Grading Manchester United's Performance at the Halfway Point of the Season
With the season now at it's half-way point, I thought it would be a good idea to give Manchester United a mid-term report card.
This list will analyse on your classic A-F scale exactly how well the team have done in regards to performances in the Premier League, Champions League and Capital One Cup, as well as taking a more detailed look at all aspects of the Red Devil's squad, from offence to defence.
So without further ado, let's see how well United have done thus far this year.
In truth, if it weren't for a run of four successive league victories which have seen United climb to within two points (before the start of today's play) of the Champions League places, this already poor grade would be a lot lower.
An abysmal start to the season has been in part rectified this month, albeit against weak opposition.
Still, as many clubs find to their detriment these games against the "lesser" sides are what makes or breaks you come the end of the season.
Owing to the extremely tight and competitive nature of this season's EPL, amazingly United still have an outside hope of winning the title.
While this is very unlikely to pan out into a serious push for the trophy, that fact alone saves this poor start at least to a small degree.
What has been a poor start domestically for the club has been far from the case this year in Europe.
Coming out of a tricky UEFA Champions League group without losing a single game (four wins and two draws) earned United a relatively easy tie against Greek side Olympiakos in the last 16 of the tournament.
One of the highlights of United's campaign so far came in Germany, as the English Champions managed to go out and humiliate the Bundesliga's current second place side, Bayer Leverkusen, by demolishing them 5-0.
All in all things have been good for the Red Devils in Europe thus far.
While it is unlikely that they have much of a hope of winning the competition, Liverpool showed back in 2005 that league form does not translate into Champions League performances, so there is always an outside hope while the club remain in the tournament.
Capital One Cup
Considering that United had to face all Premier League opposition to make it to the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup (Liverpool, Norwich and Stoke), there is certainly some credit to their progression in this slightly lackluster competition.
While most fans would view this as the poor man's FA Cup, it is, after all, still a trophy worth fighting for.
This is a very realistic chance at a piece of early silverware for David Moyes, who I'm sure would be keen to grab the chance with both hands.
It's a lonely old time being the manager of a football club that expects instant results.
David Moyes was always going to have one of the toughest jobs in world sport when he stepped up as successor to the near mythical figure of Sir Alex Ferguson.
For the most part, Moyes initially struggled to really get a hold of his players and was prone to shifting the team around a lot, as he tried to find his "best side".
In the last couple of months there seems to be a lot more of an equilibrium in that regard, and unsurprisingly this has translated into much better results on the pitch.
Transitional periods are challenging at the best of times, but when it's happening at a stable club like Manchester United it's an absolute nightmare.
Moyes' poor early performance has been somewhat forgiven as he slowly steadies the United ship.
If this gradual improvement continues, then going into next season United will once again be title contenders.
Defence and Goalkeeper
Some may argue that goalkeeping and defence should not be on the same slide.
I understand those qualms, but in my eyes they are embodied in the same department regarding responsibilities and duties.
In truth, if it weren't for the excellent displays that David de Gea has put on in the United goal this season, that "D+" would probably find itself a lot closer to the F range.
In my 18 years following the club I have never seen a United side defending as shoddily as they have been on such a regular basis.
Almost every game there is an example of a goal being scored by the opposition where even the most inexperienced defender should be able to spot a glaring issue and prevent the side from conceding.
In Sir Alex's autobiography, he states that all of his United sides were built around a solid pair of centre-backs.
This kind of approach really needs to be adopted again if the side want to keep up with the rest of the top teams in England.
Again, much like their defence, the United midfield has been far from good enough this year.
The signing of Marouane Fellaini was possibly one of the biggest wastes of money (if not the biggest) in the history of the club, and players like Tom Cleverley, Shinji Kagawa and Ashley Young have done little to show any signs of taking that step up to the top level required at United.
While the return of Darren Fletcher and the emergence of the promising young talent Adnan Januzaj have been two areas for the fans to get excited about, for the most part it's still the same old story at Manchester United regarding their weakest area.
It's remarkable really with a midfield as poor as this one that the side are still even in with a sniff of the league title.
Serious improvements must be made over the January transfer window. This is not an option.
Thankfully, as poor as the defence and midfield have been this season, the one constant in the team's performances is a skilled attacking line-up.
Despite missing a vast proportion of the season, Robin van Persie showed at the start of the year that he is in as good a goalscoring form as ever.
His partnership with United's thus far player of the season, Wayne Rooney, was a marvel to behold, and many United fans will be eager to see the two linking up together once again.
What has also been incredibly encouraging in the last few weeks is the sudden re-emergence of Danny Welbeck's scoring touch.
Having had a terrible time at United prior to this year, Danny has now scored four times in the last four Premier League games (six for the season in total).
Considering he is regularly battling it out with RVP, Rooney and Javier Hernandez for a spot in the side, that is a fairly impressive return in front of goal.
This is one area that the club doesn't need to worry about so much right now—which is at least some comfort, I'm sure, for Moyes.
Overall Grade: C+
Overall then, United find themselves with a mediocre grade for what has thus far been a poor to mediocre season.
The recent good spell of form has been a drastic aide following the horrific start that the team made to the season, and may well be enough to secure Champions League football come the end of the year.
With a home game against Tottenham Hotspur coming up next weekend, this is the perfect opportunity for United to go out and show the league that they still mean business.
Whatever happens, the side must be built upon in January if they want any chance of keeping their league hopes alive.
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