Juan Mata – @mango_carrot
In 2015, Juan Mata’s form and fortunes have mirrored those of the team, there’s a visible downward trajectory and has been since “those three games” in the 14/15 season, which for Mata, peaked with a goal against Liverpool that will forever be remembered by the United faithful (and the scousers).
Mata has long been shackled out on the right, in a regimented, sterile system which simply does not suit the diminutive Spaniard’s play style. Couple that with the absence of Herrera centrally, the player with whom so much would happen last season, and he’s looked a dejected figure unable to impose himself on games, but has still provided goals and assists.
In recent weeks however Mata has been able to play in his fabled favoured #10 position, but simply hasn’t cut it there, being anonymous in many of those games. We know he can do it; that was evident against Wolfsburg at Old Trafford, when he dictated the attack, grabbing a goal for himself and getting a sublime assist. Since then however, things have been decidedly bleak, and now he seems to be Van Gaal’s latest fall guy, the player who’s inexplicably taken off or left on the bench in favour of Fellaini. I’m loathed to lay the blame on Mata (partially because I love him), and instead place it on the system and manager, who just isn’t catering for attacking players – perhaps the next manager will?
Jesse Lingard – @MochineGun
Jesse Lingard will end 2015 the same way he began it: not playing for Manchester United. But that’s not the whole story.
Lingard, a pacy attacking midfielder who can do a bit of everything, was part of the 2011 Youth Cup winning side with Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison. But when those two moved on (Pogba spectacularly so), Jesse stuck around and saw himself bounced around lower divisions on loan. Most players would be disheartened, but Lingard had good reason to keep believing, as Sir Alex himself once predicted “he will become a player when he’s 22 or so.”
That is exactly what happened. At half-time against Everton, Louis van Gaal wanted more pace in the wide areas to stop Everton’s advances down the flanks and counter-attack at pace. He turned to the 22 year-old Lingard who performed admirably, and United won 0-3.
Some great performances followed, with Lingard the only forward to prosper in the Van Gaal era. His stunning goal against West Brom and gloriously deft late assist against CSKA Moscow obviously stand out, but it is his speed and determination to diligently defend and daringly dart into goalscoring positions that earned him his manager’s trust.
The lad from Warrington had to wait for a chance to play for Manchester United, but he’s making the most of it now it’s here. Expect to see him return to the side when fit, and don’t put it past him to kick on from here and become something special.
Memphis Depay – @Radio_Gaz
For the first time in a bloody while, it seemed there was a bit of optimism at the start of the summer transfer window in 2015 for Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United. It seemed that we had secured one of Europe’s top young talents in Memphis Depay (or just ‘Memphis’ as he insists). That was the word of Van Gaal anyway, describing his new £25 million winger as “one of the best in the world for his age”, and I for one, believed him. Signing someone who was young, pacey, and with the ability to get you off your seat was the perfect tonic to get United back where they belong…top. Of course, one obvious vibe that the young lad gave off was confidence, a confidence comparable to greats like Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo, and of course after being given the famous number 7 shirt, the comparisons began before he’d kicked a ball.
Then we saw him actually kick a ball.
The game against Brugge had me drooling, scoring two of the best goals we’ve seen at Old Trafford this season, before assisting the third, and generally tearing them apart. There was also a spark of genius against PSV to score in a game that will be overshadowed by the loss and Luke Shaw’s injury. However since then what have we seen? It’s definitely fair to compare his recent performances to an ex-United Portuguese winger… Nani, that is.
He’s been frustrating, he’s been reckless, at times he’s look genuinely clueless. It’s called for people to already label him a flop and use the confidence they praised the lad for having when he initially signed against him. All this being said about a kid who’s been in England for 6 months and is just 21-years-old. It’s going to take him a while, and maybe the amount of game time he currently gets is actually stinting his growth, but it isn’t stinting his confidence, and I’m glad.
He’s going to need it to become the world class player that he thinks he can be. My only worry is, that he already thinks he’s there.
Anthony Martial – @Nashat_Hassan
Anthony Martial’s transfer to Manchester United was scrutinised before his transfer had even been announced. Media and fans alike were critical of the club for spending a fortune on a relatively unknown talent. The French teenager, seemingly unfazed by the challenge of playing at the Theatre of Dreams, took only 21 minutes into his début to announce himself at the country’s biggest footballing derby. The stage was set against Liverpool as Martial received the ball out wide and ran at Škrtel, moving one way and then the other, before shimmying across the defender with ease and calmly slotting past the goalkeeper. Liverpool defenders were left scratching their heads while the stadium erupted, as fans acknowledged the special talent now donning United’s number nine shirt.
The striker’s signing has proven to be one of very few silver linings to a dire season at Manchester United. The player has repeatedly dragged his side out of difficult situations, scoring seven goals and assisting one. The now 20-year-old has displayed composure suppressing any footballer of his age, with him often serene in front of goal. At times, it’s as if he can slow down time itself, whilst he assess his options and makes his next calculated move. His ability to beat a defender is reminiscent of a young Brazilian Ronaldo, who manoeuvred between players with minimal effort. The ball almost glides across the surface to his every command, like it’s possessed by a supernatural entity.
The attacker has displayed all the credentials necessary to draw attention from across the globe, even winning the 2015 Golden Boy award in the process, gifted to Europe’s best young player. Martial’s explosiveness and unpredictability has warmed him to the affectionate Old Trafford crowd. In a team loaded with bystanders, Martial represents a flicker of hope that distinguishes him from the boring and dismal football played by his teammates. He already possesses a rare talent of creating chances and goals from non-existing opportunities, a trait gifted only to the truly elite of world football. Undoubtedly, the inexperienced youngster may still struggle at times and fail to influence matches but that is to be expected from such a raw talent. However, Martial has proven to be heads and shoulders above anybody his age. A new manager may be key to rekindling his fire and providing him with a platform to set the league alight once more. The future is certainly glittered for United’s new boy wonder.
Wayne Rooney – @RamsinIsaac
It’s been nearly three seasons since Alex Ferguson tried to remove Wayne Rooney from Manchester United. Bar a couple of players, Ferguson knew when to move on a player when he felt they were no longer up to the challenge of being a United player. Three seasons on and it looks like Fergie was right.
Whatever happened to the player who was talked about as “better” than Cristiano Ronaldo when they were both coming up at United? In his defence you could point at the fact that he is the leading all time England goalscorer and could potentially break United’s long standing goalscoring record, however at this moment, it would be more surprising if it took him less than four touches to control a ball. It’s hard to pinpoint when or why this decline happened, but it has, and if United want to move on as a team, they must realise that Rooney simply gets in the way of players who should be getting into the team. Martial is the more threatening striker, while both Herrera and Mata should be ahead of Rooney at 10. Rooney has been on the decline for some time, but 2015 has undoubtedly been his worst year at the club. He has scored just six Premier League goals over the past 12 months and has done very little to justify wearing the shirt, let alone the captain’s armband.