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Football Manager 2023: An initial assessment of Man United’s current squad

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This article originally appeared on manunitedanalysis.com

When starting a new Football Manager save, the first day is the most important. From drawing up your tactical plans to setting up your recruitment network, there are numerous tasks to complete. At the heart of them lies assessing your squad, as gaining a thorough understanding of your players will allow you to determine your short and long-term plans. This assessment must be a rather comprehensive one, as there are many elements to consider.

Using Football Manager 2022, and FMInside’s latest transfer and squad update, we will conduct an assessment of Manchester United’s squad as we head into Football Manager 2023. This article will consider the information provided as soon as a new save is started, without any changes to the staff or squad. In addition to the latest transfers and squad updates, FMInside’s update also includes new contracts and staff additions.

This article will look to provide a detailed insight into Man United’s squad, considering factors such as team dynamics, age profile, contract lengths, youth prospects, and of course, quality. Obviously, players’ ratings and attributes along with PA/CA (Potential Ability and Current Ability) will be different in Football Manager 2023, so it is important to keep that in mind.

Club culture and objectives

It is important to understand where we are going before looking at how we are getting there. In order to contextualise this squad assessment, we will have a look at the Red Devils’ club culture and objectives, which are of course determined by the board.

As seen in the image below, youth is an important factor. Signing players under the age of 23 for both the future and the first team are preferred and developing players using the club’s youth academy is required. However, United are one of the biggest clubs in the world and immediate success is crucial. In the first season, the board expects you to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, a difficult task, and reach the final of the Europa League. Consequently, a balance must be found in the age profile, especially to maximise the young players’ development.

Furthermore, the board demands an attacking and entertaining style of football. Though these are more important when developing your tactics, these demands must still be considered when assessing the squad. As a consequence, ensuring the players have both the characteristics and the quality to play this style of football is necessary. Finally, working within the wage budget is also required. Though the transfer and wage budget will change in FM23, Man United are always one of the richest clubs in the game. While it is still important to consider this, it is not a primary concern.

Overview

By going to the Squad section and clicking on the Squad Depth tab, you are able to find an extremely helpful guide to your squad depth. Using your preferred formation, you are able to identify any strengths and weaknesses in your personnel. For this article, we will choose a 4-2-3-1 Wide as that allows us to see the most popular positions. Additionally, we will be using the opinion of Mike Phelan, who, according to the game, is United’s best Assistant Manager.

In this first image, we are able to see the midfield and attacking options at Old Trafford. Surprisingly, Antony does not rank very highly among the Red Devils’ attackers. However, in FM23, this should be expected to change. Nonetheless, there are very versatile options able to operate in numerous roles and positions. There are various problems in these sectors though, and we will explore those further in the following sections of this article.

In the back, the situation is slightly different. Although depth is not an issue, quality may turn out to be one. Of course, the updated PA/CA in FM23 may change this, for better or worse. At any rate, there are a healthy number of options in each position.

Finally, a general comparison report sheds more light on the players at Old Trafford in comparison to the rest of the Premier League. As far as age, United have the ninth oldest squad with an average age of 26.00, slightly above the average of 25.55. As expected, they have the highest average player wage at £7,510,000 p/a. Height is another notable characteristic of this side as they have the fifth tallest team, with an average of 183cm. Along with the fifth-highest heading ability (10.64), set-pieces may be an effective tool going forward.

Goalkeepers

Starting at the goal, the Red Devils have three options. David De Gea is the clear first option, with Tom Heaton and Martin Dubravka being the backup keepers. As far as attributes, United are quite average in this department. While the two backups certainly weigh this down, De Gea’s attributes are not very impressive either. In traditional goalkeeping abilities such as reflexes, handling, and aerial ability, the three goalies rank very above average. However, when looking at more sweeper-keeper and ball-playing duties such as kicking, throwing, and agility, they rank incredibly low, especially for a club the size of Man United.

De Gea will be 32 years old at the start of the FM23, and Dubravka and Heaton will be 33 and 36, respectively. Additionally, all three keepers will have expiring contracts at the end of the first season (Dubravka’s loan expires), and Dean Henderson, 25, will be back from loan at the same time. Considering this, riding out the first season with the current goalkeeping options may be the best option. However, in the summer of 2023, signing a goalkeeper would be a priority. The most probable step would be to evaluate Dean Henderson’s loan spell, decide whether he should be your number one option, and sign accordingly. There are not many promising goalkeepers rising out of the academy either, so signing a third keeper for the future may also be an option.

Defenders

In the backline, as far as attributes go, the current players are well-balanced. They are at least average in every attribute, with a few standing out more than others. Of course, these only consider defending duties, so ball-playing and attacking abilities must be looked at separately. Nonetheless, as far as defending, the current options at the back are solid. Upgrading these to correspond them with a club the size of Manchester United will be a medium to long-term task, as you would want them to rank very above average in every aspect.

Specifically, however, there are a couple of problems that must be addressed. As seen in the overview, depth is not an initial problem. There are at least two players in each position, with some having more than others. Quality, on the other hand, is an issue. At the right-back position, Diogo Dalot and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are your two options. While Dalot is still young and very good, Wan-Bissaka is far from ideal. The 24-year-old is extremely limited going forward, and as you are required to play attacking and entertaining football, he may prove a liability. His contract runs up to the summer of 2024, so looking to sell and replace him may be a priority in the first or second transfer window.

In the centre-back position, the situation is more favourable. As in real life, Lisandro Martínez and Raphaël Varane should be the starting options. That leaves Harry Maguire, Phil Jones, Axel Tuanzebe, and Victor Lindelöf. Phil Jones should be moved on as soon as possible, while Maguire and Lindelöf can be squad players. Tuanzebe is a decent and young squad option, but his development is coming to an end and a decision must be made there. In the future, pursuing a second left-footed centre-back should be looked at, but this is not a pressing issue.

At left-back, Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia should provide a healthy competition. Luke Shaw’s contract expires after the first season, and, in my opinion, renewing it should be a priority. If not, you may wait for Alex Telles to return from his loan and/or either sell or let Luke Shaw leave for free.

In summary, the right-back position requires immediate attention. Trimming must be done in the centre-back department, but there are no pressing issues. On the left, there is a decision to make regarding Luke Shaw, but, in my opinion, no action is needed there besides renewing his contract.

Midfielders

Manchester United’s current midfield lacks both balance and depth. When observing the comparison report below, which looks at key midfield attributes among midfielders, we are able to notice a few trends. First, the midfield is highly technical. With players like Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen, attributes like passing and technique rank extremely high. While teamwork and stamina also rank high, tackling is extremely underwhelming. This highlights United’s lack of defensive midfielders.

Aside from youth prospects, there are six midfielders at Old Trafford. Scott McTominay, Casemiro, Fred and Donny van de Beek are the deeper options, while Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen are the more advanced players. In this section of the pitch, the future of these players will be dependent on your specific tactics. Nonetheless, we are still able to assess the strengths and weaknesses in the middle of the park.

While Casemiro will provide leadership and quality in the midfield for years to come, McTominay raises questions. The Scottish midfielder lacks the ability to progress forward and create. The same situation can be said about Fred. However, both are extremely effective defensively. Depending on your tactics, they may fit as ball-winning midfielders on a defending duty. On the other hand, if you wish to have technical and creative midfielders, you will have to offload them throughout the next few seasons.

Donny van de Beek is a versatile and balanced midfielder. While his tackling and marking are slightly lower, his passing, vision, teamwork, and work rate are all very good. Either as an advanced playmaker or a central midfielder, he can perform multiple roles in the midfield as a solid squad player.

As in real life, Christian Eriksen can perform in a deeper role and assist in the build-up as well as play an advanced role. For the first season or two, he can perform as a deep-lying creative midfielder given the current lack of options. In further seasons, he can become a backup to Bruno Fernandes as he finishes his contract.

Finally, Bruno Fernandes is the centre-piece of this Manchester United side. In the game, nearly all of his stats are over 15. Additionally, with three years left on his contract and at the age of 27, you will enjoy the prime years of the Portuguese star.

In summary, United has a dynamic and balanced midfielder, but with a few weaknesses. The significance of these will depend on your tactics and roles. Nonetheless, the current players should certainly be enough for the first season.

Attackers

Including the wingers, Man United’s attack is incredibly confusing. While Antony is a clear left-footed right-winger and Cristiano Ronald a centre-forward, the other players have no clear position. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are both able to play on the right wing or up top. Jadon Sancho can play on either wing or Anthony Elanga is able to play anywhere in attack. Given this versatility and lack of defined roles, it is hard to assess this section of the pitch.

Attributes-wise, the attack does not lack quality at all. The problem, however, is tactical. On the right wing, Antony is a clear choice, especially as he is left-footed. There are no other left-footed wingers though, so the popular inverted-winger and inside-forward roles on the right would not be effective outside Antony. On the left wing, there is an overwhelming depth with a couple of options also being able to play up top.

Signing a backup left-footed winger, preferably young with high potential, will be one of the priorities in the attack. Additionally, signing a natural centre-forward to replace Ronaldo is another priority. Otherwise, it is just a case of playing around with the attacking options within your tactics and determining which will, or not, be a part of your long-term plans.

Conclusion

Unlike many top clubs, starting a save with Manchester United comes with many issues to resolve. Especially in the squad, there is a lack of balance and depth in certain areas. This balance may be regarding characteristics, attributes, or others. At any rate, it is important to develop a plan to tackle these issues over the first few seasons and stabilise the squad. Adhering to the club culture while still considering squad dynamics, objectives, and others is also key. Your tactical options in the first few seasons will certainly be limited, but there is enough to build around and take the Red Devils back to the top.

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