No one is going to pretend that this was a great year for Manchester United. Much of it was viewed from behind the sofa for fans of the club who are used to winning and winning in style.
But hope was restored in the second half of the year with the appointment and subsequent performance of Louis van Gaal. His team is nowhere near the finished article yet – a point that he makes virtually every week – but there is now an attacking verve and a zest about some of the play which has been missing since Fergie left. LvG wants to attack. And so do the fans. So here’s our take on the best Manchester United XI of 2014.
Manchester United (4-4-2)
David De Gea – Cat like. Glue on the gloves. Gets better every week. What more could you want as a Manchester United fan?
Patrice Evra – Luke Shaw has been brilliant when he’s played and will be a worldie in future years. But he’s been injured most of the season. Ashley Young has enjoyed a renaissance at wing back under LvG. But we have to give a reverential nod in the direction of the sublime Patrice Evra. Appeared more for Manchester United last season than virtually any other player and didn’t get the send off he deserved. One of his better campaigns for United.
Marcos Rojo – Manchester United’s central defensive area has been the weakest point of the team over the last year. Rio and Nemanja struggled with injuries and (relative) old age. The younger players sparkled at times but all had some howlers. As for Marcos Rojo, he started slowly but has been getting better with every game. His passing and positional play has improved and he’s really pacey. He’s growing into a quality centre back.
Michael Carrick – Phil Jones goes into our Strongest Current XI but he’s been out for so much of the year that he doesn’t sneak into the team of top United performers this year. Improbably Carrick has been one of United’s best defenders on the occasion he’s played there. His passing is of course missed from he midfield but he has been so solid at the back.
Antonio Valencia – Rafa has played well when he’s been fit but, like Shaw, he needs to be on the pitch every week to achieve. Meanwhile Antonio has been a proper team player for Manchester United. He gives his all wherever he plays on the right flank and every manager would want him in their squad for his tireless performances when called upon.
Daley Blind – Unspectacular. But so, in the main, is Carrick. And they perform similar functions for the team. Both rarely waste possession and both have lovely passing range. Blind settled in nicely before the injury.
Angel di Maria – Started like a train. Injury has deprived United of him lately and we haven’t seen the best of this guy yet. Still strolls into the best XI for this year.
Adnan Januzaj – Has had a fairly low key season under LvG. But let’s not forget that he was one of the brightest sparks of last season with some brilliant breakthrough performances to lighten the general gloom. Deserves his place in the best team of the calendar year.
Wayne Rooney – A beast of a player. Defends, tackles, passes and scores as well as anyone in the team. Manchester United have been truly blessed to count Rooney among their number and it didn’t take long for LvG – a proper football man – to see that Rooney is a proper player and a special character.
Juan Mata – Still has to persuade many – including us – that he deserves a place in the starting eleven. But his stats show that he has been one of the better performers in 2014 with 11 goals in 29 games since arriving for £37.1m in Jan.
RvP – Regular readers will know that we are massive fans of Radamel Falcao. And despite some patchy form this season and injury last, when you look at 2014 as a whole, RvP has to be picked head of the Colombian purely because he has played far more games and made a bigger contribution. Hopefully 2015 will see them both starting together.