Last summer, we didn’t spend huge money on anyone, instead making three medium-sized transfers. The Premiership-proven Ashley Young suffered from faltering form, niggling injuries and uncertainty as to his place in the team, although it looks likely that he will play a key role in the coming season.
Our other two investments last summer were David De Gea and Phil Jones, at about £18m each. Dave started badly and grew as the season went on, whilst Phil hit the ground running and faded badly as the season went on, barely scraping onto the plane to Euro 2012 thanks to injuries and Rio Ferdinand’s ostracism.
Their first season now out of the way, it’s time for both to start to truly justify the price tags and praise that they attracted last summer. Both have delivered sporadically, but now is the time for them to deliver consistently.
De Gea suffered a nightmare start. Unfairly blamed for Edin Dzeko’s wicked strike in the Community Shield, and then completely correctly blamed for Shane Long’s tame equalizer against WBA a week later, he was absolutely hammered in the media. Articles about our “goalkeeper curse” were ten-a-penny with every idiot going ready to compare the talented Spaniard to Massimo Taibi. Taibi himself was a talented keeper who played over 250 Serie A games after leaving Old Trafford, but don’t let facts get in the way of a good mickey taking, eh?
De Gea initially lost his place to Anders Lindegaard but, after the Dane suffered an injury, De Gea made himself undroppable, with outstanding performances against Stoke and a save-of-the-season contender in the last minute of the 3-3 at Stamford Bridge. He has returned to the form that initially attracted United to splash out on the Athletico Madrid stopper, who won the UEFA cup at 19 years of age.
The signs look good ahead of the new season – Dave has been assured and pulled off a string of great saves against Barcelona.
Unfortunately, Jones will go into the new season carrying a back niggle that has kept him out of contention since United travelled to Norway. Such injuries are expected with young players who are still growing, but it will be frustrating for the lad to miss out on a full pre-season. One of the most popular theories as to his decline towards the end of the season was that he was just completely knackered, having to play many games due to our injury crisis and even breaking into the England team during the campaign.
The potential that Jones possesses is massive. Personally, I see him as a central midfield option down the line, his energy and physical presence is simply too impressive to expend anywhere else on the field. His performances at right-back came in a alien position and, given the ability of Rafael, I don’t expect Jones to end up there long term.
Once we get into the meat of the season, into October and November, I expect Jones to be pushing to renew his partnership with Carrick in the center of the field. With Michael’s nous and Jones’ pure physical presence and improving ball play feeding Kagawa as a forward link, we would, for all the negativity about our central positions, be as strong as anyone else in the league.
If both deliver, both have long careers at United ahead of them. Unfortunately given their price tags and promise, a season of stagnation will see some of our less patient fans write them off. What a shame that would be.