Ahead of tomorrow's match against Manchester United, Gene Um of SBNation's MU blog The Busby Babe was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Red Devils. I also answered some of his questions about Arsenal over at his site, so check those out too!
1. How do you feel about the midfield diamond Sir Alex has been using in some matches?
Well, it's new and for tactical nerds like myself, that made it exciting. Ferguson has always had a love for wingers and even in matches where he's tried to fortify the midfield by simply putting another player there, he still featured players in attack that hugged the touchline. It was an interesting change and at first, it worked. However, as diamond systems tend to be, it was quite vulnerable against sides that were good at attacking with width. When Shane Ferguson causes you problems, that's alarming. Versus both Newcastle and Braga, (Sir Alex) Ferguson ended up making in-game changes back to systems with wingers because United weren't adequately defending the flanks. The system does have it's merits though and it allows United to get two strikers on the pitch ahead of either Wayne Rooney or Shinji Kagawa -- that's a lot of firepower. In addition, the option of it allows a bit of unpredictability before games and it's likely that Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo didn't know last weekend whether United would line up in the diamond or in a system with wingers. So, I do like that United have a bit of versatility but Ferguson needs to be selective in deciding when to use the diamond.
2. Do you think RvP was money well-spent, or would you have preferred to use that money on other positions, and how do you see him working together with Rooney going into the future?
When RvP was signed, I wasn't in love with the move nor was I against it. I was a bit concerned on what this meant for the players already at the club. With Shinji Kagawa signed already in the summer -- a player that prefers to be in the No.10 role -- I anticipated that Wayne Rooney would be pushed up higher into a No.9 role. In addition, I wondered if this would mean limited playing time for Danny Welbeck and Chicharito. I wasn't sure if the acquisition was necessary and United still hadn't acquired a player that could help them with their midfield woes (we badly need a combative player there or one with a physical presence). It was hard not to, though, be excited about acquiring a player that had been genuinely world-class the past few years.
Since then, I've been thrilled with the signing as RvP has been superb. I've watched him play a lot in the past but I think he's actually a better player than I gave him credit for. He's meshed well with every attacker and his partnership with Rooney has been a delight. I wondered if Rooney might feel threatened as the alpha-dog on the team but he seems to be genuinely excited playing alongside RvP. For now, they are a wonderful duo and I expect them to wreak havoc on the Premier League and in Europe this season. Hopefully, though, things solidify in behind them and hopefully the signing didn't come at the expense of strengthening the midfield in the near future.
3. How do you feel about David De Gea's progression, and do you think he still ends up as a world-class keeper?
I'm a huge fan of de Gea and I anticipate that he will eventually develop into a world-class keeper. He's a tremendous shot-stopper -- maybe as good as anyone in the world -- and he has the knack for coming up with incredibly clutch saves (see at Chelsea last year on Juan Mata's free-kick at the death). He does, though, still leave much to be desired in his ability to command the box when crosses are whipped in. He struggled mightily with this at the beginning of last season but in the latter half of it, he was showing improvement. He's flapped at a few this year and because of it, he's been dropped at times -- harshly in my opinion -- for Anders Lindegaard. He's only 21-years-old though and that's such a young age for a goalkeeper at a big club. If United is patient with him, he'll naturally get stronger as his body matures and I'd be shocked if doesn't turn into a world-class keeper and the successor to Iker Casillas for Spain. I just hope it's at United and not elsewhere because the club and/or fans lost patience with him.
4. Antonio Valencia: Great winger? Or greatest winger?
Haha. A very good winger. The best out-and-out right-winger in England and maybe the best in the world. Tony is personally one of my favorite players and by all accounts, he's an amazing individual. He's such a simple player and old school in that you feed him the ball near the touchline, let him have a go at his marker, and he usually succeeds in beating that man to the byline so he can send in accurate crosses for the strikers. He's brilliant. He's deserved of wearing the famed United No.7 shirt (I'm going to pretend that Michael Owen wearing never happened).
5. Does Ashley Young have a future at Manchester United at this point?
With it seemingly becoming increasingly possible that Nani might be leaving the club soon, Ashley Young's importance at the club keeps going up. As previously mentioned, United are heavily reliant on wingers as they are one of the chief creators of chances. While the likes of Rooney, Welbeck, and Kagawa can play out wide, none of them are natural wingers in the mold of Valencia, Nani, or Young. I thought it was really telling that Young started the Chelsea game last weekend over Nani and this was despite him just returning from an injury that kept him out for the past two months. It's being speculated that Ferguson is limiting Nani's appearances until his contract situation is resolved (contract expires in the summer of 2014). United will surely find a replacement for Nani if he were to leave (James Rodriguez please) but Young will get plenty of games still. He'll be a squad player at worst and he has every opportunity to make the left flank his own.
6. How much longer do you see Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes playing, or are we past the point of there being any point in trying to predict this?
Quite honestly, I think both of these legends deserve to go out whenever they want. I believe, though, both will probably retire at season's end and it would be nice for them to do it together. Scholes is one of my two favorite footballers (the other being Park Ji-sung if you're curious) and he's still world-class on his day as a deep-lying playmaker. No one in England can spray the ball around the pitch like he can and really, his only rival in this regard is the great Andrea Pirlo. As long as he has his legs, I still think he can be an important player at the club next season if he decided to return. He can rest when he picks up his usual yellow card accumulation suspensions!
As for Giggs, he might have a statue some day at Old Trafford but I think his time might be up. He probably has tremendous influence in the dressing room as a leader and I don't think the the importance of this can be underestimated. However, his influence on the pitch is decreasing and at times, he's been a liability. He's a bit too sloppy with his distribution from the center of the park and he doesn't have the legs anymore to fly down the left touchline anymore. He is a physical freak though and it was amazing to see him go 120 minutes in this week's Captial One Cup tie at Chelsea and not even look one bit tired at the end. In contrast, even though Anderson was amazing in this same game, he looked exhausted when he came off in the 81st minute and he looked like was in need of a snack.
7. And finally, do you have a prediction for the match on Saturday?
I tend to shy away from predictions because Ferguson's lineups and tactics are always so unpredictable. I'll be a good sport though... 3-1 to United.
Thanks again to Gene!