An updated Manchester United squad assessment…

04/08/2018 Planet FPL

A scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog hesitates, worried the scorpion will sting him. But the scorpion reassures the frog, reminding him that if he does so they will both drown. With that in mind the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. The frog asks the scorpion why he stung him, the scorpion replies casually “it’s in my nature”.

Jose Mourinho has bitterly spent the last week in full on meltdown mode bemoaning the lack of spending at the club and the unfairness that some of his best players will miss the start of the season for going deep into the World Cup.

The World Cup saw a number of United players reach the latter stages of the tournament and will likely see the team start with a few fringe players.

As such the United team of the first few weeks will be vastly different from the one that plays after the first international break.

Predicted team for GW1 

De Gea; Fosu Mensah, Bailly, Smalling, Shaw; Mctominay, Fred, Herrera; Mata, Sanchez, Martial

Predicted strongest starting XI for season

De Gea; Valencia, Alderweireld (?), Bailly, Young; Matic, Fred, Pogba; Lingard, Sanchez, Lukaku

No readers of this site need any advice on David de Gea, the best keeper by a lightyear or two, will definitely be the highest scorer in the position, but unlikely to hit the heights of last year and at a very daunting price.

The early season defence will likely see Luke Shaw at left back, although it’s unlikely Mourinho will tolerate him there that long. He has already stated that Ashley Young is good enough to be the first choice left back for the season, so any Shaw buyers be prepared to sell pretty sharpish. The right back slot will be taken by Fosu Mensah or Darmian. At time of writing Fosu Mensah was one of the better performers on the pre-season tour and Darmian was on his way to being sold. However, tipping you to buy Fosu Mensah is slightly tricky given FPL haven’t priced him up yet.

The Centre Back spot is becoming a bit like one of those farce episodes of Frasier where there’s too many people who shouldn’t be there in and out all the time. At the time of writing as well as already having Jones, Smalling, Rojo, Bailly and Lindelof, the club are heavily linked with both Alderweireld and Maguire.

My two year-old son has become obsessed with ice pops over this summer, so much so that he wakes up at 3am asking for some. When we give him an ice pop we always say just one though. When he finishes the first he always demands a second, I usually give him one. “Just one more though then that’s definetly it”. He always asks for a third. I imagine this is how Ed Woodward feels when Jose asks for another expensive centre back. “Here’s thirty million for Bailly, Jose but that’s it. Here’s another thirty for Lindelof Jose but no more after that.” To be fair to my son his response when told he’s not having anymore is more mature than Jose has been this summer.

Now before it sounds like I’m defending the Glazers, I’m not. The desire for the club to spend money and spend it properly and also question whether Mourinho is the man to do it isn’t binary. It is possible to want both. In my previous article I mentioned how disheartening it was that Jose couldn’t see the value in spending big money on full backs, and this week has merely confirmed that. Both Alderweireld and Maguire are good players. Are they significant upgrades on Lindelof, Bailly and Jones? Are they upgrades that compensate for having two thirty year-old ex-wingers playing full back?

There has been some talk that United would buy both Maguire and Alderweireld and play a 3-5-2. Imagine the absolute mess of playing Valencia and Young as wingbacks. The suspicion is that Maguire is being used as both a fall back option and bargaining tool by United to get Alderweireld. At some point Spurs will need to make a decision on how much they can lose on the Belgian centre back. And if the famed “tough negotiator” (a negotiator so tough he regularly lets his team start the season understaffed and underprepared that they drop viral early points) Daniel Levy senses United can walk away and cost Spurs a fortune it may help United get the deal done.

If United get Alderweireld it will be a very NFL “super bowl or bust” signing in that it would be mainly a short term fix, in order to win something big this season, Maguire would be a longer term option although a significant downgrade. In FPL terms both Alderweireld (6.0) and Maguire (5.5) would be great buys once they return from their post World Cup breaks.

In midfield United look to have decent cover. Youngster Pereira has been very good in his use of the ball in pre-season and scored a great goal against Liverpool, however depressingly Mourinho seems to rate the workmanlike Mctominay and Fellaini ahead of him. Herrera and Matic are both key players in the midfield if not fantasy options. Fred seems to have the managers full trust already being named alongside De Gea, Valencia, Matic, Young, Sanchez and Lukaku as the players Mourinho trusts. Fred might give United some more spark in midfield and may help Pogba but neither seem fantasy options as it stands. Fred and especially Pogba are all round midfielders and it’s highly unlikely that Jose would let either of them play with a free enough reign to be a consistent asset.

In the more attacking midfield roles the two most regular starters will be Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard. Lingard will not be back in contention for the start of the season given his all action displays in Russia. It also remains to be seen whether his goal return last season was a one off or something repeatable. What isn’t in question is that his work rate, defensive diligence and off the ball runs mean he will play most games when fit. Lingard embodies ‘Mourinhoball’.  Sanchez falls into the de Gea category, you don’t need me to tell you what he can do. You also don’t need me to tell you that at 10.5 million, playing in a team that doesn’t need him or know how to get the best out of him he’s a risk.

Now we come to two budget friendly midfielders who should be great opening week shouts. Juan Mata is a sublime player and seeing him wedged wide right in a rigid system is a chronic waste of his talents. He could easily be to United what David Silva is to City. He will get his chance early on and has impressed in pre-season but long term he will rotate with Lingard for a spot.

Next we come to Anthony Martial. A player who is the Berlin Wall of the anti Mourniho v Pro Mourinho divide. Martial is an incredibly talented player who Mourinho for whatever reason can’t get the best out of. In the Frenchman’s first season he was the club’s best outfield player, before a difficult second season saw him lose Mourinho’s trust. Last season Martial looked to have found his feet again before United chopped them away again by buying Alexis Sanchez just to prove they could.

Martial looked to have cemented a role in the team at the start of the season but now seems to be in Mourinho’s bad books for having the temerity to see his new born child. Fucking namby pamby modern men eh Jose? Disgusting. There also seems to be a question about Martial and his attitude and demeanour, although Mourinho questioning someone’s sullen attitude takes not so much a brass neck as brass neck, oesophagus, throat and Adam’s apple with a lovely brass scarf on.

It remains to be seen if Martial starts the season but long term it would appear he had no real future at the club, which is not just a shame but borderline negligence. If he does get a start early on though don’t be afraid to gamble on him, he averages 5.6 points per 90 minutes in his FPL career and given the fixtures early on is definitely worth a look if he’s made up with Jose.

The forward situation in FPL terms is similar to trying to have a debate with my parents or in laws about Brexit. Don’t bother. Romelu Lukaku had a great first season at United and a wonderful World Cup, especially in the Brazil game. However, unless he gets the service and plays in a more attack minded team he isn’t worth the outlay. In his first season he only scored more than once in one match – his first – which rules him out as a hop on hop off explosive captain option. And even as a consistent scorer there is more value elsewhere unless things change. Forwards tend to find it tough in Mourinho teams as illustrated below.

04/05 Gudjohnsen 12

05/06 Drogba 12

06/07 Drogba 20

13/14 Eto’o 9

14/15 Costa 20

16/17 Ibrahimovic 17

17/18 Lukaku 16

Average Premier League goals by top scoring striker in full Mourinho seasons 15

The other forward option is Rashford. Rashford is reportedly joining up early after his World Cup exploits so may be worth a look in the early weeks. Once Lukaku is back Rashford is not an option. Another huge shame given his ability and given his talent and explosive start how long is it until he starts to look for regular games. He has just spent the summer with a Forward who was given the chance at a young age and is now the best striker in the world. Harry Kane has driven himself to the top with relentless work ethic and single mindedness but that would have been irrelevant without the chance to start every week. One wonders where Rashford could get to given the same opportunity. And fair enough some people may say that the pressures and expectations are different and one forward is consistently fighting for the top positions of the league whilst the other is Marcus Rashford.

Short term tips: Shaw, Mata, Martial

Long term: de Gea, Alderweireld (?)