Manchester United Mid-Season Squad Assessment

Eight points clear at the top of the Premiership and showing no signs of letting up. Manchester United are having an excellent start to the season going into a busy Christmas period. But as schools are breaking up for the end of term, how are the United players doing? Attention class, here are your end of term grades…

1. Edwin Van der Sar: Played 22; Goals Conceded 6 — the veteran Dutch goalkeeper has been at his impeccable best this season. Van der Sar has continued his excellent form from last season with a consistently high level of performance every game. He commands his area, is an excellent shot-stopper, is comfortable with crosses, and is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world with the ball at his feet. United’s joint best league defensive record has a lot to do with him. Grade: A

2. Gary Neville: Played 18; Goals 0 — Manchester United’s captain has led from the front this season, in both his performances and his now characteristic vocal displays. The right back has played extremely attacking this season, and is as much a representation of a return to United’s all-out attack of the dominant 90’s as anyone. The Wigan game was as good an example of his ability at going forward as any, with the defender creating a very unlikely opportunity for a hat-trick. Apart from an unfortunate penalty decision at Reading, Neville has shown no signs of letting up as he continues to play well consistently past thirty. Grade: B

3. Patrice Evra: Played 17; Goals 1 — Evra has been extremely impressive this season, particularly after a difficult adjustment to Premiership life in his debut campaign last season. Due to Heinze’s injury Evra started the season as first-choice left back, and has scarcely looked like relinquishing the position since. Evra has made obvious improvements defensively during the summer, and has become a reliable link in the United defence. His attacking play and overlapping of Giggs is (much like Neville’s) a major resource of United’s attack. Grade: B+

4. Gabriel Heinze: Played 14; Goals 0 — following such a remarkable debut season, Heinze was thwarted by injury last term. After just making it back at the end of last season, Heinze has continued his return to fitness with a World Cup campaign under his belt. The Argentine defender is still not back to his best, often looking like his timing is yet to fully return, and still prone to conceding too many free kicks due to over physicality. However, when called upon against Chelsea (likely due to that sometimes negative physicality) he was more than able to nullify Chelsea’s attacking threat. A combative player who needs more games on his road to recovery. Grade: C

5. Rio Ferdinand: Played 22; Goals 1 — the fact that Rio is United’s only player to have played every Premiership minute this season shows how vital he has been to the team. After having doubts as to whether Ferdinand was worth his £29m price tag in his first two seasons, the England international has really shown his worth this term. His newly formed partnership with Vidic has been rock solid all season, reminiscent of the Bruce and Pallister days. As ever, Ferdinand is comfortable on the ball, dominant in the air, and an excellent reader of the game. Rio has also continued his eventual goal scoring form of last year with an excellent finish against Liverpool. Ever reliable and ever impressive. Grade: A

6. Wes Brown: Played 14; Goals 0 — last seasons first choice partner for Rio has found it difficult with the emergence of Vidic at centre back. With no real injuries to either, Brown hasn’t been able to re-establish his place in the side, and doesn’t look like getting back in anytime soon. Brown has provided cover for Neville this season, as he has done before and has been very effective. A centre back all his career, Brown has the pace, skill, and crossing ability to fill in at right back, something which is more and more likely with the captain’s age. Brown will have to get used to being a squad player, as that’s what he now seems to be. Grade: C-

7. Cristiano Ronaldo: Played 21; Goals 6 — after an impressive debut World Cup, Ronaldo has begun the season on fire. His attacking play has been at times breathtaking. His free kick accuracy has vastly improved, and look threatening every time. His six goals already this season has put him on course for a realistic target of twenty goals a season. His link up play with Rooney is mouth-watering for the rest of the season and hopefully the next ten. Ronaldo was excellent last year, and he has improved on that excellence this year. The reigning Premiership player of the month, the Portuguese international has been United’s best player this season, and arguably the best player in the Premiership. Grade: A* STAR PUPIL

8. Wayne Rooney: Played 21; Goals 8 — after an explosive start with two goals in the 5-1 win over Fulham, Rooney was halted by a ridiculous three game ban. After struggling to regain his form, Rooney was soon back to old ways. Performances slowly improved following his return and goals returned with an excellent hat-trick against Bolton. Since then, Rooney has been at his inspiring best, showing consistent flashes of brilliance, coupled with his bullish competitive nature. Exceptional against Sheffield United, Rooney looks to continue his majestic form to the end of a successful campaign. Thankfully Rooney’s also signed a contract extension until 2012, which is music to United fans everywhere. Grade: A

9. Louis Saha: Played 20; Goals 12 — with the departure of Ruud van Nistelrooy in the summer, many thought United would struggle for goals, and a striker to lead the line this season. Saha has shown why United splashed out £12.8m for him three years ago, becoming the first choice partner to Rooney this season. The French international has shown that supplanting van Nistelrooy last season was no fluke, as Saha has proven this campaign that he is quick, skilful, good in the air, and has a good eye for goal. His movement is excellent, he will chase lost causes all day, and often get something out of it. He may not have Ruud’s finishing ability, but his work rate is what separates him from the Dutchman. An impressive start to the season. Grade: A

11. Ryan Giggs: Played 16; Goals 3 — will Ryan Giggs’ ability ever subside with age? The seemingly ageless left-winger has again been exceptional this season, flying down the left flank and teasing defenders as he did ten years ago. With the purchase of Carrick, Giggs has been able to play the majority of the season on his favoured left midfield position, forming a formidable attacking line-up alongside Rooney, Ronaldo, Saha and Scholes. As ever, has chipped in with some vital goals against Tottenham and Watford. Always reliable and effective, was rewarded with the first player of the month award of the season. Grade: A

13. Ji-Sung Park: Played 4; Goals 0 — unfortunately, Park has been robbed of a continuation to a promising debut season in the Premiership. After injuring his ankle in the victory over Tottenham, Park hasn’t made a first team appearance since, but he is now back in training. This is good news for United, as the South Korean international will be needed as cover for both Ronaldo and Giggs as the wears and tears of the season kick in. Grade: E

14. Alan Smith: Played 4; Goals 0 — Alan Smith has been struck with even worse luck than Park. Following his rehabilitation from his double leg break in February, Ferguson has been very cautious in his use of Smith, only playing him in the League Cup, and the dying minutes of league games. Smith is soon to be match fit, and along with Solskjaer, will be vitally needed as cover for Rooney and Saha. Grade: E

15. Nemanja Vidic: Played 16; Goals 3 — Vidic has been immense this season, making the step up to the challenges of the Premiership after a shaky debut campaign. The Serbian international has become first choice partner to Rio at the heart of United’s defence, and the two have been rock solid. Excellent in the air, good positional awareness, an excellent ball winner, and dangerous in the oppositions box, Vidic is a real find and has been arguably the best defender in the Premiership this year. Grade: A

16. Michael Carrick: Played 21; Goals 0 — were you one of the many who believed Michael Carrick was vastly over-priced? Well I certainly was, but United’s biggest import of the summer is proving us all wrong. After an indifferent start, showing signs of stability and creative flair, as well as his tendency to disappear in games and give the ball away cheaply, Carrick has improved in every game he’s played for United, developing an excellent understanding with Scholes, and is the stem of United’s attacks. He’s also vastly improved defensively, evident in his man of the match performance against Chelsea. Grade: B+

18. Paul Scholes: Played 19; Goals 2 — another of the golden generation that show no signs of deterioration with age. Following an injury-plagued season in which Scholes suffered an injury to the eye, the attack-minded midfielder has returned to form with some excellent performances this season. As always Scholes provides a lethal threat from outside the box, and from his trademark late runs. Scholes’ return to fitness and form has been a big reason for United’s dominant start to this season. A typically excellent game against Liverpool showed his true class on his 500th appearance for the club. Grade: A

20. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Played 12; Goals 6 — the baby-faced assassin has finally succeeded on his long road to recovery this season. After close to two years sitting on the sidelines and the physio’s table, Ole returned to first team action this season, and his strike-rate has been typical. Chipping in with goals off the bench as ever, Ole has cemented his position as super-sub, grabbing vital goals against Charlton and Wigan, as well as Celtic in the Champions League. Grade: B

22. John O’Shea: Played 21; Goals 2 — the Irishman has again shown his versatility this season, providing cover at full-back, centre-back and in midfield. O’Shea’s tenaciousness has been a big help in a midfield that often lacks bite. Often coming in to bolster midfield and close out a victory, O’Shea has also shown his eye for goal, with an important strike against Everton, adding another string to his bow. Grade: C

23. Kieran Richardson: Played 8; Goals 1 — after a truly explosive start to his United career, Richardson was billed as the next big thing. The stage has come in the young England international’s career where he has to prove his ability consistently and develop into a reliable and effective player. Richardson has been inconsistent this season, and is yet to fulfil the potential shown when he broke into the first team. Grade: C-

24. Darren Fletcher: Played 19; Goals 2 — as a Fletcher skeptic, it pains me to say that the Scottish international has been much improved this season. The midfielder is turning into a solid squad player, reliable when the opposition have the ball, and provides a threat on the attack. Fletcher has also provided some vital goals against Charlton and Middlesbrough. Grade: B

27. Mikael Silvestre: Played 12; Goals 1 — Silvestre has found himself slip further and further down the defensive pecking order, with the recent acquisitions of Heinze, Evra and Vidic, and the emergence of Brown. The French defender is now used primarily as cover across the back line. When called upon, he has still shown himself to be good in the air, and a threat from set pieces. But his tendency to give the ball away cheaply, and make defensive mistakes means he is unlikely to regain his place in the starting line-up anytime soon. Grade: C-

29. Tomasz Kuszczak: Played 3; Goals Conceded 2 — United’ s latest goalkeeping purchase has shown some real promise in his limited action this season. Unlikely to figure in first team affairs unless Van der Sar is injured, Kuszczak must continue to perform reliably when he gets his chances. Made up for his mistake against Arsenal with an excellent penalty save. The Polish international will surely battle with Foster, and possibly even Howard as Van der Sar’s long-term replacement. Grade: B-

The work the class has produced this term has been outstanding. They are currently the highest rated class in the area, and have already confirmed the addition of a highly rated student from outside the catchment area, a Henrik Larsson. The continuation of the class’s excellent work should bring about some well-deserved results. I look forward to next term and the remainder of the season.

And you can copy-paste the list below to give your own grades to the squad:

1. Edwin Van der Sar:
2. Gary Neville:
3. Patrice Evra:
4. Gabriel Heinze:
5. Rio Ferdinand:
6. Wes Brown:
7. Cristiano Ronaldo:
8. Wayne Rooney:
9. Louis Saha:
11. Ryan Giggs:
13. Ji-Sung Park:
14. Alan Smith:
15. Nemanja Vidic:
16. Michael Carrick:
18. Paul Scholes:
20. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:
22. John O’Shea:
23. Kieran Richardson:
24. Darren Fletcher:
27. Mikael Silvestre:
29. Tomasz Kuszczak:

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