By Ryan Benson
“That was not a Manchester United performance,” isn’t something Sir Alex Ferguson often says, but after crashing out of the League Cup to Crystal Palace on Wednesday, it’s exactly what the 69-year-old manager told MUTV.
The team Sir Alex put out was an entirely different XI to the one that drew with Newcastle on Saturday, however, it still included nine internationals and players recognised all over the globe, while Palace’s most well-known player was arguably the former Charlton and Newcastle midfielder Darren Ambrose.
The match bore a strong resemblance to last season’s humiliating League Cup exit, a 4-0 defeat at West Ham that occurred exactly one year before, as several players failed to carry their weight, while others effectively flushed their Manchester United careers away.
After the West Ham defeat, Gabriel Obertan, Bebe and John O’Shea found football hard to come by at Old Trafford and eventually left (Bebe only on-loan), while the reputations of Jonny Evans and Tomasz Kuszczak took huge dents.
Following the home loss to Palace, several more United players find their future in the balance, but some of them still have a chance to prove they’re worth keeping around.
|HOW THE TRIO RATED AGAINST PALACE
|6.0||The Bulgarian drifted in and out of the game. He linked midfield and attack neatly but chances were hard to come by. He was replaced by Morrison at half-time.|
| JONNY EVANS
|5.5||Looked shaky and was lucky to be playing alongside the impressive Smalling. He improved as the game went on but had to be helped out of a couple of awkward situations.|
| ANTONIO VALENCIA
|6.5||The winger caused Moxey problems down United’s right but was also called into defensive action. Missed the game’s first clear-cut chance in the 52nd minute|
The Bulgarian striker must be wondering what has gone wrong for him. Last season, the former Tottenham man finished joint top scorer in the Premier League with 20 goals, scored five in one game and finally looked as though he was showing the form that persuaded United to break their transfer record.
So far this term, he has been handed one start in the league and is yet to score. This time last year he already had 11 goals in seven appearances.
On Wednesday, Berbatov looked half-interested for a few moments, but was otherwise anonymous and hauled off at half-time for 18 year-old Ravel Morrison. The fact a player who cost more than £30 million now has to fight Mame Biram Diouf, Federico Macheda and Michael Owen for minutes on the field shows the his time at Old Trafford is coming to an end.
The emergence of Javier Hernandez has not helped his cause, but as soon as Danny Welbeck started the 3-0 win over Tottenham ahead of Berbatov, it was clear his future lay elsewhere.
After what was his worst performance in a Manchester United shirt against West Ham a year ago, Evans didn’t feature for over a month, a barren period that most thought would lead to his sale. However, since then, he has featured numerous times as cover and looked as though he had recovered some of his best form earlier on this season, but another clumsy performance on Wednesday evening suggested he is certainly disposable.
After spending a combined total of £28m on Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in the last 14 months, Evans will find continue to find it tough to show he is a potential replacement for either Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic, and will therefore only remain at Old Trafford if he is content to play back-up.
Valencia became an instant favourite at Old Trafford during his first season, forming an impressive understanding with Wayne Rooney, but last season’s leg break has severely hampered his progression. While Valencia was receiving treatment for his injury, Nani was ripping apart Premier League defences for fun. Although Valencia gave the Portuguese star a run for his money once he returned from injury, it only proved to be temporary having made just two starts this season, and links with AZ’s Rasmus Elm have begun to gather pace.
The ex-Wigan wideman seems to have lost that yard of pace that so often allowed him to jolt past left-backs before whipping in a cross, and that was little different against Crystal Palace.
There are few doubts about Valencia’s ability and he is certainly a good player to have as back-up, but his displays must improve if he wants to challenge Nani for that place on the right wing and prove United don’t need further reinforcements.