution.
He has completed just 0.4 accurate crosses per 90 minutes of league football, which compares unfavourably to Antonio Valencia, Luke Shaw, Young and Rojo. His defensive contributions have been solid enough to outrank the latter two.
16: Antonio Valencia
When Darmian was signed, it seemed bad news for Antonio Valencia. An upgrade on the Ecuadorian who had become a makeshift right-back looked a vital part of United's summer transfer strategy. However, things did not work that way for the Italian.
Unfortunately for Valencia, he lost much of his opportunity to capitalise on Darmian's poor form through injury. In the end he featured in just 14 Premier League games—eight as a starter.
It is easy to see why Van Gaal likes him, given how incredibly safe he is with his passing. His average pass-completion percentage in the league is 88.2, third best in the United squad.
He did enough in his late run to earn a respectable ranking for a player who had played so little football, including picking up three assists.
Without making a spectacular impact, he has been solid. Had he been able to keep up that form for longer, he would have finished higher up the list.
15: Jesse Lingard
Jesse Lingard's initial arrival into the first team added a spark of enthusiasm and dynamism which acted as a tonic to Van Gaal's lacklustre lineup.
However, he has registered neither a goal nor assist in any game since the 3-2 win over Arsenal in February, a run of 15 games of which he started 12.
His shift to No. 10 has not been a successful move in terms of United's attack, though he certainly does not lack for work rate when the Red Devils lose possession.
With five goals and four assists in all competitions, he deserves his mid-table finish, and were it not for his drop-off in the latter stages of the season, he could have nudged a place or two up the rankings.
14: Ander Herrera
Last season, Ander Herrera finished second in these rankings, the highest of any outfield player.
This season, it has gone pretty badly wrong. There have been highlights—Van Gaal praised him for his performance at Goodison Park when asked by Bleacher Report who had stood out during that game.
But having established himself in the side during the second half of last season, he was often excluded this time around. Ten players played more league minutes this season than the former Athletic Club Bilbao man. Five players played more than 1,000 league minutes more than the 26-year-old.
He scored three goals and provided two assists in the league, in addition to three FA Cup assists and a Europa League goal, but his overall performance has been a significant disappointment.
It would be fascinating to see what a new manager would make of Herrera, and what kind of improvement he could get out of him. Van Gaal would seem to have mishandled what could have been a prize asset.
He pips Lingard by having made a positive contribution in a few more games, but it was a close race. He suffers in comparison to a couple of players ahead of him based on how far below expectation his performances have been.
13: Luke Shaw
Given how little football he has played this season it should be impossible for Luke Shaw to be this high on the list.
It is an indictment on how poor United have been in his absence that he deserves his place here. There is something of a protest vote about his placement above so many of those who have covered for him at left-back.
But his form before his injury does warrant a positive placement. He started the season in superb form, in excellent physical condition, and able to offer a big contribution to the Red Devils.
His injury was an awful stroke of ill-fortune, and part of his high ranking is an acknowledgement of how different United's season could have been had he been available more often.
United fans everywhere will hope he is back—and to his best—next time around.
12: Marouane Fellaini
There are plenty of players who have finished below Marouane Fellaini in this season's rankings that United should keep at the club ahead of the former Everton man.
If the Red Devils were more functional as a collective, then Fellaini's particular brand of battering-ram effectiveness would not be needed.
His relatively lofty position is based on his performances in attacking midfield, which have been particularly crucial to United's FA Cup run. His goals against West Ham United at Upton Park and against Everton at Wembley have proved crucial.
His plodding, disruptive performances in defensive midfield, though, mean he cannot finish higher than this.
United should move Fellaini on, but it should be acknowledged that he has had his uses this season.
11: Bastian Schweinsteiger
Against the Hornets, he was responsible for forcing the own goal which won United the game. Against the Foxes, he scored the goal which evened the score.
He also earned an unofficial assist for his interference with the West Ham United goalkeeper for Anthony Martial's goal which kept United in the FA Cup and forced a replay. Those moments and the impact of his presence are what have him this far up the list.
However, there have been plenty of games where he has been unable to make a big impact or provide the kind of platform he was brought in to produce. Wolfsburg away is the epitome of that, but the fact that he has missed so much of the season with injury is another big factor.
He should have been one of the squad's best players, but instead he has been relatively unimpressive. Of the players who regularly played in the two in Van Gaal's 4-2-3-1, Schweinsteiger has probably been the least effective.
10: Michael Carrick
Michael Carrick has had a pretty average season. He and Schweinsteiger were undone against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, for example, in one of the season's most crushing defeats.
He was astonishingly poor against Stoke City during United's 2-0 loss on Boxing Day. He was as bad as anyone when the Red Devils capitulated at Anfield in the Europa League, being brought on at half-time to steady the ship as part of a back three and doing anything but.
He has shown glimpses of his better self, but only rarely. He pips Schweinsteiger by having played a good deal more, but there is not much in it in terms of overall impact.
This may well be Carrick's last season at Old Trafford, but he will not want it to be the one he is remembered by.
9: Morgan Schneiderlin
In truth, Schweinsteiger, Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin's positions in this ranking are pretty interchangeable.
Like the former two, Schneiderlin has had his share of decent, functional games, helping United rotate the possession they have often dominated, particularly at Old Trafford. However, also like the former two, Schneiderlin has rarely inspired.
He has made 2.9 successful tackles per 90 minutes of football, adding a bite which had previously been missing from United's football, and there remains a sense that there could be more to come from the Frenchman. That bite earns him a spot above Carrick but the margins are very fine.
Better is needed from United's midfield next time out.
8: Timothy Fosu-Mensah
The first of the youngsters in the top 10, Timothy Fosu-Mensah has obviously made less overall contribution to United's season than some of those below him.
However, what gives him and a couple of his contemporaries their spots in the top 10 is the excitement they have added to the squad and the performances they have put in when given a chance.
Fosu-Mensah, 18, has made a couple of mistakes, but in general has looked more than ready for first-team action.
Indeed, Van Gaal deserves some criticism for how quickly he abandoned his young defenders when more senior colleagues returned from injury.
7: Cameron Borthwick-Jackson
All of the rationale which gets Fosu-Mensah eighth place also applies to Cameron Borthwick-Jackson. He pips his fellow youngster thanks to a more sustained contribution—he has played well over twice as much league football.
He has been a surprisingly calm presence since arriving into the first team, and his crossing has offered United a creative outlet they had been sorely missing.
If his debut campaign is anything to go by, the 19-year-old has a bright future ahead of him.
Joint 6: Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata
Neither can be anything close to satisfied by their season as a whole. Both have had plenty of ineffective games.
The experiment with returning Rooney to the No. 9 role proved a disaster—it took him until January to start scoring regularly, and he then succumbed to injury.
It is only that January burst and his handful of decent performances in midfield since his return from injury which prevent a much lower finish. In the final reckoning, he made a direct contribution to 14 league goals. He scored eight himself and provided six assists.
Mata scored six and set up five, fewer than Rooney but he spent much of the season in a less advanced role. He has been repeatedly played on the right wing and his attacking contributions have been affected by how much defensive work is expected of him.
He featured in every Premier League game, but he has hardly lived up to his billing as a superstar attacking player in terms of overall impact.
Overall the two players who should be among the most important in United's squad have had a season that was much of a muchness. They should both have contributed a good deal more, but Van Gaal would have been in even more trouble without what they did manage to bring.
5: Daley Blind
United's central-defensive partnership occupy the next two spots.
Daley Blind may have dropped below Rooney and Mata were he to be judged exclusively on the merit of his performances.
There have been enough poor games—Swansea away, Watford at home, West Ham United away in the league to name three—that the idea of Blind occupying a first-choice spot at centre-back next season remains something of a worry.
However, he earns his place in the top five on the basis that his good games have seen him perform significantly above expectation.
Rarely have the division's best strikers got the better of Blind—his flaws have been exposed by a drop in his own performance levels rather than the actions of his opponents.
It has been a decent season, all in all, with a handful of important caveats.
Sadly for United fans, that makes his season one of the club's top five. The bar has been set pretty low.
4: Chris Smalling
Chris Smalling won the Players' Player of the Year trophy at United's end-of-season awards. It would be intriguing to know when the vote was held as there has been a noticeable drop in his performances at the back end of the season.
At one point, it looked as if he was on track to be a contender for the No. 1 spot here.
However, a series of mistakes—including own goals against Everton in the FA Cup and Bournemouth in the league—have taken the shine off his season.
Smalling has been one of the side's better performers over the course of the campaign, and he has caused less damage on his off-days than Blind, but he will have to settle for a possibly controversial fourth place here.
3: Marcus Rashford
Which brings us to the reason Smalling's fourth spot is controversial.
There is a perfectly reasonable argument to suggest he should finish above Marcus Rashford, given how late in the season the 18-year-old rose to prominence. However, in a season of bleak and boring football, it feels appropriate to make the first of a couple of heart-over-head decisions in favour of players who made United worth the price of admission.
It is a defender's lot to be outshone by their attacking team-mates. After all, it is goals that light up football matches. And with eight goals and two assists in his 17 first-team appearances, Rashford's impact has been extraordinary.
He was responsible for two of the best moments of the season—his goal at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City and his goal at West Ham in the FA Cup.
He burst onto the scene, only drafted into the side thanks to an injury to Martial and began scoring immediately. Two against FC Midtjylland could be written off thanks to the quality of opposition, but they were immediately followed up by a brace against Arsenal.
His movement is superb, and his interplay around the box has added a quickness of thought and of feet to United's attack. His dummy for Wayne Rooney's opening goal against Bournemouth showed an awareness beyond his years.
Rashford is an incredibly exciting prospect, and for giving fans something to celebrate, he earns third place here.
2: David De Gea
The second heart-over-head decision sees David De Gea drop one spot from last season's first-place finish.
Of course, this season he won fans' player of the year for the third season in succession, and there is no convincing argument against that choice.
He has pulled off a string of remarkable saves—saves which barely seem possible when seen in real time.
He has continued to give his all for the club and has signed a new contract following his failed move to Real Madrid. It will be fascinating to see what this summer brings, but United would likely be even worse off had the 2015 summer transfer window's deadline day followed a smoother course.
As it was, he stayed and made save after save to become United's most consistent performer. He was only ever going to place first or second in this list.
However, in spite of all the good arguments for him retaining his top spot, for once, he will have to settle for second.
1: Anthony Martial
And the reason De Gea will have to settle for second is the surprising and delightful impact made on this season by Anthony Martial.
De Gea has Martial beaten in terms of consistency, but given how little there has been to celebrate in terms of United's attacking play, the France international's wonderful debut season deserves to be rewarded.
His best moments have been United's best moments. Up front or on the left, his presence added spark where it was most needed.
It started with a wonder-goal against Liverpool. It hit its peak—so far—with a 92nd-minute winner in the FA Cup semi-final.
In between were dribbles, flicks, tricks, important goals, tireless running and an ice-cool exterior which made it seem like he was taking it all in his stride.
De Gea might have been United's best player, but time and again Martial was the best reason to watch the Red Devils play. That's why he's No. 1.
United fans will hope he is at the club for a long time to come.
Advanced statistics per WhoScored.com.
Quotations obtained first hand where not otherwise stated.
Let us know what your order would be in the comments below.