Manchester United’s central midfield has been a topic of furious debate for their fans for quite a while. Baffled by the lack of investment in this area in recent times, a lot of us have questioned whether Sir Alex’s hands have been tied by the infamous owners, the Glazer family. However, the recent acquisitions of Van Persie, Kagawa and Powell tells us that as odious and greedy as the Glazer family are, they still are willing to provide funds to SAF. Thus it would seem that the Gaffer is actually satisfied with the players at his disposal.
Before moving on to the players themselves, it’s worth taking a look at why so many fans believe that new blood is necessary in this position. It’s been a good 5 seasons since the purchases of Anderson and Hargreaves. While in this period, Tom Cleverley has emerged and staked a place in not only the United but also the England line up and Ryan Giggs has tailored his game which means that he is now more often used in the centre, it is strange for the club to not bring in new players in a certain position for what is in modern football a prolonged spell.
Tactically United have largely stuck by a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation especially in the league. With more teams transitioning to the 4-2-3-1 which involves the use of 2 deep lying central midfielders in addition to an extra more advanced central player. This obviously gives the opposition numerical advantage in midfield from where they can dictate the play and control the tempo. While this isn’t an issue against some of the smaller teams who park the bus against United, in big games against quality opposition United look to have a weak centre. A prime example of this is the latter of last season’s Manchester derbys where Yaya Toure in particular dominated the middle of the park leading City to a vital win in their successful title quest. United at times played 3 in the centre of midfield but it wasn’t wholly successful with neither the team nor the Manager seemed comfortable with the system.
Having looked at why United may need reinforcement in the area of the field, let us look at the personnel SAF does have at his disposal.
Perhaps the single biggest factor convincing SAF that investment is not required would be the emergence of young Tom. The 23 year old from Bradford has been a comparitively late bloomer with loan spells at Leicester, Watford and Wigan before staking his claim to the United squad last season. After a promising start, injury problems curtailed his season and he made just 10 starts. True to his name, Cleverley displays excellent spatial awareness and intelligence on the field. Armed with a solid short passing game, Cleverley is crucial to the high tempo game that will hopefully feature at Old Trafford this season. Eye catching displays at the Olympics for Team GB will hopefully find him in good form come the start of the season. A solid debut for England vs Italy is hopefully one of many to come. SAF has labelled him as potentially, the best English midfielder. A certain Jack Wilshere could have something to say about that but regardless big things are expected from Tom.
Having joined Manchester United in 2007 in a big money move from Porto, Anderson was thrust into the first team much sooner than many expected chalking up 38 appearances in his debut season. However the fact that he has failed to nail down a starting berth in what is now his 6th season speaks volumes about his Manchester United career. Plagued by injury problems and never really getting a sustained spell in the first team Anderson has flattered to deceive more often than not. Last season, Anderson and Cleverley formed an exciting partnership in the heart of midfield which coincided with United’s great goal scoring run to the season. But with Cleverley sustaining an injury against Bolton, Anderson seemed to lose his way and eventually his season was ruined by a knee injury. Many, including me, believe this season could well be his last chance for this likable Brazilian.
According to me, one of the most under-rated midfielders in the Premier League, Carrick is a classy midfielder formed an integral part of United last season. An elegant player, Carrick is blessed with a great passing range and is one of the few English midfielders who is adroit at keeping the ball. Although not adhering to the hustle and bustle of a traditional English midfielder like Scott Parker, Carrick is equally effective with his knack of always being in the right place. Many a quality interception from Carrick have led to speedy counter attacks. Probably the most continental of United’s midfielders, Mr. Reliable also gives the likes of Paul Scholes and Tom Cleverley freedom to play their natural games.
697 appearances 154 goals, Paul Scholes is one of the best ever central midfielders to grace the Premier League. Whether long or short, Scholes with his immaculate technique has the ability to find his man with ease. 60-70 yard jaw dropping passes emanate from his right boot with his trademark elegance and ease. Add to that a fierce long range shot, Paul Scholes is one of the few players to have played in both the positions of ‘regista’ and ‘trequarista’ throughout the span of his career. The only fault in his game is the trademark rash tackling that Scholes’ game is unfortunately punctuated with. After a surprise comeback from retirement earlier this year, Scholes played an important role in the second half of the season. However with the rigours of a full season this time around, he will have to be used sparingly.
Giggs has carved a niche for himself in the history of Manchester United. This is no mean feat and he will join the list of timeless legends like Duncan Edwards, George Best, Sir Bobby Charlton and Eric Cantona. The very fact that Ryan Giggs has been playing at the highest level from 1990 is the most astonishing achievement. Giggs tearing down the left wing has been a familiar sight at Old Trafford but age has resulted in him moving infield. Now figuring in the central midfield more often than not Giggs’ experience is often put to good use. Regular assists from the centre of the park are never in short supply with Giggs in the team. However, tackling has never been his strong suit and his distribution at times can be erratic.
Darren Fletcher joined Manchester United at the age of 11. He came through the academy and reserves grapevine and finally established himself in the United team. Although he had his fair share of detractors early in his career, Fletcher eventually became a fan favourite and an important figure in the United squad. Good passing range and hard working, Fletcher was SAF’s go to man especially in big games. However he was unfortunately diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and has not played a competitive fixture since last November. Things seem to be on the up though with featuring in Neil Simpson’s testimonial against Aberdeen earlier in the week. With Fletcher reportedly training well, fingers crossed that he can make a comeback sometime this season.
The young versatile player joined from Blackburn a year back and enjoyed a solid first season at United. He’s already been touted as a future England captain by many of his peers. Having featured mainly at Centreback and Full back, he’s also played a couple of games in the centre of the park for both United and England. I believe his future to be at centreback but his ball playing skills and tackling ability certainly provide an extra option.
The likes of Nick Powell, Jesse Lingard, Davide Petrucci and Ryan Tunnicliffe have all featured in pre-season and would definitely fancy their chances of getting a few run outs provided they don’t secure loan moves elsewhere.
In conclusion, after highlighting any concerns in central midfield and the various personnel at United I’d like to say that I would certainly welcome another quality midfielder especially keeping in mind this could be the last season we see Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes wear the Manchester United jersey. In an ideal world Yaya Toure would waltz his way from across town and into the red half of Manchester United. But since that doesn’t seem likely a certain Cameroon international plying his trade in North London would be great. Alex Song had an extremely good season with Arsenal and he could add some much needed bite to United’s midfield. His understanding with Robin van Persie was also apparent last season and that certainly wouldn’t be an undesirable trait. Fergie, Fergie, Sign him up!