The 20th Premier League campaign kicks off in August and SAF faces a bit of a dilemma in the striking department for next season not through a lack of choice but quite the opposite, the possibilities are endless. The meteoric rise of Javier Hernandez; the return of loaned strikers Danny Welbeck, Mame Biram Diouf and Federico Macheda from Sunderland, Blackburn and Sampdoria respectively; the signing of a 1 year contract extension for Michael Owen; the seasoned duo of Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney. All in all, SAF is spoilt with 7 possible striking options to choose from next season and the question now stands, who will he choose to utilise in his squad for next season?
Now, there are obviously a few things that can be taken for granted here, three to be exact. Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez struck up a ferocious partnership in the season post-January as they brought the best out in each other. As Wayne Rooney dropped into the hole, Javier Hernandez was the moving target at the top that allowed Rooney to be creatively free across the pitch, drifting hitherto from the centre to the flanks in order to gain the space he needed to work his magic and it showed. Rooney may have had his least prolific season in front of goal since 2004 with 11 in the Premier League but he managed to bag himself 11 assists on the way, showing just how important the partnership of Hernandez was. Javier stormed to 20 goals in what was one of the best debut seasons a United player has had in recent times; his lightning movement and intelligent forward play on the shoulder of the last man, as well as his incredibly ability to finish with every part of his body (literally) meant that Rooney and Hernandez were pretty much inseparable towards the latter part of the season, much to the frustrations of Dimitar Berbatov.
The thing that many fans may well have forgotten in the hype of the Rooney-Hernandez partnership was that up until the winter period last season, Dimitar Berbatov and Nani pretty much single handedly took United to the top of the table. The form of Berbatov was something that we had all craved as United fans and it looked for every moment that he had turned into the £30 million man that we had been wanting to see ever since he joined from Tottenham Hotspur in 2008.
It just goes to show how much confidence can change a player as everything seemed to be working for the Bulgarian, even managing to net a record equalling 5 goals against Birmingham on the way. I was lucky enough to be at that match as I was in Manchester doing some primary research for some work and Berbatov just pranced round the hallowed turf with such a natural elegance and ease that he really looked like he was coming into his own as a striker. For me, Berbatov has to remain at Old Trafford next season; rumours are rife that he could be moving away on the back of getting his hands on the Premier League Golden Boot, a bit of a juxtaposition if you ask me, as he could well leave on a Bosman next season as his contract comes to an end. We can’t replace his 20 goals with any immediate effect and his experience could be key next season as well look for number 20, especially at a time when we are seeing so many retiring experienced players as well as an influx of youth into the squad.
Now, this is where the guarantees end for me personally, although the future of Berbatov is definitely not secure by any stretch of the imagination. Michael Owen still remains a fringe striker despite getting rewarded with a 1 year contract extension and his place will now be hotly contested with the return of Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda. I will say now that I do not think that Diouf has any place at United, playing time will be a rare commodity next season and I think it will be wasted on this lad so I hope we sell him on this summer. He hasn’t impressed me in his time at Blackburn and just looks a bit clumsy on the ball and not ready for the big time. For me, Danny Welbeck is the biggest challenger to Owen for his spot in the squad. His performances at Sunderland last season, notably at Chelsea away, spoke volumes of his progress under the management of Steve Bruce. He has the tenacity of youth and combined with the natural talent he possesses, I think he deserves to be given his chances with the team next season. As for Federico Macheda, I am not so sure; ever since he set himself in the hearts of United fans with his stunning debut goal against Aston Villa, he has had a fall from grace that led to him being loaned off to Serie A outfit Sampdoria. Unfortunately for him, the loan spell didn’t see him make any progress and he returns to United this season the same player that left. I think he needs to be loaned out to a Premier League team such as Bolton to help him step up as a professional and then he may be able to get his chances in SAF’s squad.
Where does this leave the situation then? It all depends on whether SAF chooses to cash in on Dimitar Berbatov or give him the next season he so rightfully deserves. It will represent a big gamble from the gaffer if he chooses to sell Berbatov and put pressure on our other players to score but the signs are there that he will sell him. The purchase of Ashley Young indicates that SAF is moving more towards the prospect of solidifying a 4-3-3 formation at United and unfortunately for Berbatov, he just doesn’t fit into this. He could be considered surplus to requirements for the future and SAF may take the tough decision to sell. If he does this, then Danny Welbeck is all but guaranteed to get a lot of chances next season to prove his worth. Michael Owen will most likely remain the bench warming player he has been over the 2 years and make some cameo performances over the year, knocking in another winner against City won’t do him any harm. I think Macheda will struggle to get chances next season but SAF does like to place faith in his youth, so he may well give him an opportunity to prove himself again. All in all, it is nice to be faced with a selection choice at Old Trafford but there will definitely have to be some cuts before the season starts but as to who is going to be culled, we can only speculate!