The last month of the Premier League season has been one of disappointment for Manchester United supporters. An eight point lead in the title race dwindled into a second place spot based on point differential. As rivals Manchester City ascended up the table by playing proficient and convincing football, Manchester United, on the other hand, has looked unorganized and uninterested. Even though these problems have magnified themselves during the recent weeks, United has not played their attacking style of football in months. The lack of quality has manifested itself in different areas of the club. Not only has there been a drop in talent on the roster, but United has exhibited a lackadaisical attitude all season long.
Because of their storied past, Manchester United bring a certain aura when they step onto the pitch. Being one of the most successful clubs in Europe for the better part of a century gives United a psychological advantage against other clubs. In recent years, names like Beckham, Ronaldo, and Keane would give other clubs concerns in pre-match preparations. The current version of the Red Devils, however, does not inspire that same fear. Outside of Wayne Rooney, whose role has been altered in an attempt to aid a weak central midfield, United do not have those big names that opposing managers rue having to face. The attacking force of Antonio Valencia, Nani, Danny Welbeck, and Javier Hernandez have missed time with injuries and when fit they have shown their limitations. These players have the look of being quality supporting players, but not stars.
Even with this lack of star power, Manchester United has played down to its competition for most of the year. The idea that United could just go through the motions against smaller clubs and then flick a switch and play with more intensity in the bigger matches is a strategy that cost them a chance at the league title. This disinterested mindset lead to their inability to get out of the group stage of the Champions League as United struggled against smaller clubs like Basel and Benfica. It is also what caused the Red Devils to drop matches to Blackburn and Wigan during the second half of the season. Many in the media have proclaimed that United lost the title when they were defeated at Manchester City earlier this month. That was a devastating defeat that brought the clubs level on points. But in the grand scheme of things, United lost out on the title when they missed out on six points against two clubs fighting relegation and allowing Everton score two late goals at Old Trafford in April. Along with their apathetic approach for most of the season this current version of the club’s unearned arrogance has gotten in the way of a twentieth league title.
Some of the blame can be put at the feet of Sir Alex Ferguson. During the last summer transfer window, he chose to buy younger players instead of spending money on veteran talent. Although Phil Jones and Ashley Young have shown moments of ability and keeper David De Gea has improved after a shaky start, none of them have done much to bolster Manchester United’s title chances this season. Bringing in these young players to an already youthful United squad lead to inconsistent performances throughout the fixture lists. It takes some time for young players to mature and adjust to the rigors of Premier League football. Many of the Manchester United players are not to that point yet. Comparing United’s roster to its counterparts on the continent, clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich have far superior talent and depth than the Red Devils at this point.
Manchester United will most likely finish second in the table to Manchester City. This will be a very humbling experience for most supporters. The lessons to be taken away from this disappointing campaign are the importance of each match that appears on the fixture list and that no opponent should be looked upon lightly. Over the summer months, Manchester United will have to find that killer edge that made them one of the most feared clubs in Europe. The United coaching staff will have to use this season as an example of the work and determination that is required to compete at the highest level.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @thehackreport.