Manchester United: Testing The Fringe Players

For some Manchester United fans, the 2-1 against Preston North End (who?) would not even have registered on the radar. But looking at the lineup gives us a peek into Alex Ferguson’s preparations for the 2006/2007 season.

Foster, Bardsley, Richardson, Fletcher, Solskjaer, Rossi, Miller, Pique, Evra and David Jones are all part of Manchester United’s first team squad, but if United are to make any progress in the Champions League and in the Premiership, a few of these fringe players will have to step up and provide Manchester United with the same bench strength that Chelsea and Barcelona can boast about.

Against Preston, United chose to play several of these fringe players (only Foster, Pique and Evra did not play – although Foster was on the bench) and you can expect this lot to travel to Amsterdam for the tournament starting Friday to further sharpen their skills.

On current showing, Solskjaer has still got what it takes (he showed it in South Africa and he’s shown in subsequent pre-season games) but his age and fitness mean that he’ll be reduced to playing the same role Sheringham played for West Ham. If Ferguson is realistically expecting Ole to be United’s 3rd striker, then he’s walking on the fine line between brilliance and madness. Rossi is still raw, and while you would expect him to score against the lesser sides in the Premiership, it’s in the Champions League and against the big dogs in the Premiership that we need our strikeforce to fire.

Fletcher, Miller and Richardson will be fighting for spots on the bench, and where Fletcher has been a regular for Manchester United in the last season, he’ll be pushed down the pecking order as Carrick arrives and Ferguson chases down a second midfielder (rumoured to be Senna from Villareal, although I’m still optimistically hoping it’s either Hargreaves or Nolan). Fletcher has yet to make the step up to the demands of first-team football for Manchester United, and if he stays in this rut he could be offloaded next year to make space for David Jones, who has shown a lot of promise in his recent showings.

I think Fletcher can still come good, and this season will be a turning point for him. He has to improve on his tackling and his pace on the ball, and if he can do that he could be an excellent squad player.

Miller (the one who was supposed to replace Roy Keane) is in the same position as Fletcher, but he’s played even worse. He’s unlikely to get many chances this season (apart from maybe in some cup games), but like Fletcher, he has to pick up his game. If Miller can improve on his attacking game he could yet be a good backup for Scholes (unlikely). Otherwise, he will get sold (possible this August) or pipped to the squad by one Kieran Richardson.

Richardson and Rossi are the two most promising youngsters for Manchester United, and along with Ronaldo and Rooney form the future base of United’s attacking strength.

I’ll be doing a special piece on Kieran Richardson next week, but right now he is Ferguson’s joker in the pack. He gives United the same injection of pace and effort that Lennon gave to England in the World Cup, and if you’ve seen his goal against Charlton on May 7th, you’ll know that this kid has both talent and balls – a combination that should take him far in football.

Of the defenders, Pique and Bardsley are good enough to provide backup to United’s defence, although in Evra (and, to an extent, the left-back position), United have a problem. Where Heinze is poor in the air, Silvestre is our mistake waiting to happen (and even the opposition thinks so – read the comments for this post) and Evra lacks the pace and quality to be an effective backup left-back, let alone first choice. Right now United are hoping that Heinze can get himself sorted out aerially, but if Evra cannot raise his game, he’ll fall into obscurity the same way as Quinton Fortune did (the former United player has just signed for Bolton, by the way).

Ben Foster – smashing good keeper, and should stay in Manchester United as backup and eventual successor to van der Sar.

Who do you think will be the standout fringe player for United in the next season? Richardson? Rossi? Fletcher? 🙂

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