In-depth preview of Manchester United at the World Cup

by Sam Peoples

We have already covered De Gea and Mata’s involvement in the World Cup but here is The Peoples Person’s insight into every United player who will be competing in Brazil.

Antonio Valencia

Despite the loss of his best friend Christian “Chucho” Benitez, Valencia, who was also named captain after the tragic loss, managed to help Ecuador to qualify for the World Cup when all hope seemed lost.

A defeat against Chile put qualification in doubt but a draw against was enough for Ecuador to qualify, and they could pull off another coup by at least qualifying for the round of 16.

The task befalling Ecuador is not a difficult one. In their way stand France, Switzerland and Honduras.

Despite their Reinaldo Ruerdas claims that his side will reach the semi, they will find it tough to finish top of their group, particularly with France in fine form, but if they beat Switzerland then they will have a strong claim on second.

And despite a poor club season, Valencia, who made his debut during qualification for the 2006 World Cup, scoring two goals in a 5-2 victory against Paraguay, will be pivotal to his sides chances.

Faraway from the pressure which burdened him, when he received the number 7 shirt, Valencia has fully deserved the captaincy, and despite recent indiscretions against England, he has revelled in it.

Liberated from the pressures from Old Trafford, Valencia is crucial for his national side.

Valencia, who is one of the Afro-Ecuadorians who make up 5% of his country, is often deployed centrally for his country, will likely start on the right at the World Cup, where his form is altogether different to that at Old Trafford.

He is faster, more decisive and carries more of a threat from his crosses.

A good World Cup and with a more forward thinking manager, will do Valencia a world of good and he may yet regain the form which saw him light up Old Trafford.

Caps:71 | Goals:8

Javier Hernandez

A bit part player for club. A key player for country. Hernandez revels in the larger role given to him.

The little pea has averaged more than a goal every two games for Mexico, scoring 35 goals from 58 matches.

But apart from the 2010-11 season, Hernandez has never really nailed down a place in the starting eleven for United and could leave this summer, after becoming disenchanted under David Moyes.

However, his second World Cup could see a change in his fortunes.

The striker first made his debut in 2009, in a 2-1 defeat against Colombia and later played a key part of Mexico’s impressive run in the 2010 World Cup.

He scored in a 2-0 victory over France, as Mexico went on to finish second in the group, only to be paired with Argentina in the round of 16.

The Argentines were too much for them and Mexico crashed out in a 3-1 defeat, but Hernandez started the game and scored the consolation for his side.

When he joined up with United after a summer move, he pushed Dimitar Berbatov out of the side, and scored 20 goals in all competitions, as well as featuring in a Champion’s League final.

He has failed to better that total for the reds, but came close in the 2012-13 season, scoring 18 goals in 36 matches, but the majority of them were from the bench.

A good World Cup this time around, could at least convince Louis Van Gaal that Hernandez has what it takes to be at least third choice striker, particularly with Danny Welbeck said to be looking to leave.

Shinji Kagawa

 

 
The Japanese player has become somewhat of a mythical figure for United.

When he isn’t playing, fans wonder why and complain if United suffer a defeat, something which was a frequent occurrence last season.

But when it started, he often went missing in games and only came to life in the second half of the season when Juan Mata joined the club.

For his national side, he remains a key component of a very fluid Japan side which could shock at this World Cup.

Lining up as a number ten in a attacking 4-2-3-1 formation, Kagawa is crucial to his country’s forward play, and on the whole has been hugely impressive against any side.

Since his debut in a Kirin Cup friendly victory over Ivory Coast, Kagawa has gone on to make 57 appearances, scoring 19 goals.

But he was not selected to go the last World Cup, where Japan reached the round of 16, so will be looking to help his country get further this time around.

Kagawa was able to experience the atmosphere in Brazil for the Confederations Cup, last year, where he scored one goal in a thrilling 4-3 defeat to Italy.

Recent signs, such as conceding two goals in the opening ten minutes to Zambia have suggested that Japan have not sorted out their defensive frailties

But with Greece, Colombia and Ivory Coast in their group, they should have enough to get through to the round of 16 at least.

Caps:57 | Goals:19

Robin Van Persie

When Louis Van Gaal first took over, Van Persie was relegated to the bench, as he opted for Klaas Jan-Huntelaar

But the striker has worked his way into Van Gaal’s good graces, and is now even captain of the side, with Van Persie saying that his relationship with Van Gaal is the best he’s had with any manager.

However, both Van Gaal and Van Persie will be hoping for a better goal tally this time around.

Van Persie may be willing to walk on hot coals for his manager, but it would be much more better if he would score some goals.

At least at the World Cup tournament itself.

In his previous two World Cups, he has scored just two goals. One in 2006 and one in 2010.

But now, at the peak of his career, he needs to aim higher. A lot higher.

He finished top scorer in qualification scoring 11 goals, and will hope to continue that in Brazil, with a manager that has given him everything he asked for.

Score enough goals and Van Persie could yet give Van Gaal the biggest prize of the lot ahead of him taking charge at Old Trafford.

Honorary mention to Louis Van Gaal

Despite an assortment of trophies from his time at Ajax, Barcelona, AZ Alkmaar and Bayern Munich, Louis Van Gaal has unfinished business with the Netherlands.

His last spell in charge of the national side in 2002, was an unmitigated disaster as they failed to qualify for the first time since 1986, sparking somewhat of a managerial crisis for Van Gaal, who went on to have a bad spell in charge of Barcelona, before enjoying a revival with AZ Alkmaar.

But with a youthful and vibrant squad, Van Gaal was able to write the wrongs of 2002, as he moulded an exceptional team into his own image and they stormed the qualification process, clinch their place on the plane to Brazil with one game to spare with a 8-1 victory over Hungary.

Prior to taking over at Old Trafford, Van Gaal will hope to take his side one step further than the 2010 World Cup and highlight why he is one of the best managers in the game.

Danny Welbeck

 

 
Somewhat of an enigma for United, Welbeck is rather prolific for England, scoring 8 goals in 24 matches.

But he has enjoyed at good season for the reds, scoring 10 goals in 36 matches, which is far better than last year’s measly total of 2.

However, he his another player who has failed to nail down a permanent place in the starting eleven, often being shifted out to the left wing to accommodate Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, despite enjoy a run of six goals in six matches when played up front.

This, and the failure to establish a good working relationship with previous manager has left Welbeck disenchanted at Old Trafford and remains non-committal about his future.

With Juan Mata now at the club, joining Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie in the central attacking positions, it is unlikely that Welbeck will become a regular in the starting 11 in the near future, so if he wants to move he will need to perform at the World Cup.

Many teams could baulk at his scoring rate at Old Trafford,  where he has managed 29 goals in 139 matches, however, he remains a big favourite of Roy Hodgson’s and when fit, will likely start most of the games in Brazil.

Some good performances could lead him to a side, where he will be considered the main man.

Caps:24 | Goals: 8

Chris Smalling

It has been a mixed season for Smalling.

Despite some erratic form at club level, he remains a firm favourite of Roy Hodgson, featuring in every squad, when he hasn’t been injured.

There were high hopes for Smalling, when he first joined United but a succession of injuries, and being constantly shifted around the side has meant that he has failed to build up a good, consistent run of form.

But with the departure of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, Smalling will surely see that this is his time to stake his claim for one of the centre back slots.

His arrival at the club sparked comparisons with Ferdinand as Smalling was seemingly capable of carrying the ball out from the bank in a similar manner to the departing defender.

But he has failed to recover that form, but with Van Gaal favouring centre backs who are good on the ball, Smalling will hope to show why he has what it takes in Brazil

However, it is likely that he will be used sporadically in Brazil, but could nab a place at right back in the team, particularly if Glen Johnson keeps up the form he’s been showing in the friendlies.

And if anything, it is always good to have a versatile player in your side.

Caps: 12 | Goals:0

Wayne Rooney

Arguably United’s best outfield player this season, Rooney will be looking to have a good tournament, after failing to perform in any of England’s last three campaigns.

Rooney who became England’s youngest player to be capped in a 3-1 friendly defeat against Australian aged 17, shot to fame after a wonderful Euro 2004, where he scored four goals in four matches.

But his tournaments have been marred by injury concerns and controversy.

In 2006, he suffered a foot injury prior to the World Cup and used a oxygen tent to get back to full fitness, but he never truly got back to shape and was sent off for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho in a quarter final defeat to Portugal.

He failed to register a goal in the 2010 World Cup, as England crashed out in the round of 16 to Germany, and in a group game against Algeria, was spotted saying “It’s nice to hear when your own fans boo you”, which created controversy back home.

And in 2012 Euro Championships, he was suspended for England’s first two game, and in the games in which he started, it was apparent he was out of shape, but he managed to score in a 1-0 victory over Ukraine.

It is likely that Rooney will break Bobby Charlton’s record for both club and country, but he will never be considered as great as the United legend, due to the damage he’s done at Old Trafford and his failure to do anything of note in an international tournament since 2004.

So for Rooney, Brazil will be somewhat of a make or break tournament, due to his declining body, it will be unlikely that he will appear in the 2018 World Cup, so he will need to do something big, to give some credence to the talent he showed on the International stage in 2004.

Caps: 91 | Goals: 39

Phil Jones

Another, who like Smalling has failed to nail a regular place down at Old Trafford.

But unlike Smalling, he has managed to impress despite being shifted around the side.

His versatility has made him a key component of Roy Hodgson’s squad and despite not being a regular in the first eleven, his tool set will be useful to have in Brazil, but will be looking to have a better tournament than Euro 2012.

Jones made his debut during the qualifications for the tournament, in a 2-2 draw with Montenegro. His performance prompted Capello to say that “He was born with talent”.

Despite being named in the final 23 man squad for the tournament by new manager Hodgson, Jones failed to feature during the tournament, and will look to remedy that in Brazil, with the possibility of his own career at stake.

With Johnson proving to be a weak link in England’s squad, Jones may be one of two players who could stake a claim for a place in the starting eleven.

With so much change at Old Trafford, and being somewhat of a cult hero for fans, he will hope to grab one of the centre back spots made available, as he aims to fulfil the promise, which brought Sir Alex Ferguson to say he could become United’s greatest ever player.

Caps  10 | Goals 0

Nani

 

 
Despite two torrid seasons at club level, Nani remains an integral part of the Portugal squad and has made their 23 man team for Brazil.

Nani appears to be a favourite of Paulo Bento, who has picked the winger despite his constant battle with injuries and form in recent years, for both club and country.

In Portugal’s World Cup qualifying campaign, Nani featured in 10 games for the national side, scoring only one and providing just one assist for his team-mates, despite playing 756 minutes.

Once dubbed the new Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, actually looked like fulfilling his promise.

No one could ever become the new Ronaldo, but Nani was well on his way to becoming a world class winger in his own right

When Nani reached 100 games for United, he had 19 goals and laid on 33 assists for his team-mates. Ronaldo in his first 100 had the same amount of goals, but only 19 assists.

Unfortunately that is where the comparisons end.

After 100 appearances, it was gradually down hill for Nani, who despite putting in some good performances in 2011-12 season has many judged 34 appearances since that point scoring 4 goals and has become somewhat of a pariah around Old Trafford.

But at international level, Nani still remains a regular, featuring in every tournament since making his debut in a 4-2 friendly defeat against Denmark in 2006 and will likely be a part of Portugal’s first eleven in Brazil after starting eight qualifying games, including the play off against Sweden.

The World Cup could give Nani a perfect chance at redemption, he could either show he has what it takes to work his way into Louis Van Gaal‘s plans or secure a good move away from the club.

Caps:74 | Goals:14

Patrice Evra

2010 lead mutineer Patrice Evra will be part of the French Squad to travel to Brazil, despite his discretions at the previous World Cup.

Samir Nasri, another who has a reputation of trouble making with the national side has been left out altogether, but Evra, who had served a five match ban for his role in the events in South Africa has been given the chance to redeem himself in the biggest International tournament.

Evra was given the chance to play in Euro 2012, after working his way back into the side, but it will be in Brazil where he will see his biggest shot at redemption

At 33 years old, this will likely be Evra’s last World Cup. And it is only his second.

The full back was first called up to the France squad in 2004, as part of a 31 man squad for the Euro Championships, but was not named in the final 23 man list.

However, he made his international debut shortly after the tournament, in 1-1 friendly draw against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Evra went on to feature in France’s two first qualification matches for the 2006 World Cup, but would not make the final squad and after pulling out of a friendly against Switzerland in 2005 due to injury, he would not feature for the national side until November 2006, where he played in a friendly against Greece.

From there, he became a permanent fixture in the side and featured in France’s ill fated Euro 2008 campaign where they were knocked out at the group stage, where Evra was spotted getting into an altercation with team mates Eric Abidal and Patrick Vieira.

This incident done little to negatively alter Evra’s position in the side and then manager Raymond Domenech, even moved Eric Abidal to centre back in order to accomodate Evra.

Evra then went on to feature in 10 World Cup qualifying matches and  was named captain prior to the tournament, ahead of Thierry Henry.

But after a training ground altercation between Nicolas Anelka and fitness coach Robert Duerve, Evra led a ill fated, and ultimately doomed strike.

For the final game he was placed on the bench.

After a terrible season at club level, which saw some light as he was handed a new one year contract, Evra will hope it is a case of third time lucky with France, who despite the loss of Franck Ribery, have arguably their best side in many years.

Although he is no longer captain, Evra will be seen as one of the leaders of a youthful France side and will show why he has still got it.

Caps 58 | Goals:0

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