'We certainly want to do better in the league; last season was a difficult one and we want to bridge that gap between us and the two Manchester teams and obviously continue to do well in the cup competitions.'
Most of you would know that this is a recent quote from Robbie Di Matteo. Bridging the gap between us and them seems to be our primary objective for 2012-13. The gap in terms of league standing is 25 points. Reducing that numerical deficit is the obvious meaning of this quote. This quote also implies that the club acknowledges the gulf in quality between us and the Manchester teams; and our transfer activity this summer should be directed towards bridging this gulf in quality. In this Fan Post, I'll do a position-by-position comparison of the depth and quality of our squad and the other 3 teams expected to finish in the top four next season: City, United, and Arsenal.
Let's start from the men between the posts.
MU -- David De Gea, Anders Lindegaard
AR -- Wojciech Szczęsny, Łukasz Fabiański
I think we are very respectable in this department. Joe Hart may have had the most consistent season of all the keepers, but Petr Cech is undeniable class. Also, an observable trend here is that all the top 3 teams have secured the GK position for years to come with young and talented players. Likewise, we have done so too. Szczęsny and Courtois have the brightest futures, in my opinion.
MU -- Patrice Evra, Fábio
MC -- Gaël Clichy, Aleksandar Kolarov
AR -- Kieran Gibbs, André Santos
Very similar to the GK situation. We have both class and youth. Although, at present City is perhaps the strongest, offensively and defensively, at the left-back position.
At CB, United beat us in terms of overall depth. Also at CB, we don't have a world-class defender, yet. Granted Vidic has been injured, but the fact remains, on full form and fitness, 2 of the competition have one world-class centre-back each: Kompany, Vidic. And NO, Terry is a bit too old to still be thought of as world-class. But what we do have are three decent combinations in Terry-Luiz, Terry-Cahill, and Cahill-Luiz. Potential for improvement here? Yes. Dire need? No.
MU -- Rafael, Phil Jones
Well, nothing to really think about here. We need a offensively competent right-back ASAP! Personally, I've been wanting Mathieu Debuchy for some while now.
Defensive Midfield/Central Midfield/Right-Left Midfield
While we do have A LOT of midfielders, our starting midfield just isn't on par with the rest. City's midfield IS Yaya Toure, and Yaya Toure IS absolutely outstanding. Arsenal's midfield is the most creative and the most comfortable in possession, while United's midfield functions very well, provided that they keep Paul Scholes fit. Compared to the rest, ours is cumbersome and ponderous. Of course, a man called Luka Modric would change this overnight. This is the area where we need an infusion of quality this summer, whether it be from Mikel to Yann M'Vila, or from Lampard to Modric, or both.
Central Attacking Midfield/Supporting Strikers
Evidently, City's attacking midfield is the most loaded. Though there's this slight matter that you can usually play only ONE number 10 or supporting striker in a match. With Mata or Hazard, our play-making is as good as it gets in the Premier League. Mata is our answer to Silva. And a lot depends on Hazard as well. I feel he will surpass every expectation IF we play to his strengths. One difference between us and City is that our attacking midfielders/wingers are goalscorers: Sturridge, Hazard, Mata, Lampard. City are totally reliant on their strikers for goals.
MU -- Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Nani, Ryan Giggs, Shinji Kagawa
MC -- Samir Nasri, David Silva, Adam Johnson, James Milner
AR -- Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski, Gervinho, Robin Van Persie
No top team is weak on the wings. If Marko Marin returns to his left-wing form for Bremen, and if Danny develops some footballing sense and teamwork, then our depth on the wings is something we can truly be proud of. Hulk would make us indisputably the best in this department - at an inflated price of £38 million.
CH -- Fernando Torres, Romelu Lukaku, Daniel Sturridge, Eden Hazard in a false 9 role?
AR -- Robin Van Persie, Lukas Podolski, Marouane Chamakh (or quite possibly, Olivier Giroud!)
No team even comes close to City over here. Their strike-force is like Barcelona's midfield. But again, the issue with the game of football is that only one main striker can start per game. Thus, for every game City has 3 first-rate but surplus strikers. That is excess, not quality depth. We should avoid such an excess. But do we have the needed world-class quality? United have Wayne Rooney and Arsenal has Robin Van Persie (not for long maybe). We have Fernando Torres, whose class is not in question, but his patch of poor form lasted a year and has led some fans to lose all faith in him. Fortunately, or unfortunately for us, his form has vastly improved, and this creates for us a dilemma. A dilemma that would be best solved AFTER the Euros. Let's wait and see.