- List of flops headed by summer signing Marouane Fellaini
- Likes of Wilfried Zaha, Nani and Anderson are non-existent
- Defenders Nemanja Vidic, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling all culpable
- Only bright spots are David de Gea, Adnan Januzaj and Wayne Rooney
These are unfamiliar and uncomfortable times at Old Trafford. Manchester United were a bastion of invincibility under Sir Alex Ferguson, but now they look vulnerable to anyone and everyone.
The 2-1 defeat at Sunderland on Tuesday night in the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup was their third in a week, the first time this has happened since April 1992.
Even David Moyes acknowledged the historic nature of their slump, saying afterwards: ‘This hasn’t happened at Manchester United for a long time.’
But the blame for their abysmal first half of the season doesn’t fall entirely on Moyes.
Players who were crowned champions of England just eight months ago are playing so far beneath themselves as to be unrecognisable.
With United seventh in the Barclays Premier League, out of the FA Cup and facing elimination from the League Cup, Sportsmail rates each member of the squad on their performances this season.
David de Gea
An ever-present in United’s league and European matches, De Gea has arguably been United’s most consistent performer and is well on his way to realising his potential of being a world class goalkeeper.
At times last season, the young Spaniard looked incapable of coping with the physical nature of the Premier League and had an alarming tendency to be bullied at corners. But he’s bulked up, settled in and is now among the best goalkeepers in Europe with his reflexes and shot-stopping.
The fact he’s kept only five clean sheets in 20 league matches probably says more for United’s weak defence than De Gea’s shortcomings.
The Dane seems content to serve as understudy to De Gea and take his occasional opportunity in the cup competitions.
He’s played just two matches – against Norwich in the Capital One Cup and Swansea in the FA Cup – and is unlikely to unseat De Gea anytime soon.
A lifelong United fan, he’s become a bullish and defiant company man. After the defeat by Swansea, he said: ‘We are in the middle of the transition. I am sure when the transition is fulfilled we will be as successful as we have ever been.’ On the current evidence, that’s hard to believe.
Well beaten: Anders Lindegaard sees Wilfired Bony’s header for Swansea fly past him on Sunday
He’s been the cornerstone of United’s defence for eight years, but it looks like the beginning of the end for the much-admired Vidic.
There’s no denying that United’s back four look much stronger when their Serbian captain is available but, unfortunately for David Moyes, persistent and niggling injuries mean this is not guaranteed week-in week-out.
Moyes also seems to have as much faith in the less experienced Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in the defence, leaving Vidic fightng for his place.
At 32, United are unlikely to offer Vidic a contract extension beyond another season and a number of clubs are interested in taking him for free at the end of the season when his current deal expires.
Vidic has been an integral part of United’s success during his time at the club but it looks like the end for him. And it looks like being a disappointing note to finish on too.
Rafael da Silva
The Brazilian’s chances of impressing David Moyes suffered a blow when he missed the start of the season with a hamstring injury sustained in the Community Shield, but Moyes has since started him on 14 occasions and clearly regards him as a very capable right-back.
In contrast to brother Fabio, Rafael seems content with life at Old Trafford and looks likely to be the first choice for many years to come if he continues to fine-tune the defensive and attacking aspects of his game.
Fabio da Silva
By contrast, Fabio looks ill at ease with the Old Trafford stage.
Starved of chances in the starting line-up, he was brought on in the final stages against Swansea on Sunday – only to lose his head and be sent off for a very reckless challenge.
He was therefore largely to blame for United’s FA Cup exit and though he is technically sound, he seems to lack the maturity to suceed at Old Trafford.
Another loan move, or even a permanent transfer away, seems likely.
Like Vidic, it looks like the final chapter at United for Evra – another fantastic servant who has been on top of his game for a number of years and very successful.
He remains the undisputed first-choice left-back but rumours abound that United are searching for replacements with Leighton Baines, Fabio Coentrao, Marcelo or Luke Shaw on the radar.
The Frenchman is the same age as Vidic and a contract extension beyond one more season looks increasingly unlikely.
United need to replace Evra with someone of similar class but with an undiminished attacking instinct and reliable crossing ability.
The versatile Jones continues to be tipped for big things at United, with some predicting he will one day captain the side.
David Moyes seems to share this view and has started him this season at centre-half, right-back and as a defensive midfielder.
Still only 21, Jones has time on his side as he aims to develop into either a commanding centre-back or the perfect defensive midfield ‘spoiler’ to cut off the supply lines.
Like all of United’s defenders, he must take some of the blame for some of the goals conceded this season and he must step up to be the man marshalling the back line.
Plagued by niggling back and muscle injuries, Ferdinand is likely to be another of those cleared out in the summer.
At 35, he’s done everything in the game and won all the major club honours but retirement is surely very close.
He was a mainstay of the defence early on in the season and didn’t cover himself in glory during the losses to Liverpool, Manchester City and West Brom.
Then the injury curse struck again and appearances have been more sporadic – and mainly in Europe where his vast experience helped United through the group stage in style.
Rio’s contribution at United has been immense, but with the body slowly failing him, it’s time to wave goodbye.
Coming into the team following Ferdinand’s injury, Smalling has not made the impression he might have hoped.
While some aspects of his defending have improved, he seems to struggle with positional awareness and is at fault for a good number of goals.
For example, he was nowhere near Wilfried Bony as he headed in the winner in the Cup third round on Sunday, having been moved across from right-back following Fabio’s introduction.
Moyes clearly appreciates his versatility to play across the back line, but he needs to keep up with the game.
A regular starter this season but all-too-often culpable for goals conceded.
With Vidic and Ferdinand regularly out injured, Smalling flitting between right-back and centre-back, and Jones only occasionally alongside him, Evans has been unable to forge a consistent and solid defensive partnership.
Evans is now 26 and is tying down a regular spot, but he needs to iron out some of the faults in his game to reach the same class as Vidic or Ferdinand in their pomp.
With Evra in front of him, chances have been few and far between for Buttner, who had shown signs of promise last season.
This rustiness showed in the defeat by Swansea, his sixth start of the season, when his crossing was sub-standard to say the least.
If the Dutchman is to emerge as the successor to Evra, he needs to improve this aspect of his game very quickly, given the long-standing importance of marauding wing-backs.
Outstanding in the title-winning side last season, Carrick hasn’t been quite as effective this season though he’s been unlucky with injuries.
A niggling Achilles tendon problem ruled him out for six weeks and United have missed his presence and assured passing.
If United are to salvage anything from this season, Carrick will be an essential component and if he can rediscover the consistency he found last term, they stand a chance of making the top four.
Cleverley was the architect of United’s downfall at Sunderland, conceding what proved to be the match-defining penalty, and what should have been a real breakthrough season has fallen flat.
Moyes has given him plenty of game time and there have been occasional decent performances, but the harsh fact is that Cleverley would not have got anywhere near any of Ferguson’s great teams.
We don’t rave about him in the way we should and he doesn’t influence games in the way we hope. Improvement needed.
I don’t believe it: Tom Cleverley (left) gave away the crucial penalty at Sunderland but he might not be in the starting line-up if the returning Darren Fletcher (right) gets fully fit
Fletcher’s return from his long absence is well-timed for Moyes, who has been let down by too many of his key midfielders.
His return should boost the work ethic of the midfield and add some of the poise and solidity that has been sorely lacking.
Assessing exactly what Anderson has contributed this season is a very difficult task.
To think that he cost in excess of £20million, the Brazilian has fallen well short of his potential at Old Trafford and he should be shipped off at the earliest opportunity.
Well down the midfield pecking order, having started just three matches this season, there seems no point in him hanging around much longer.
When Fellaini moved to United at literally the eleventh hour on deadline day, it smacked of desperation and that assessment has been proved painfully correct.
The Belgian has been so underwhelming that many United fans openly celebrated when he injured his wrist, ruling him out for two months.
When he returns, he needs to shape up from the languid, disinterested and woefully off-the-pace player he was earlier in the season and start justifying the ridiculous £27.5million price tag.
Champions League-chasing Everton must be laughing all the way to the bank.
Poor Kagawa’s dream move to United has turned very sour. Billed as a man who could provide defence-splitting passes to order, he has toiled this season to little reward.
Moyes plays him sparingly, usually throwing him on from the bench, but it’s hard to recall a match in which he’s made much difference.
Should probably try and engineer a move away from Manchester to prevent his career sliding down the drain.
A frustrating campaign again for Nani, who must rank among one of the most infuriating United players of recent times.
Often so inconsistent with his crossing and unlikely to contribute a goal, Nani rarely completes a full match these days and is usually hooked off after an hour or so.
Now 27, his future probably lies away from Old Trafford and given his increasing susceptibility to injury, the club would be wise to get rid of him either this month or in the summer.
Another United winger with unfulfilled potential, Young is also set for a spell on the sidelines after injuring his shoulder in a collision with Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris.
Like Nani, he rarely completes a full game and has contributed just one assist in the league this season – a paltry return that should be better.
It’s not much of a claim these days, but Valencia has probably been one of the better wingers at United this season. Moyes certainly seems to think so, as the Ecuador flyer is a regular starter.
His crossing has got better and he is one of the few who can reliably take on and storm past an opponent.
And compared with the others, he does chip in with more goals – one in the Premier League and two in Europe – and more assists – three so far.
This was meant to be the season Zaha took the Premier League by storm following his move from Crystal Palace. It hasn’t exactly turned out that way.
Either left to fester on the bench or omitted from the squad list all together, Zaha must be wondering what he did wrong.
It’s critical that he goes out on loan to gain some experience and there are a number of Premier League sides interested in having him until the end of the season.
Now 40, evergreen Giggs is a phenomenon in the way he keeps going but he isn’t going to get the glorious send-off he deserves this season.
We still see those glimpses of his old class, a surge forward or a 40-yard pass, but inevitably time has slowed him down.
Moyes uses him sparingly but he seems to thrive in Europe, playing a part in five of the six group matches.
Out with the old, in with the new? Ryan Giggs (left) is still a vital part of United’s team at 40, despite his own goal against Sunderland but Adnan Januzaj has been one of the few positives for Moyes this season
A bright point amidst the pervading gloom at Old Trafford, Januzaj has had a brilliant season and looks set to be a regular in United’s side for many years to come.
Moyes is playing the 18-year-old with increasing regularity and this is no bad thing, seeing as he can influence a game with his pace, crossing and goalscoring ability.
He’s been very impressive and one of the few at United who deserve plaudits this season.
After his summer flirtation with Chelsea, Rooney has been busy showing them what they’re missing.
David Moyes played a masterstroke in persuading him to stay and without Rooney’s goals and all-round contribution, United would probably be in the relegation places.
He’s scored 11 goals and contributed 19 assists in all competitions and United badly miss him when he’s out injured. Quite simply, they look toothless in his absence.
Once again in the summer, he will face the strong temptation to walk away and, the way things are going, you wouldn’t blame him.
He’s carrying United at the moment and it’s an unfair burden of responsibility for him to shoulder.
Robin van Persie
Groin and hamstring injuries have prevented Van Persie from replicating the sensational form of last season, when he essentially won United the title.
Before the injury blows, he was banging in the goals as normal and has 10 for the season.
Like Rooney, United suffer when he’s not there and the only way they can achieve anything this season is to get their first choice strike partnership fit and firing as soon as possible.
In the absence of Rooney and Van Persie, Welbeck has stepped up and he looks a vastly better player than he did last season.
Greedier and sharper in front of goal, he has a tally of nine so far for club and country.
He needs to continue in this vein and drag United out of the tailspin they’re currently in.
Chicharito might have hoped for more this season, moving from the impact sub role to more regular duties.
He still comes into the action mainly from the bench but his return of five goals is nowhere near the deadly form he showed last season.
FIVE FOR THE FUTURE
United have a proud tradition of bringing through academy products and the conveyor belt continues to roll.
Here’s five youngsters David Moyes might consider blooding in the first team.
Attacking midfielder who has an eye for goal, as shown by the four he scored on debut for Birmingham City against Sheffield Wednesday at the start of his current loan spell.
Capable of playing on either wing or more centrally, fleet of foot and with plenty of skills, 21-year-old Lingard could provide Moyes with another option in his under-powered midfield.
Another starlet out on loan is 19-year-old Nick Powell, who has gained both domestic and European experience this season at Wigan and made a very good impression.
Like Lingard, he’s a versatile player and can figure in central midfield, out wide or as a striker and he’s fine-tuned his passing and attacking instincts.
Tipped to be the next Paul Scholes for his well-honed passing skills and intelligent reading of play, Cole has featured for United’s Under 21 side this season.
Cole’s diminutive stature might count against him in Premier League midfield battles but his class is not in question.
The 20-year-old centre back has been solid for Derby during his loan spell there this season, playing his part as they surged up the Championship table.
With United struggling to find a reliable central defensive partnership, Keane’s performances at Pride Park won’t have gone unnoticed.
Chilean centre forward who has thrived on loan at Real Zaragoza this season, scoring five goals so far.
Possesses good goal poaching instincts and contributes assists for others too.
Source : Daily Mail