This week, our opponent is one of the big boys. Manchester United have struggled a bit as of late, but they still have top notch talent and should give us some serious problems this weekend. I asked Mike Feeney of SBNation's Manchester United blog The Busby Babe about the Rooney fiasco, United's slouching defense, and the danger of Javier Hernandez.
Kevin McCauley: What did you make of the Wayne Rooney fiasco?
Mike Feeney: It's hard to know what to make of it to be honest. That was the strangest couple of days that I have ever experienced as a United supporter. My initial reaction was basically one of nonchalance. If a player wants to leave a club for whatever reason I don't really care. Better players than Rooney have left the club before and we have been fine without them. Fergie always has a player waiting in the wings to take over. I don't go in for all the, "he's a mercenary" type talk either. Loyalty just doesn't exist and really it shouldn't exist. Get as much money as you can while you are at the top of your game because soon enough you will be a has been. I still don't know what to think of the U-turn. Did he have nowhere else to go? Did the Glazers really pony up some money? Did Fergie talk him down from the ledge? Was it all orchestrated by his agent to get him more money? All of those options? None of them? I honestly don't know what to think. I do know one thing though. It will take a long time for supporters like myself to go back to caring about Rooney.
KM: How would the team have fared next year without him? Would Federico Macheda, Chicharito, and Danny Welbeck be able to come close to replacing his output?
MF: As I said above, Fergie always has a replacement ready and all of those players you mentioned would have been in line to replace Wayne. I am a big fan of Welbeck and have been for a while. I think next year is make or break for him at the club. I hope he gets enough games to show he is good enough for the top level of club football. Macheda is tricky. I think he burst onto the scene too soon. His game is still a work in progress but ever since that Villa game United fans have had expectations for him that he just can't live up to at this point. He looks to have all the tools though and the more he plays the sharper he will get. The Little Pea is really exciting. He is one of those guys who always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He makes great intelligent runs and is a finisher. He doesn't need three chances to put one away. He needs one. And he usually gets it. Rooney would have been a miss for sure but the next generation of United stars are on the rise through the ranks which is always exciting.
KM: Does it concern you that Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes still play such a big role for United? Are United in trouble when they retire?
MF: Not at all. I am glad they are still around and United will be fine when they retire. The experience they are able to pass on to the younger players is invaluable. And at Carrington the younger players interact with the first teamers from time to time. Just being around legends like Giggs and Scholes will have a positive effect on a young player. On the pitch I am not so sure we are overly reliant on them anymore. Giggs hasn't been involved much this season and Scholes can be a liability against teams who are quick in central locations. Replacing Scholes will be a priority as soon as January or at the least by next summer. United need to find a creative midfielder and names like Kaka, Sniejder and Van Der Vaart have been linked with the club at various points in the last few months. Young Norwegian Magnus Eikrem may ultimately be the one to come through the ranks at United and stake a claim for that role.
KM: What is United's best lineup and formation right now, in your opinion?
MF: That's a tough one. It could be 4-4-2 but I don't think Scholes has the legs to be part of a two man midfield anymore. I think that has been the biggest issue facing United this season so far. Berba doesn't operate well as a lone striker but Scholes needs some cover in the middle of the park. I would say 4-3-3 might be the way to go with VDS in goal. Evra, Rio, Vida, Rafael across the back. Scholes, Fletcher, Anderson in the middle of the park. Scholes the furthest forward of the three and Nani, Berba and Hernandez up front.
KM: What do you think has caused Dimitar Berbatov's resurgence this year?
MF: I am not sure that resurgence is even the right word. I have never been a Berba basher and always appreciated what he brought to the team. He has been more lethal in front of goal this season in part because he has stayed higher up the pitch more often. I think retiring from international play helped a little as well. But overall I think he has finally settled into the club and is comfortable being a United player.
KM: What are the causes of United's current defensive woes?
MF: It's funny because for the most part I don't think it's the fault of the defense. First of all United have just not killed off games when they have had a chance. We could have been five up at Goodison if they had been more economical in front of goal. Too many times this season United have wasted opportunities to go three or four up and it has come back to bite them. The midfield shares a lot of the blame as well. For one they have given the ball away cheaply far too often so far this season. And as mentioned Scholes' lack of pace has really been exploited by counter attacking teams this season. Evra, Rio (because of injury as much as anything), Vidic and Jonny Evans have all had their moments this season but the problems have started elsewhere.
KM: What you think about all of the various rumors about Van Der Sar replacements? Who would you like to see Ferguson buy to replace him?
MF: Honestly? Joe Hart. But that's never going to happen. And I can't believe I just said that about a City player, but he is top class. At the end of the day I just want to avoid a repeat of what happened when Schmiechel moved on. Manuel Neuer or Pepe Reina, I can't believe it happened again, would be good choices as well.
KM: What is Javier Hernandez's ceiling at United? Can he be a superstar, scoring 15-20 goals a season?
MF: I think 15-20 might be a little low. As I mentioned above he has all the attributes. Pace, finishing, close control and temperament. He makes great runs making it easier to provide him with service and he doesn't need to be asked twice when a chance falls at his feet. I think he and Berba could strike up a pretty scary partnership once they develop some chemistry. Chicharito looks to be one of the bargain buys of the summer and may end up in that group with Irwin, Keane, Cantona and Solskjaer as some of the great bargains in United history.
KM: I've heard a lot of Manchester United fans express disappointment at this summer's transfer policy. Did you expect more or bigger signings?
MF: Nope. I didn't expect anything. I have no trust in the Glazers and no faith that they really know what they are doing. I don't think they have money to spend and despite assurances to Rooney I am still skeptical. I would love them to prove they have the financial clout by going out in January and grabbing Defour and Torres (who I think we can get with a substantial bid) but I have no expectations that it can actually happen.
KM: What is United's ceiling in the league and Champions League this year? How about their floor?
MF: Ceiling in the league is top for sure. They still haven't been defeated and a couple wins against Chelsea and Arsenal, provided we get through tricky matches like Spurs this weekend, coming up will put us in the perfect spot to go for the title in the new year. Rooney finding form is very important for United long term though and of course he needs to get healthy as well. Champions League I think semi-final at best. As for their basement. I don't see United falling out of the top four at this point so I would say CL qualification at worst this season in the league. In the Champions League I would be surprised if they didn't get out of their group but any loss after that wouldn't be shocking. We just don't seem to have a spark in Europe right now. Maybe Chicharito gave us that with his late winner against Valencia.
KM: Finally, a prediction for this weekend's match?
MF: My heart says this is the match that kicks off United's season. My head thinks otherwise. I will say 2-2 with United throwing away yet another lead.