2016_defence

David de Gea@JamesMUFC77

As we entered 2015, the cloud looming over De Gea was his contract which was set to expire at the end of the season amid speculation that his heart was set on a move to Real Madrid.

The speculation didn’t distract De Gea from his duties as he maintained his high levels on the pitch, being the ever reliable last line of defence. Most notable performances came in the narrow 1-0 win at St James Park and a dogged display at Selhurst Park to keep Palace at bay and pinch a 2-1 victory.

Rightfully so, De Gea’s performances for the 2014-15 season earnt for the 2nd successive season the highest accolade from his peers and the fans receiving United fans and players’ Player of the Year. He also narrowly missed out on the PFA Player and Young Player of the Year to Eden Hazard and Harry Kane. As a consolation he featured in the PFA Team of the year.

A tough summer was endured due to the highly publicised transfer to Real Madrid. Left out of the starting line-up for the first four Premier League games and the Champions League qualifiers due to concerns from Louis van Gaal that De Gea would be distracted. The transfer only gathered momentum on the last day and failed spectacularly due to a cock up by Real Madrid.

Credit to David, not once did he force a move and bided his time patiently. The failed transfer resulted in the goalkeeper signing a new four year deal on September 11th. His first 2015-16 start came against Liverpool who were dispatched 3-1 at Old Trafford.

De Gea’s form has continued through to the end of the year, with fine displays notably at St Mary’s in the 3-2 win and the 2-1 win at Vicarage Road. It’s a long road, but he is well and truly on track to continue his battle in 2016 with Neuer to become the world’s number one stopper.

Antonio Valencia@marcshaw76

It’s fair to say 2015 was a game of two halves for Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian ended the 2014-15 season as a seemingly trusted cog in Louis Van Gaal’s United machine with a run of 13 consecutive Premier League appearances to see out the end of the campaign, helping secure that all-important Champions League berth.

The summer signing of Matteo Darmian loosened that grip, a minor knock meaning Valencia’s pre-season bow was delayed until a second-half substitute appearance in the exhibition win over Barcelona. Despite Rafael’s departure to Lyon ahead of the big kick-off, it was the former Roma man who was, as expected, ensconced at the back by the time Spurs rolled into Old Trafford on opening day.

Tony V would go on to make just one league start before a foot injury, suffered in the derby stalemate in October, needed an operation to cut his year short as United wobbled towards 2016. With the climate at M16 looking as unsettled as the weather just what the future holds for Valencia remains to be seen, but first and foremost is rehabilitation and forcing his way back into contention.

Longer term, the jury must surely be out on a player who once dazzled with pace and power down the flank but now seems unable to see the by-line, let alone cross from it.

Matteo Darmian@_AnthonyWilson

In many ways Darmian’s season has been synonymous with the way United’s season has gone so far. Bought in under the radar by Ed Woodward many, of us were pleasantly surprised by initial showings. Matteo showed quality, both in his defending and forward play. Unfortunately as the team have suffered so has he, in and out of the starting XI, he’s struggled to find his early season form.

I think he will be a great asset for us moving forward, I do however hope he is given one side to concentrate on rather than flitting between the left and right. There’s a lot more to come from the Italian.

Paddy McNair@SteveCrab

Paddy McNair has had a bit of a mixed year for club and country, but 2015 was the year the lad from Ballyclare, Co Antrim turned 20 years old. And from a development and experience point of view, he can safely look back on the year as a successful one.

2015 kicked off for McNair with a starting place in the 2-0 win over Yeovil Town in the FA Cup third round, playing right-back in a 3-5-2 formation. He started there again against Cambridge United and took on a starring role, with Van Gaal later coming out and saying that he could go on and become the new Gary Neville, and make a career as United’s regular right back. Further reward came in early February, when he signed a new contract at Old Trafford – keeping him with us until the summer of 2017.

On the international scene, McNair flourished. He made his debut in March, and became a regular for the Northern Ireland senior side in a successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. He represented his country five times, and it was in the game against Finland in Helsinki where the youngster stayed behind in a Finnish hospital for three days, giving United a scare with the news that he may have ruptured his liver.

The ball playing defender had an impressive start to his United career, but more recently has perhaps only been as consistent for us as his selection is for the first team. Over the course of 2015 he’s been drafted in to various formations, with various defensive partners, in a team which has had varying degrees of form. It can’t be an easy way for a kid to make the grade at Old Trafford; and neither can the early season form of the United defence.

As a result of a hard-to-breakdown back line, McNair had to wait until November before he made his first start of the current campaign, against Leicester City. Again, this saw him utilised in a three-man defence – one which we’ve not been comfortable with since LVG took the helm – with Daley Blind and Chris Smalling alongside him. We drew the game 1-1.

So what for 2016? Well, with confidence and form certainly low on the Old Trafford pitch, and McNair needing to kick on in the new year, I wonder if a loan move away would be a good option for him. He’s more than a decent youngster, who will develop in to a cracking defender. But he not only needs to pick up more consistent game time, he needs to enjoy that game time too. In exactly the way that James Wilson is at Brighton and Hove Albion at the moment.

He and us could certainly benefit long-term from him moving away for a little while, and it’ll be interesting to watch him in action for Northern Ireland in the Euro’s in the summer.

Phil Jones@THCoast

Phil Jones’ 2015 has been as Phil Jones-esque as it possibly could have. Seemingly ready to establish himself as a first-team player during the second half of the 2014-2015 season, the Preston-born defender managed to lose his spot to 5ft 11in defensive midfielder Daley Blind over the summer because of a freak blood clot in his calf.

You couldn’t make it up if you tried.

Once seen as an equal to Chris Smalling in their performance levels, the former Blackburn player has struggled to keep up with good ol’ Mike, who has become one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League.

Equally capable of injuring his own teammate in training as he is making a “lion-hearted” last ditch tackle, it seems Jones is destined to be that “what could have been” defender if he’d developed properly without ridiculous injuries and lack of game time in his natural position during his early years at Manchester United.

Let’s hope he has a more consistent 2016.

Chris Smalling@Shaun_Payne_7

Chris Smalling has become one of the very few success stories of Louis Van Gaal’s tenure in 2015. Ferguson had earmarked Smalling along with Jonny Evans and Phil Jones as the heirs to Ferdinand and Vidic’s thrones but it is only really Smalling who has looked like this will ever be the case.

Since his sending off in United’s derby day defeat at the Etihad last November, his rise has been impressive; going from an occasionally shaky presence to a noticeably tall (in every sense) leader at the back. Along with De Gea, one would now argue that Smalling is one of the first names on the teamsheet and he had been the cornerstone of an impressive defensive record (until our December slump began).

Having signed a new four-year contract in April, the 25-year-old has been tipped by his manager as a future club captain and it is hard to argue with that assessment should his development continue at the rate it has in 2015. If Van Gaal (or his successor) can install another imposing defender into the back four alongside Smalling during 2016, then there will be a very solid foundation in place to challenge for honours. One cannot help but feel however that United are only a Smalling injury away from some very edgy games defensively with the current personnel.

It has been a superb 2015 for “Mike Smalling” and fingers crossed he carries that form into the New Year.

Daley Blind@BeautifullyRed

Daley Blind’s start to the year saw him in central midfield alongside Wayne Rooney where he looked to play the Michael Carrick role of keeping possession with his calm and effective passing game. Whilst his defensive limitations were found out at times in the role he offered a threat when looking further forward, a brilliant assist for Robin van Persie against Leicester in January was followed up with a crucial last minute equaliser away at West Ham in February.

As the season progressed Blind found himself at left back, where he formed a nice partnership with Ashley Young, bringing a sense of assurance and control on the left during United’s best spell of the season that saw them record 6 consecutive wins to push them into the Top 4 including impressive victories over Spurs, Liverpool and City.

During the summer United fans were desperate for news of a new centre back but Louis van Gaal decided there was no need to purchase a partner Chris Smalling. Step forward Daley Blind. Van Gaal wanted a centre back who was not only comfortable on the ball but had the ability to pick a pass and start the United attacks.

Blind has performed that task wonderfully. His ability on the ball helps move United through the phases of Van Gaal’s philosophy (!) and his long balls that skip the midfield have led to several United chances/goals. Unfortunately for Blind his lack of size and pace and been targeted and shown up more than once as teams look to either bully him or soak the United pressure before hitting them with pace on the counter.

What has 2015 told us of Daley Blind? He is a hard working, very likeable utility player who is comfortable on the ball and capable of some great attacking passes whose best position is at left back where his weaknesses are less likely to be an issue.

Let’s not end on a negative though; we at least now have someone capable of taking a decent corner.

Ashley Young@RFFH

18 months ago writing any article on Ashley Young would’ve started by googling synonyms for the word ‘hated’ such was the anger many Reds had towards the former Villa man who was roundly ‘despised’, ‘loathed’ and ‘detested’. Yes okay I did a quick google. Young seemed to epitomise all was wrong with the ‘cross first think later’ philosophy of the Clueless One’s tenure. As Louis replaced David almost immediately Young seemed to enjoy some form of rejuvenation and by the time 2015 began, he was no longer a figure of abhorrence.

Injury prevented his inclusion in the side early in the year but by the beginning of March Young was back in the team and ready for a run of games we may well look back on as being the highlight of Van Gaal’s reign. A late winner over Newcastle at St James’s, followed by a starring role in victories over Spurs, Liverpool, Villa and a morale boosting win over City which included another goal for the formerly resented winger, cemented Young’s renaissance in the eyes of many.

The highlight of Young’s year came at Selhurst Park as he won a penalty and provided an assist as the Reds more or less guaranteed a return to Champions League football, a performance that Gary Neville deemed Man of the Match worthy.

Since the dizzy heights of that win over Palace, Young like many of his team mates has struggled to make an impact and in many ways his fall from grace is indicative of the shift in fortunes of his manager.
Many are now at the point where Young is neither disliked or loved which considering the low esteem he was held him in, shows he’s had a better 2015 than almost anyone expected.

Marcos Rojo@RichardCann76

Marcos Rojo is difficult to assess. Fans love a trier. The Argentine looks like he cares, he’s committed and never shirks a challenge. He even popped up in the United end at the abysmal stuffing by Stoke at the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day. He’s a family man with a model wife and young daughter. All of the above mean that the fans have generally cut him some slack. His 2015 has been dominated by injury and inconsistency. In his season and a half at the club he’s managed only 35 appearances in all competitions and has featured in only 6 league games this campaign.

For a short spell, which included the 3-0 win at Everton, he excelled at left-back, the position in which he played for his country at the last World Cup, where he came to Louis Van Gaal’s attention. But injury struck once again. It is still difficult to know what his best position is. He is a capable centre-back but is prone to rashness and can struggle positionally. Rojo rather encapsulates United’s transfer policy under the Dutchman. If fit he is a versatile, capable defender, the sort that every squad needs, but is some way short of top class. Unfortunately the same could be said of most of his teammates.




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