As a result of weak roster, rebuilding process bogged down at Old Trafford

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By Dan Escalona

You know a situation is spiraling out of control when a team that should normally throttle a lesser opponent, ends up being throttled by that same team. This precise scenario is what happened to Manchester United last week as the Red Devils lost 4-0 to third division club Milton Keynes Dons in the second round of the League Cup. That’s essentially equivalent to the Cubs losing to Double-A affiliate Tennessee Smokies.

Sure, United’s loss to a club from League One can be written off as an anomaly, but its start to the EPL season counters that notion. Man U is winless in its first three matches with its most recent poor result a scoreless draw at recently-promoted Burnley. Though it is early, this nightmarish start indicates that the rebuilding project is incomplete, and another long, arduous season seems to be simmering at Old Trafford.

Now, who’s to blame for yet another bad start to United EPL campaign? Its easy to put the blame on new manager (and former Netherlands boss) Louis van Gaal, and, to a degree, he’s been unable to motivate his squad’s fractured confidence and put together a stable lineup amid uncertainty near the transfer deadline. If one looks past the relative ease of blaming the new manager, he will see that this United roster has some serious gaps within it. 

For the Red Devils, the most obvious areas that have contributed to their winless start are the shaky defense and ineffective midfield. Defensively, the trio of Phil Jones, Johnny Evans and Tyler Blackett has been poor in creating attacking opportunities that are designed to originate in the back in van Gaal’s offensive system. Against Burley, for example, the United defense was unable to effectively transition possession of the ball to the midfield, and to make matters worse, often gave up possession of the ball in their own defense third. 

Some of the effectiveness is certainly a result of the current absences of new signings Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo. Their returns will be a welcome sight, but given their youth and inexperience in the Premier League, it will take some time to adjust back into the defense. Still, these defensive issues will not be kind to United when it matches up against the likes of Liverpool (with the striker trio of Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli), the attacking depth of Manchester City and the high-scoring capability of Chelsea, led by Diego Costa. Even Arsenal and Tottenham pose major threats.

Now, the midfield. The success of any team in the Premier League, and especially United, is predicated on possessing the ball and scoring in bunches to match up with the clubs mentioned above. That ability comes from the midfield. In scoring only two goals in three games, United’s attack has been lethargic and lacking in creativity. Against Burnley, United only put two shots on target and only completed 13 percent of its crosses — two alarming statistics. 

Midfield players such as Darren Fletcher, Tom Cleverly, Ashley Young and Juan Mata simply do not seem like the type of pieces to enable United to have the success many anticipated just a few weeks ago. Not to mention, the midfield is even thinner due to the departure of Shinji Kagawa and an injury to Ander Herrera. 

Even the recent signing of Real Madrid’s Angel di Maria, brought into patch up a weak midfield, may not be enough to fix the very obvious holes in their midfield. As talented and creative a player the Argentine is, he is only one player and a solid midfield is more a product of group cohesion than individual skill. Given the current composition of the midfield, it will be difficult for United to make use of skilled forwards in Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and new transfer Radamel Falcao (likely brought in as a replacement for Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck).

With everything above said, winning the league, and for that matter, finishing in the top four to qualify for Champions League play, is looking more and more like a pipe dream for Manchester United. Even with a tactical genius like van Gaal in charge, United is still bogged down in the early stages of the rebuilding process.

As supporters of the Cubs know full well, rebuilding is a long process and with that comes a period of frustration. Though much to the chagrin of United fans, a top-flight club inhabiting the grounds of Old Trafford is still a ways away. Instead, you may be seeing a squad struggle to finish in the top five once again at one of soccer’s most hollowed grounds.

Dan is a junior is Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @danescalona77.