Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, Manchester United have been on a rocky path back to trying to win the Premier League title. When playing at this historic football club there is an expectation to win silverware, but United have only managed to win five trophies post-Ferguson. One FA Community Shield under David Moyes, an Emirates FA Cup with Louis van Gaal and the FA Community Shield, EFL Cup and the UEFA Europa League under Jose Mourinho.
During this period, United have seen some quality players come and go and this article will present my best Manchester United XI with all the players from this period.
Firstly, the easiest pick of the lot is David De Gea. The Spanish keeper has been at the club since 2011 and has established himself as a United great in this time. He’s put in some of the greatest individual goalkeeping performances in Premier League history with a famous game against Arsenal in which he made a record 14 saves including a tremendous double save to secure United a crucial victory. He has an unbelievable shot stopping ability and was seen as one of the best goalkeepers in the world at one point if not the best. The only competition for this spot would be Sergio Romero who has been a loyal servant to the club but no match for De Gea.
Next is Right-Back. This one is a trickier pick as there’s more competition between Antonio Valencia, Rafael da Silva and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Unlike De Gea, United have changed right fullback a couple times in recent years but for me the best of the three was Antonio Valencia. Wan Bissaka is a fantastic tackler but his all-round game has lacked and can be a liability at the back post when defending. Rafael da Silva was a loyal player who always worked hard but he was shipped out in Van Gaal’s reign and Valencia took his spot at right back.
Valencia started off his career as right winger but was gradually pushed further back. He was a speedy full back who had a great longshot on his day. He was renowned for his step overs before using his good crossing ability to put a ball in the box. He may not be as strong defensively as Wan-Bissaka but going forward he was good and was robust defensively so he goes in at the right-back.
Next is the centre half partnership. The centre back positions at United have been a place for discussion in the last eight years as they’ve struggled to replace the conquering partnership of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. However, in this period, I feel the two best defenders have been Chris Smalling and Harry Maguire. Smalling was a key member of the United team for many years helping them stay afloat in troubling times.
Despite his latter years at the club not being too successful, his importance from post-Ferguson to 2016 is undoubted. Maguire may be a more controversial pick despite only having played two full seasons at the club, but for me he is in the team due to his impact he has had on this back four. Before his signing, United were consistently shaky always being bailed out by De Gea but his signing brought stability and leadership at the back which has helped United keep far more clean sheets and become far more solid defensively.
At Left-Back its between Ashley Young and Luke Shaw. Young was a Ferguson signing and like Valencia was formally a winger converted into a left-back. At his best he was dangerous offensively with great speed and decent free kick taking. Defensively he wasn’t the best but was stable. Gradually as he got older, he became more liable to mistakes and fell off heavily. Whereas Shaw on the other hand has done the opposite. When he signed in 2014, he was highly promising and looked to have a huge future ahead. But one horror tackle later and he’s struggled to reach the form he once achieved at Southampton.
However, in the last couple seasons he’s improved massively solidifying himself as United’s number one. In the 2020/21 season he got even better with many ranking him as the best left-back in the world that season. Therefore, in my left back slot I will choose Shaw as I feel he’s come the furthest out of any of these players and is now a brilliant player.
The midfield three is an important yet easy choice. Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, and Bruno Fernandes make up the three. Although on paper this would be very offensive, I feel they are the best midfielders since Ferguson retired. Rooney although not an out and out midfielder did play further back towards the end of his United tenure and was a pivotal player in keeping United competitive. His versatility was key to helping bring some of the youngsters like Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford through. Carrick is the type of player United currently miss with his fantastic passing ability, coolness on the ball, great first touch and brilliant reading of the game to stop oppositional attacks.
Fernandes is likely the most disputed pick of the three but for me he’s had an impact like no other in recent years. Before his arrival, United desperately needed creativity and he optimises this with his brilliant passing and vision. Furthermore, he has a real potent threat offensively breaking Frank Lampard’s goalscoring record in a season from midfield. Granted, he’s not the safest in possession and can give the ball away but his work-rate, leadership and his overall effect on this Manchester United team is unmatched.
Finally, the front three. These three are the hardest to choose as United have had some great forwards in recent years. To combat this, I’m going to use two strikers and a number 10 as the combined three. As the number 10 I will go with Juan Mata. Since his signing in January 2014, he’s been a fan favourite with his silky dribbling and impeccable first touch. He has a fantastic footballing brain and his impeccable conduct at the club makes him such a great role model to the younger players. Although not being such a prominent member of the first team in recent years, he’s still showed glimpses of his former self helping United progress through Europa League knockout rounds.
The two strikers are the hardest positions to choose as there’s options like Rashford who’s played upfront and off the left, Martial, Robin van Persie, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani. Arguably all of these forwards haven’t been a consistent first choice striker for United for more than two seasons making it had to have a distinct best player. Therefore, I will go with one option for more longevity and one for peak season. On longevity Rashford takes my pick.
Now, as a player he may not have been the best of the lot but he’s been at the club for a lot longer than Cavani, Van Persie, or Ibrahimovic were and thus deserves a spot. Arguably, Martial could be an option especially due to his 17-league goal campaign in the 2019/20 season, but I feel Rashford has slightly more to his game due to his creation as well as goal scoring ability. Even with numerous injury problems he managed to produce 36 goal contributions with 11 goals and 11 assists in the league.
Whereas, in Van Persie’s best league season post Ferguson, he scored 12 goals as the centre forward and likewise Cavani only managed 10 in the league last season. Therefore, despite Rashford not being as well regarded as Cavani or Van Persie, for him to put numbers up like this deserves a spot. Then finally, the last spot goes to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Although only a key member of the squad for one season, the impact Ibrahimovic had was huge. He scored 17 goals and managed five assists in the league as well as being instrumental in United winning the League Cup against Southampton and helping United win the Europa League before a big injury which prevented him from playing in the final.
With young attackers like Rashford and Martial, his experience and footballing brain improved United going forward comprehensively as he became a link to the pair as they played off of him. Cavani had a good year last season, but Ibrahimovic scored more, assisted more and led United to trophies which Cavani has failed to do so far and thus that is why Ibrahimovic is the final player in my team.
Overall, this is the final team:
Written by Ethan Bents