This summer, it was widely agreed that Manchester United needed to strengthen in two areas in principal, central midfield and in goal. The need for a dominant goalkeeper was obvious, with the great Edwin van der Sar hanging up his gloves and the relatively limited range of variables that must be considered when selecting a goalkeeper. However, the midfield puzzle has been a little more difficult to solve.
Some argued that we needed some true defensive steel, pointing the finger to the games where we were overrun in midfield by the likes of Blackpool and Wolves. Others demanded a creative genius be added, instead choosing to focus on the games where we struggled to break down stubborn defences, most notably in our away games in the first half of the season.
This divide in opinion perhaps comes from the jack-of-all-trades nature of our central midfield options last season. Scholes, Giggs, Carrick, Anderson, Gibson and Fletcher all started more than ten games in central midfield, and none of them are what you’d call exclusively attacking or defensive in the way that, say, Claude Makelele or Wesley Sneijder would be.
We’ve got the balance wrong because there is no balance. Our midfield options are all huddled together in the dead centre of the see-saw. The debate rages about which way we need to go to sort the balance out.
With Scholes gone, Giggs soon to follow and Gibson edging towards a move to Sunderland, this leaves us with Fletcher, Anderson and Carrick as our midfield options. In effect, we’ve got a completely blank canvas to go about reinventing our midfield however Sir Alex sees fit.
Work has begun with the recruitment of Ashley Young and Phil Jones, but these two signings have been met with mixed reactions. Some spoiled United fans have already decided that Young is not “United class”, and we can look forward to him being made scapegoat for every poor performance next season. Others have demanded to know why Phil Jones isn’t Wesley Sneijder, and why we are spending money on young players. These idiotic fans don’t even deserve to be dignified with an answer.
In truth, these signings could give us the best clue yet as to the way we’re going to move with our midfield. Phil Jones has been playing as a centre-back for Blackburn, but is equally comfortable at the base of a midfield and, as anyone who saw his performances for the England U21 team will know, with the ball at his feet. Could this be where Sir Alex sees his future?
Ashley Young is a player who has been typecast as an out-and-out winger based on his early years, but in the last season or so has carved himself a niche as a “central winger” at Aston Villa, drifting this way and that to make things happen. Nani fulfilled this role for us during Antonio Valencia’s absence, and it was perhaps mastered by Ronaldo during his last two seasons playing for us. Is Young the next in line?
Where does our apparent pursuit of Samir Nasri fit into all of this? A wonderfully gifted player with a hunger for trophies, there is no doubt that he would fit the personality of our squad. Would he perhaps be treading on the toes of Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young should he join? Or would another versatile attacking midfield option be what we need?
Speaking of Rooney, perhaps he’s the missing piece of the midfield puzzle. My dad suggested, when Rooney first signed, that Fergie was going to groom him long-term to take over the Scholes role. With his range of passing, creativity, fiery personality and eye for goal, he certainly fits the mould. Perhaps we don’t need to sign a world-class attacking midfield player because we’ve already got one, but we’re playing him up front.
If we’re to assume Berbatov is leaving then Hernandez is unquestionably our first choice out-and-out frontman, with Owen, Welbeck and Macheda competing. We’ve then got Young, Nani, Rooney and Valencia to fit into three spaces behind him. Add Nasri to that list should we sign him. Fletcher, Carrick, Gibson and Jones then compete for two places at the base of our midfield in what could prove to be a very long season for Ryan Giggs.
This is without even considering the impact that the likes of Tom Cleverley, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Ravel Morrison may or may not make next season.
I’m not sure our midfield situation is that bad whatsoever, but it does highlight the need for pehaps one more specialist defensive midfielder. It just goes to show that one or two smart and versatile signings can, given a reshuffle of the options already at the club, make things seem much more rosy.