This time last season Manchester United were third and nine points off top spot and, rather than continue their upward trajectory, United have regressed. A year down the line and a further £100m invested into the squad and they are nine points worse off and a staggering 17 points adrift of league leaders Leicester City. They didn’t even make it out of the group stage of the Champions League and aren’t on course to be in the competition next season.
Not many expect Louis van Gaal to see out the final year of his contract at Old Trafford, which will be music to the ears of some of the players in the United dressing room. WhoScored.com takes a look at the players who have suffered most from the Dutcchman’s second year in charge and what that could mean for United’s summer transfer plans…
Wayne Rooney’s performances this season have often dominated back-page headlines; the United captain hasn’t reacted kindly to some of the criticism he has received this season, but it’s hard to make a case in favour of the 30-year-old’s displays thus far.
With only seven league goals to his name, Rooney could conceivably finish the campaign having failed to reach double figures for the first time in his 12 years at the club.
His WhoScored.com rating (6.93) represents a -0.35 decrease on last season (7.28) and would also be the lowest he has achieved in the last seven campaigns. The drop would have been even more alarming had Rooney’s form not picked up dramatically at the turn of the year, when eight of the 11 league goals he has directly contributed towards came in a six-game run (five goals, three assists).
If many thought Rooney was having a bad season, then spare a thought for Ashley Young. Not many believed the 30-year-old even had a future at Old Trafford when Van Gaal arrived in 2014, but Young proved an unlikely success story in his first campaign. In fact, his involvement in the league (26 appearances) was at its highest since joining United in 2012. Young finished the 2014/15 league campaign with two more WhoScored.com Man of the Match awards (4) than he has managed in the rest of his United career and his best WhoScored.com rating (7.23) since his maiden campaign at the club (7.24).
The versatility Young has shown to play at full-back in the last two years certainly etched him into Van Gaal’s good books for a while (and left us wondering what the f*** his real position is now). However, while United fans were relatively impressed with his ability to fill in at left-back, they were left baffled when Van Gaal turned to Young to play centre-forward against Tottenham at the start of the month, with Anthony Martial on the pitch and Memphis on the bench. That was his first appearance since January and may well prove his last this season. A decline of 0.63 in his rating compared to last season would represent the sharpest decrease of all United players to make more than ten appearances this time around.
For all the noise from the media that has linked United with a batch of defenders, fast wingers and a new striker, it’s interesting that their central midfielders have been the biggest casualities of Van Gaal’s reign, perhaps suggesting this remains the main area in the squad that needs assessing.
Ander Herrera (-0.53 drop), Michael Carrick (-0.42) and Marouane Fellaini (-0.40) have suffered three of the five biggest declines in rating of regular United players from last season. The fact that United’s midfielders have struggled to adapt and implement Van Gaal’s demands on the pitch, in the area where football matches are often cited as being won and lost, perhaps offers one explanation behind United’s lamentable style under Van Gaal.
All three have had their own hurdles to overcome in the last two years but most of their problems on the pitch may simply stem from a lack of continuity in team selection by Van Gaal. In fact, Herrera’s run of six consecutive starts in the league around the turn of the year is the longest of any of the midfield trio this season (Carrick – 4, Fellaini – 2). Herrera made 13 consecutive starts in the league last season but injuries, coupled with being out of favour with Van Gaal, have diminished his involvement this season and that has unsurprisingly affected his performances.
Herrera needs to start four of United’s last five matches to mirror his involvement from his debut campaign and he would also need to double the number of goals and assists he has in the league (three goals, two assists) to match the achievements of last season.
A hallmark of Herrera’s game is the energy he brings to central midfield. Not only can he score and create, but he is also useful without the ball in breaking down opposition attacks. However, even that side of his game has dipped this season. He has gone from averaging 4.8 tackles and interceptions combined in the league last season to just 2.9 this time around.
Like Herrera, Carrick’s performances have also been disappointing this season. The 34-year-old, who is approaching his ten-year anniversary at the club, is out of contract in the summer and the drop off in his performances have been so notable that contract talks have been notable by their absence.
The England international is on course to achieve his lowest WhoScored.com rating in a league campaign (6.64) in the last seven seasons and the first time it would have dropped below 7.00 since 2010/11. Coincidentally, that was also the last time Carrick finished a league campaign without a goal or an assist.
What is perhaps saving the two aforementioned midfielders from criticism is their relationship with the fans. The same, however, cannot be said for Fellaini. Van Gaal has used the Belgium international fleetingly over the last two years, although some would consider the fact he is still at the club as a minor miracle. To his credit, the cumbersome midfielder has been effective at times, but his playing style is widely out of sync with that traditionally associated with United and you would not consider him a viable long-term option at Old Trafford.
Regardless of who the manager is next season, establishing a dominant midfield partnership should be one of the main priorities in the summer. Whether that means working with the midfielders currently at the club or throwing more money at the problem, it’s a key area that needs addressing for United to launch a serious title challenge next season.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find live in-game data as well as player and team ratings. You can follow all the scores, statistics, live player