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The trio have all disappointed this season, meaning Sir Alex Ferguson must look to add to the summer recruitment of Wilfried Zaha to keep the league leaders at the top

COMMENT
By Sam Lee

For years, a tough-tackling, ball-playing central midfielder had been top of the wish list for Manchester United fans.

He was almost mythical; there were rarely any set names, just a list of requirements. He would have to be the new Roy Keane, somebody to put his foot in, shield the defence, and rouse the troops in the big games. Goals would be nice, too. As the European game, and gradually the Premier League, became more obsessed with possession, the emphasis on tackling became reduced and, certainly this season, there was a greater need for a deep-lying creative force - though not as deep as the excellent Michael Carrick.

WIDE PROBLEMS
NANI
2011-12 2012-13
Assists: 10
Cross accuracy: 22%
Dibble success: 63%
Chances created: 68
Chances converted: 16%
Assists: 2
Cross accuracy: 15%
Dibble success: 53%
Chances created: 10
Chances converted: 8%
ANTONIO VALENCIA
2011-12 2012-13
Assists: 13
Cross accuracy: 22%
Dibble success: 55%
Chances created: 65
Chances converted: 20%
Assists: 4
Cross accuracy: 15%
Dibble success: 47%
Chances created: 42
Chances converted: 0%
ASHLEY YOUNG
2011-12 2012-13
Assists: 7
Cross accuracy: 21%
Dibble success: 51%
Chances created: 42
Chances converted: 18%
Assists: 3
Cross accuracy: 24%
Dibble success: 48%
Chances created: 35
Chances converted: 0%
The thing is, United did buy a creative force last summer. But Shinji Kagawa was signed at the start of June 2012 to play behind the striker. At that point, the purchase of Robin van Persie was not on the cards. The plan at the time, seemingly, would have been to play Kagawa behind the lone forward - Wayne Rooney.

Van Persie's arrival threw those plans for Kagawa out of the window, but the Japan international was not the only victim.

A multi-million pound move for Lucas Moura was being lined up, only to be put on the backburner as negotiations for the Dutchman progressed.

As it transpires, the Brazilian winger, who ended up at Paris Saint-Germain, would have been exactly what United crave this season. Sir Alex Ferguson's three wide players, Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, have been poor throughout the campaign.

In fact, since being dumped out of the Champions League by Real Madrid, all of United's attacking players have struggled to come up with the goods in front of goal.

Much has been made of Van Persie's goal drought, but in the six games since Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford, United have scored just seven times. The first was created by Carrick, who has been Sir Alex's stand-out player in recent weeks, while three have come from set-pieces, one was an own goal, one a penalty, and one, against Reading, was heavily deflected and relied on a rare upfield burst from Rio Ferdinand.

Whether United have taken their foot off the gas - or if there is no gas left - is unknown, but what is for sure is that Nani, Valencia and Young have tailed off significantly from last season - and their Old Trafford futures are under threat.

The performances of all three men tell a story of their own, but the numbers that accompany their Premier League showings are starker still (current totals for 2012-13 shown in brackets). At his best in 2011-12, Valencia provided 13 assists (four), created 65 chances (42), including 10 clear-cut chances (six), boasted a shooting accuracy of 47% (20%), dribbling accuracy of 55% (47%), a shot conversion rate of 20% (0%), and entered the penalty area 78 times (30).

He has played fewer games during the current campaign, but has so far been dispossessed 37 times, six more than in the whole of last season.

Young, who has also struggled with injuries, fares no better. He assisted seven times last season (three), created 42 chances (35), boasted shot and dribbling rates of 62% (50%) and 51% (48%) respectively, converted 18% (0%) of his chances, entered the penalty area 64 (54) times and made 75 (60) passes into the final third.

Nani, so long the enigma, is probably having his worst season at Old Trafford to date. He has been hampered by injuries, but has put in some shocking performances when available, particularly against Chelsea in the FA Cup sixth-round replay.

Last season his crossing accuracy was 22% (15%), his dribbling success 63% (53%), he made 10 assists (two), created 68 chances (10), converted 16% of his chances (8%), entered the penalty area 108 times (26), and made 107 passes into the final third (32). Quite a dramatic drop off, even considering injury.

Sir Alex will be wary of a renewed title charge from rivals Manchester City next season, and also believes Chelsea will be in the frame should Jose Mourinho return to Stamford Bridge. The Scot has long been aware that a title-winning squad must not rest on its laurels, and that belief will only have been reinforced after seeing complacency kill off City's championship defence before it had even begun.

He will not allow his side to suffer a similar fate, and is keen to bolster his squad all over the pitch. Wilfried Zaha has already been brought in, but Sir Alex will not take the risk of allowing the talented 20-year-old to carry United's wide threat by himself in his first Premier League season.

There are certainly problems in the centre of the pitch too, with Anderson keen to leave and Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs nearing the end of their illustrious careers but while United will surely be looking to strengthen both areas, the need for a quality wide player is simply the No.1 priority if Sir Alex wants to usher in another period of prolonged Premier League dominance.

Statistics provided by EPLIndex


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