Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Man United's depth: you get what you pay for

A team that only last season was a twinkling in Sir Alex Ferguson's eye dismantled former rivals Arsenal at Old Trafford on Sunday. Both sides fielded below-strength sides as the Gunners reeled after losing Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas to continental rivals while United suffered from injuries to world class defenders Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Rafael.

This brings us to ask - where would Manchester United's Second XI finish over a full Premier League season? Obviously putting injuries aside, their second-best eleven players (four of them played on Sunday) make an imposing lineup:

Manchester United: Lindegaard; Rafael, Evans, Jones, Smalling; Park, Fletcher, Carrick, Valencia; Berbatov, Welbeck. Rough estimate of combined cost: 105 million.

We can safely expect such a lineup - and such remarkable spending, vastly inflated by fees for former first-choice players Berbatov, Carrick and future first-teamer Phil Jones - to finish higher than mid-table, based upon the strength of last season's fourteenth-best team:

Bolton Wanderers: Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, Knight, Robinson; Lee, Holden, Muamba, Petrov; Davies, Klasnic. Rough estimate of combined cost: ₤20.7 million.

Similarly, they would probably defeat a team from last year's top-half, Fulham FC, who finished eighth:

Fulham: Schwarzer; Baird, Hangeland, Hughes, Riise; Kasami, Murphy, Sidwell, Duff; Dembele, Dempsey. Rough estimate of combined cost: ₤24 million.

When matched against Tottenham Hotspur, who finished fifth, they won out in a 3-0 triumph at home in the second week of the season - although Spurs didn't field captain Ledley King.

Tottenham Hotspur: Friedel, Corluka, King, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto; Bale, Modric, Kranjcar, Lennon; Defoe, Crouch. Rough estimate of combined cost: 72.5 million.

Of course such a team could certainly struggle against the bigger sides and lacks a certain brutality boasted by Vidic and Wayne Rooney. But given the sums of money spent on compiling such enviable depth, it's only expected that they should finish above all but teams with a similar ability to spend.

Teams taken from last round of EPL fixtures and amended to include "obvious" first-teamers if they were not selected.

Note: While Spurs have certainly spent on their lineup, the total is lowered considerably by the decreased fees paid for Aaron Lennon and Niko Kranjcar, who were obtained for somewhere in the region of a combined 4.5 million from clubs in severe financial strife. Due to performance and circumstance, both players would now retail for far higher.


  1. What happens when Man Utd second XI has injuries? They bring in worse/less seasoned players. Their 2nd team would be lucky to not get relegated.

  2. Rez, thanks for reading but I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one. While injuries of course have to be considered, the same could be said of many (all?) clubs.

    More than anything, the fact 105M pounds have been spent on an ostensible second unit is remarkable; and results should be expected as such.

    I think the proof of the pudding is that only Manchester City and Chelsea (perhaps Liverpool at a streeetch) could field a top-half EPL team from their second-stringers. Coincidentally, they've also spent the most on depth.

  3. Most good managers build their squads around certain strengths/individuals. Spending premium money to buy players to become part of a rotation system does not automatically mean they are good season long players. After reviewing the team you mentioned again, they may finish top half but would not theaten any team above 7th on a regular basis.

    I think the real unknown would be giving a player like Jones unlimited match time. He is an outstanding prospect.