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Do Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men have what it takes to match Sir Alex Ferguson's title-winning side?


Manchester United have gone top of the Premier League in the month of January for the first time since 2013. Now many are questioning if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have what it takes to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors. 

Under Sir Alex Ferguson, United became England’s most successful club – winning 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles. 

However, gone are the days of their dominance, as United have failed to pick up the Premier League title since his departure. 

David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, and Jose Mourinho have all failed to fill the shoes left by the legendary Scottish manager, but Solskjaer could be the one to restore glory to the club. United are currently top of the Premier League in January for the first time in eight years – sitting three points above reigning champions Liverpool.  

With the build up to United showdown with Jurgen Klopp’s side on Sunday in mind –  how does Solskjaer’s side compare to Ferguson’s?

Sportsmail have compared the two squads to see if United’s current lot match up to their last title winners.  

Manchester United have gone top of the Premier League for the first time since 2013 (above)

Manchester United have gone top of the Premier League for the first time since 2013 (above)

Many wonder how the current United side match up to the former title winners from 2013

Many wonder how the current United side match up to the former title winners from 2013

Manchester United’s 2013 title winning side 

David De Gea 

David De Gea overcame all early doubts to establish himself as one of the world’s best goalkeepers during United’s title winning season.

At times, he single-handedly won games for United. He was recognised as an incredible shot-stopper, while having the ability to block out opposition shots with his feet.

The young goalkeeper was, however, underwhelming in commanding his box and dealing with crosses – something he has focused on over his years at United.

Although De Gea is still a member of the current United squad, his dip in form demonstrates the defensive instability of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. 

De Gea conceded on average 0.9 goals per game in the 2012-2013 season. Whereas the 2020-2021 season the Spanish goalkeeper has conceded on average 1.4 goals. per game. 

United goalkeeper David De Gea has been present in both the 2013 team and the current

United goalkeeper David De Gea has been present in both the 2013 team and the current

Rafael Da Silva

Rafael da Silva signed for the club in the summer of 2008 as an 18-year-old and took just moments to show his worth to the United faithful. 

During his debut season in the English top-flight, the Brazilian right-back was shortlisted for the PFA young player of the year, demonstrating his speed and strength going forwards while offering reliability at the back.   

Rafael displayed a burst of energy and tenacity down the flanks, but Aaron Wan-Bissaka has offered more to the current United side in those areas than has 2013 counterpart.

Wan-Bissaka completes on average 0.8 successful dribbles per 90 minutes, whereas Rafael offered 0.7 successful dribbles per 90 minutes. 

However, Rafael does trump Wan-Bissaka when it comes to passing accuracy. Rafael successfully completed 84.5 per cent of his passes per game, whereas Wan-Bissaka only completes 82.5 per cent.  

Rafael Da Silva strong and quick going forward, while also reliable in defence for United

Rafael Da Silva strong and quick going forward, while also reliable in defence for United

Rafael successfully completed 84.5 per cent of his passes per game in the 2012-2013 season

Rafael successfully completed 84.5 per cent of his passes per game in the 2012-2013 season

Rio Ferdinand

Following in the steps of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand enjoyed a prolonged career at Manchester United.

Having overcome a series of injuries in his early days, Ferdinand was consistently brilliant in the heart of defence for United’s title winning season.  

Ferdinand’s positioning was exemplar and his ability on the ball proved to be second to none.  

However, when comparing Ferdinand in 2013 to United’s current first-choice centre-back, Harry Maguire, there’s little to separate the pair, at least from a statistical point of view. 

Both players have a similar style, with the importance of their blocking being central to their respective teams.

Ferdinand's positioning was exemplar and his ability on the ball proved to be second to none

 Ferdinand’s positioning was exemplar and his ability on the ball proved to be second to none

Ferdinand made on average 0.7 blocks per 90 minutes in United's title winning season

Ferdinand made on average 0.7 blocks per 90 minutes in United’s title winning season

Ferdinand made on average 0.7 blocks per 90 minutes, whereas Maguire makes 0.6 blocks per 90 minutes.   

When on form, Maguire is able to match Ferdinand’s ability to bring the ball out of the back and create overloads in midfield with a unique, dynamic ball carry. 

The one notable difference between the pair is their ability to partner with their corresponding centre-back.

Ferdinand’s partnership with Nemanja Vidic was once the world’s best as the Serbian would closed down the ball tenaciously, while he would provide cover in behind.  

Ferdinand’s partnership with Jonny Evans was also successful – bringing the best out in United when they were dominating possession.

Whereas, Maguire has come under fire for his inability to work cohesively with Victor Lindelof.   

Ferdinand's partnership with Vidic was once the world's best and helped claim the title

Ferdinand’s partnership with Vidic was once the world’s best and helped claim the title

Antonio Valencia 

Antonio Valencia’s first season in the famous Manchester United No.7 shirt did not go nearly as well as everyone had hoped.

Valencia used a combination of pace, power, and stuttering dribble to elude defenders and send crosses in from near the sideline. 

He was typically an accurate crosser of the ball but was not one of United’s shining stars in their title winning season. 

Valencia’s partnership with right-back Rafael made him look better than he was. Valencia he was praised for his positional play – covering for adventurous right-back when he went to join the attack.    

Valencia used a combination of pace, power, and stuttering dribble to elude defenders

Valencia used a combination of pace, power, and stuttering dribble to elude defenders

Patrice Evra 

Former Manchester United defender Patrice Evra possessed tremendous pace and power during his time at the club.

A trait which Luke Shaw shares – although he is yet to reach his peak physical form this season given his recent injuries.

Statistics would indicate that there is a stylistic similarity between the pair, but it seems Evra has the edge over the current United left-back.

Evra was dispossessed less often than Shaw has been this season – 0.8 compared to Shaw’s 1.6 times per game. A statistic that seem counter intuitive given the Frenchman was continually criticised at Old Trafford for not being disciplined enough in possession.

Evra was also more of a threat going forwards, providing his team with an average of 1.3 key passes per game – compared to Shaw’s current 1. 

Former United defender Patrice Evra possessed tremendous pace and power during his time

Former United defender Patrice Evra possessed tremendous pace and power during his time

Michael Carrick 

Michael Carrick is regarded as one of the most underestimated players in Manchester United’s history.

Carrick was phenomenal at quietly making United tick. His passing from the centre of midfield was fundamental to the team’s success. 

As the stalwart of United’s midfield, Carrick was voted Manchester United’s Player of the Year by his colleagues in their title-winning season, he was shortlisted for the PFA Player of the Year award, and he was named into the PFA’s Team of the Year.

Carrick had a great understanding of the holding role at United and had the technical qualities to outshine his competitors in the league. The beauty of his game was his ability to play five-to-ten yard passes. 

The only down side to Carrick’s play was his tendency to pass backwards. However, in the 2013 season Carrick registered one of his highest statistics for passing forwards – 37 per cent.  

Michael Carrick is regarded as one of the most underestimated players in Man United's history

Michael Carrick is regarded as one of the most underestimated players in Man United’s history

Tom Cleverley 

Cleverley was a product of United’s youth academy and proved to be a valuable asset for the 2013 Manchester United team.

Having been handed the opportunity to represent the first-team at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Cleverley impressed the United manager – who had seen his side destroy the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham 8-2 and 3-0 respectively.

The then 22-year-old picked up an injury during United’s clash with Bolton in September 2011 – plaguing the rest of his season with issues.

Nevertheless, Cleverley found his form again for the 2013 season – making most of his appearances deep in a midfield duo. Cleverley possessed a versatile skillset that allowed him to operate as a box-to-box player when Ferguson opted to use a diamond midfield.

Cleverley was a key asset for the 2013 United side due to is his speed of thought on the ball.

Cleverley was a product of United's youth academy and proved to be a valuable asset in 2013

Cleverley was a product of United’s youth academy and proved to be a valuable asset in 2013

He excelled through his ability to recycle possession in deeper areas, carry the ball forward, and in engage in quick passing combinations with the front four players in the attacking third. 

Cleverley would look to defend deep before winning the ball counter-attacking down the flanks – this was particularly evident early in their victories at Chelsea and at Manchester City. Sadly he wasn’t able to keep it up for long and eventually left in 2015.

Robin Van Persie 

Manchester United already had the likes of Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernadez, and Dimitar Berbatov when they made the decision to sign Van Persie.

However, it was a decision that the club never regretted as the striker was regarded as the key to their title success in 2013.

Signing Van Persie was a statement of intent after United lost the title to Manchester City in the previous season.  

Signing Van Persie was a statement of intent after United lost the title to City in the year before

Signing Van Persie was a statement of intent after United lost the title to City in the year before

Much like Bruno Fernandes in United’s current squad, Van Persie had a monumental impact on the Red Devils.

It took Van Persie a matter of minutes to score his first goal for United on his debut against Fulham. He went on to claim a hat-trick against Southampton the following weekend – providing United with an incredible stoppage-time winner.

As the season continued, so did Van Persie’s scoring. He registered goals in all of United’s big games – including those against Liverpool, at Chelsea, and against his old club and former title-contending rival Arsenal.  

Much like today's Bruno Fernandes, Van Persie had a monumental effect on the Red Devils

Much like today’s Bruno Fernandes, Van Persie had a monumental effect on the Red Devils

Van Persie registered goals in all of United's big games, including Liverpool, Chelsea and Villa

Van Persie registered goals in all of United’s big games, including Liverpool, Chelsea and Villa

Ashley Young  

Ashley Young started his United career with a bang with one of his most notable performances coming against Arsenal in the Premier League.

Young score twice for United and registered three assists in their famous 8-2 victory in the 2011-2012 campaign.

Despite getting off to a promising start, Young’s 2012-2013 season was plagued by injury and inconsistent form.

Ashley Young's 2012-2013 season at United was plagued by injury and inconsistent form

Ashley Young’s 2012-2013 season at United was plagued by injury and inconsistent form

In September 2012, Young picked up a knee injury that ruled him out for a substantial amount of time. He then left Liverpool on crutches at the beginning of 2013, following their 2-1 victory. Before suffering an ankle injury in April.

Regardless of his injuries, Young made 17 starts for United and a further four appearances from the bench.

He registered three assists for his club but failed to score. He, along with Antonio Valencia and Nani, struggled to find their form throughout the season.

Young lacked directness and became too predictable with his method of attack. He completed an average of 0.5 dribbles per game – a statistic that was beaten by various defenders including Patrice Evra and Rafael.

Young lacked directness and became too predictable with his method of attack at United

Young lacked directness and became too predictable with his method of attack at United

Wayne Rooney  

Wayne Rooney became Ferguson’s prodigy when he left Everton to join United in 2004. At just 18-year-old, Rooney matured quickly and became a star at United.

The Englishman became of mainstay in the legendary 2006-2009 side and developed a formidable partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo.

As a result, Ferguson went on to build his squad around Rooney for the next few seasons.

Rooney experienced a turbulent start to their 2012-2013 campaign at Manchester Unuted

Rooney experienced a turbulent start to their 2012-2013 campaign at Manchester Unuted

In the build-up to United’s title winning season, Rooney scored 34 goals and 42 appearances across all competitions in the 2011-2012 season. 

However, Rooney experienced a turbulent start to their 2012-2013 campaign and even put on weight following England’s disappointing Euro 2012 campaign.  

Rooney started the majority of his appearances for United on the bench in their title winning season and even failed to make Ferguson’s squad for his final home game before his retirement, against Swansea. 

Nevertheless, he scored 12 goals in 22 appearances for United during the 2012-2013 season. He also contributed 10 assists, but picked up seven yellow cards.

Nevertheless, he scored 12 goals in 22 outings for United during their title winning season

Nevertheless, he scored 12 goals in 22 outings for United during their title winning season

Manchester United’s current side 

Ole's men have gone top in January, the first time a United side have done so since 2013

Ole’s men have gone top in January, the first time a United side have done so since 2013

Aaron Wan-Bissaka  

Aaron Wan-Bissaka joined Manchester United from Crystal Palace in the summer of 2019. 

Since his arrival he has shot to stardom, providing United with a solid defender that is eager to help in their attack. Defensively, Wan-Bissaka is known for his powerful sliding tackles. In total, he has made 49 tackles this season – with a 59 per cent success rate.

While also providing United with 30 clearances and 19 interceptions in the season that has seen them go top of the table for the first time since 2013.

In addition, has proved he is able to match the speed of his most threatening opponents, while possessing the upper body strength to muscle them off the ball.  

To create a lasting legacy at United Wan-Bissaka must, however, improve his ability to dispossess attackers when they are pressing infield. Wan-Bissaka could also benefit from improving his aerial duels.  

Wan-Bissaka is known for powerful sliding tackles. In total, he has made 49 tackles this term

Wan-Bissaka is known for powerful sliding tackles. In total, he has made 49 tackles this term

Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire had been regarded as a solution to Manchester United’s vulnerable when they signed him in 2019.

Initially performing well, Maguire has recently experienced a dip in performance at Old Trafford.

At 6ft 4ins, Maguire is capable of being a dominant central defender, owning the space and shutting out opposing attacks. However, he has come under fire for some lacklustre performances.

At the start the season, Maguire typically remained on his feet to defend during open play – but lately the defender has found himself going to ground more often.

Initially performing well, Maguire has recently experienced a dip in performance at United

Initially performing well, Maguire has recently experienced a dip in performance at United

Nevertheless, Maguire has a 64 per cent tackle success rate for the 2020-2021 season

 Nevertheless, Maguire has a 64 per cent tackle success rate for the 2020-2021 season

He even received a red card for two poor challenges in England’s key Nations League fixture against Denmark.

Nevertheless, Maguire has still contributed a lot to United this season and last – despite experiencing a torrid time in his personal life.

Maguire has a 64 per cent tackle success rate for the 2020-2021 season, that’s two per cent higher than the previous season.

Maguire also makes 0.6 blocks per 90 minutes, putting him just 0.1 off Ferdinand’s 0.7 in their title winning season in 2013. 

Victor Lindelof

Victor Lindelof signed with Man United in 2017 under Jose Mourinho and has had a stuttering career at the club since. 

He experienced a difficult start to life at Old Trafford before asserting himself at United’s best centre-back option in the 2018-2019 campaign. 

He commanded the United defence – making a total of 30 appearances. However, it was his ability to finish the season without making any errors that lead to goals that impressed fans and pundits across the country. 

Lindelof also registered a tackle success rate of 68 per cent across the campaign and picked up just one yellow card while being at the heart of United’s defence. 

Victor Lindelof signed with Manchester United in 2017 under former boss Jose Mourinho

Victor Lindelof signed with Manchester United in 2017 under former boss Jose Mourinho

However, the signing of Maguire threw a spanner in the works for United’s first-class full-back.

Lindelof struggled to find his form alongside his next partner in the 2019-2020 season. The pair have been continually criticised for their inability to play cohesively in United’s defence. 

Nevertheless, there have been positive aspects of Lindelof’s play this season. The defender is confident in commanding play from the floor and can be rather good at it too. Lindelof has also made it known that he likes a solid tackle, impressing United fans with urgency to win the ball. 

This season, he’s made 170 recoveries and won 103 duels in the Premier League, which is testament to his reading of the game. 

However, Lindelof a core weakness for the defender is his ability to win aerial abilities. His lack of dominance in the air has proved quite costly for United on a number of occasions.    

However, Lindelof and Maguire have both come under fire for their inability to work together

However, Lindelof and Maguire have both come under fire for their inability to work together

Luke Shaw 

Manchester United invested in the prospect of Luke Shaw’s development by signing him for £30million in 2014.

Shaw was regarded as one of the country’s most promising young talents and United were looking to build on that.

However, Shaw saw his development stall at United – having faced several injuries that ruled him out of action.

The left-back is not one of the quicker players around and is often caught out of position

The left-back is not one of the quicker players around and is often caught out of position

As a result, his physical condition deteriorated, seeing the defender lose his speed – becoming one of the slowest players on the United pitch.

Shaw – who has suffered from a loss of confidence – has used the 2020-2021 season to rebuild his mind and body.

The 25-year-old has sustained a prolonged period of time in the United team without any injuries.

He has also emerged as one of United’s most consistent performers this season.

United’s defenders are known for having some blunders at the back – but Shaw defies the odds, being a rather stable player that rarely makes a mistake. Despite offering Solskjaer a steady pair of hands at the back, United are in need of a new left-back with the position is growing ever more vital in the modern game.

Shaw is too slow and is often caught out of position should the opposition hit on the counter – something United need to rectify to be in with a chance of winning the title.  

Despite offering Solskjaer a steady pair of hands at the back, he is in need of a new left-back

Despite offering Solskjaer a steady pair of hands at the back, he is in need of a new left-back

Fred 

Fred struggled to find his feet in his opening season at Manchester Unite but has since proven why Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho once battled it out for his signature. 

His influence at United has developed over time with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer drawing the best out of the 27-year-old. 

The Brazilian excels when used at the base of the midfield. He is simplistic with the ball and provides a consistent central option. He is instrumental in United’s build-up play and moves up with the play in attack. 

Fred’s spacial awareness vital to Solskjaer offers the attacking line a recycle point and positions himself well to protect the team against potential counters.

The Brazilian does, however, take two touches when receiving the ball – occasionally landing himself and others in a world of trouble. 

Nevertheless, Fred does well to use his boy to protect the ball and fend of poachers with his upper-body strength. 

One of Fred’s fundamental role’s within the squad is to allow the likes of Pogba and Fernandes to flourish. His deep commanding role allows United’s top goalscorer –  Fernandes – to occupy threatening positions. 

Fred's influence at Manchester United has developed over time with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Fred’s influence at Manchester United has developed over time with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Scott McTominay

Scott McTominay brings a physical midfield presence to the current Man United side.   .

However, McTominay lacks a threatening element as he favours a square ball, typically on the ground.

Playing passes like this doesn’t move defenses around. In fact, they give them more time to adjust and get themselves set. McTominay also hesitates on the ball – taking too long to make the pass he initially picks out.   

The lockdown has, however, has seen improve his ability to play passes – as he was averaging 3.78 progressive passes per 90 before the break. That has since risen to 4.48 per 90 following football’s return.  

Scott McTominay brings a physical midfield presence to the current Manchester United side

Scott McTominay brings a physical midfield presence to the current Manchester United side

Paul Pogba

Pogba is not short of doubters, and one of the questions that’s plagued him throughout his career is whether he is worth the hype associated with his name.

Solskjaer has been challenged with the decision of where to play Pogba to maximise his skill set, while minimising his weaknesses.

As a result, Pogba has found himself in a deeper role for United. Such positioning allows him to use his quick feet and make outrageous long-range passes. 

The 6ft 3in midfielder has the capacity to excel at United but has struggled for consistency having been ruled out of action for a prolonged of time due to injury. 

When on form Pogba is good on the ball. Rather than constantly. completing penetrative dribbles, Pogba relies on his intelligence and technique in quick combination play. 

He likes to occupy the space between opponent’s lines and shield the ball to create chances for his team-mates. Should he choose to dribble, he will do so from a deeper position.     

Solskjaer has been challenged with the decision of where to play Pogba to maximise his skills

Solskjaer has been challenged with the decision of where to play Pogba to maximise his skills

As a result, Pogba has found himself in a deeper role for Manchester United this season

As a result, Pogba has found himself in a deeper role for Manchester United this season

Bruno Fernandes 

Manchester United changed for the better from the moment they acquired Bruno Fernandes’ signature on the 30th of January. 

Fernandes has single-handedly transformed United into title contenders this season – having an immediate effect on the club, just like Van Persie.

Since Fernandes joined United starting XI, the Red Devils have conceded less goals and won more games.  

Manchester United changed for the better from the moment they signed Bruno Fernandes

Manchester United changed for the better from the moment they signed Bruno Fernandes

When comparing Fernandes with Van Persie, it is the 2013 title winner that comes out on top.   

Van Persie had a 15.3 per cent shot conversion rate, where as Fernandes currently has 14 per cent shot conversion rate. Van Persie also produced 141 shots compared to Fernandes’ 55. 

Regardless of the results, it is fair to say that Fernandes has played a defining role in United’s success so far this season.   

Fernandes has single-handedly transformed United into title contenders this season

Fernandes has single-handedly transformed United into title contenders this season

Anthony Martial 

Anthony Martial is a well rounded forward that posses many of the traits required to excel in the Premier League, although his role as a true lead man is still up for debate.  

His problem is that he has only scored five times this season despite his role in the team and some would like to see more of Edinson Cavani on a regular basis. 

Anthony Martial is a well rounded forward that posses many of the traits required to excel

Anthony Martial is a well rounded forward that posses many of the traits required to excel

The French international is a deadly finisher that has had his striking style compared to Messi

The French international is a deadly finisher that has had his striking style compared to Messi

Martial is usually involved in United attacking interplay and typically finds himself through on goal against the keeper – more often than not slotting it past him. 

Dribbling is another string to Martial’s bow. The 25-year-old has excelled on the wing over recent years – taking the past his defender to find a team-mate or score.  

During the 2019-2020 season Martial completed 61.5 per cent of his total dribbles – putting himself well above the Premier League average of 60 per cent.  

Martial has, however, come under fire for inadequacy in defence. And although there is still some room for improvement, Martial has developed his defensive work rate since the football hiatus in March.   

Martial has masterminded various 1v1 opportunities and utilised his speed to break lines

Martial has masterminded various 1v1 opportunities and utilised his speed to break lines

Marcus Rashford

Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer became the manager at United, Marcus Rashford has cemented himself as a star within the team. 

Rashford has been one of the first names on the teamsheet for the Norwegian manager – unless is being rested or ruled out due to injury and has scored 14 goals and registered four assists so far this season. He also has an average of 3.4 shots per game and expected goal rate of 0.71 per game. 

Rashford is a force to be reckoned with, breaking apart defences from open play this season and many people the 23-year-old could become one of the best players in the world.  

Rashford has been one of the first names on the team sheet for the Norwiegan manager

Rashford has been one of the first names on the team sheet for the Norwiegan manager

The English star  has scored a total of 14 goals and registered 4 assists so far this season

The English star  has scored a total of 14 goals and registered 4 assists so far this season

Conclusion 

The attacking talent that Sir Alex Ferguson had at his disposal in 2013 was streets ahead of today’s team. To be able to call upon Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, two world class stars, put them over and above the current options. The current United team have potential in attack, but it’s not quite fully realised yet. 

However they were certainly lighter in midfield than Ole’s men. Today they have Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Fred, Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic and Donny Van de Beek; players Ferguson would kill for. 

That said, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Matic at the back with a young Phil Jones and Jonny Evans backing up, as well as Patrice Evra at full-back, means the 2013 were a much more rounded unit than the current team. That’s not to say they cannot win the title in this crazy season, but they still have a way to go in order to match the calibre of Fergie’s men.  

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