Sir Alex Ferguson claims his current Manchester United squad is stronger than the Treble winning squad of 1999. So is this really the strongest Manchester United of the Premier League era?
During his 26 years in charge, Sir Alex has arguably built 6 title winning sides, with a 7th in the not too far distance. Currently, Manchester United are 15 points ahead of rivals Manchester City who are struggling in 2nd, with just 9 games of the season left to play. No team has ever won the Premier League by 18 points or greater. City face some tricky ties coming up against in form teams Tottenham Hotspur & Swansea, as well as a resurgent Newcastle and teams fighting relegation. City also have the daunting task of travelling to Old Trafford next weekend, a game United will look to extend their lead even more. No team has accumulated more points at this stage of the season as Manchester United have now. They have conceded just 31 goals in 29 Premier League games from a defence that has been so heavily criticised at times early in the season, and a goal difference of 15 more than nearest rivals Man City. So why are United deemed “not a great team” by the press and pundits?
The forward line is easily one of the strongest in Europe. Van Persie, Rooney, Hernandez and Welbeck are definitely challenging with the stars of 1999. And though the midfield is deemed weak in comparison to past squads, they still boast the speed and skill of Nani, Valencia & Young on the wings, whilst £19 million Shinji Kagawa is integrating better with every game he plays. Michael Carrick oozes class and his passing ability rivals that of Andrea Pirlo and Xavi Hernandez in todays game. The centre back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Captain Nemanja Vidic is one of, if not the best in Europe when both fully fit. Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are coming of age and will be challenging for a regular start very soon.
Rafael is a promising full back with still a lot ot learn. Patrice Evra’s performances have not been outstanding, at 31 years old he is struggling to match the performances of 5 years ago. Any emergence of young left backs Alexander Buttner and Fabio Da Sliva could jeopardise Evra’s position at Manchester United. Questions have been raised about David De Gea’s performances in goal, but at 22 years old he is still learning the English game. Goal keepers tend to peak a lot later than outfield players, take for example Edwin Van Der Sar, Gianluigi Buffon and Peter Schmeichel.
Overall, on paper this Manchester United squad doesnt even come close to the glamour of Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney or Cole, Yorke and Sheringham. But as a squad, the strength in depth is probably the best seen at Old Trafford in the Premier League era. The 1999 and 2008 multi trophy winning teams only really had a 1st XI with maybe a couple of top players that could deputise. This season, United could field 2 seperate teams, with the “2nd string” still challenging for a top 4 finish. United could break some records by the season’s end, so will they still be criticised then?