Examining the State of Manchester United’s Midfield


Throughout the summer, an on-going story has been Manchester United’s pursuit of a central midfielder. After being outclassed by Barcelona’s midfield followed by the retirement of Paul Scholes, everyone has expected United to find a replacement. After bringing in Phil Jones, Ashley Young and David de Gea for over 50 million euros, it seemed only a matter of time before the Red Devils would get their star midfielder. However, with the Samir Nasri and Wesley Sneijder sweepstakes stalling, one has to wonder if Sir Alex may just have enough faith in his squad to move ahead without any more signings.

So why would Sir Alex put down rumors about Nasri and Sneijder? Is he trying to play mind games with Arsenal and Inter? Perhaps he feels his roster is deep enough to wait until January to make a bid for either player which would make sense considering Nasri and Arsenal have still failed to agree on a new deal. Inter, meanwhile, has been reported to have debt issues and with the signing of Ricky Alvarez, the Milan club may soon feel pressure to unload Sneijder’s contract.

Ironically, it has been almost ten years since Manchester United signed a world class midfielder in Juan Sebastian Veron for a record price. I’m not saying that Nasri or Sneijder will turn out like him, but the possibility of obtaining an expensive flop is always present.

Buying the next Paul Scholes is a ridiculous notion that has been manufactured by the media. Paul Scholes is simply irreplaceable and all the money in the world won’t change that. Signing a high profile talent may help fill the gap he’s left but at the end of the day, Scholes’ retirement marked the end of an era.

According to the media, if Manchester United fail to buy a central midfielder, then the summer will be deemed a failure. Also, because of Barcelona’s dominance, it seems United have to sign a world class midfielder or they’ll never be able to compete with the Catalan giants. My question though, is when did Manchester United have the sole responsibility of dealing with Barcelona?

Manchester United should only be concerned about consistently winning rather than being concerned with how to stop Barcelona. With that, the Red Devils may not sign another midfielder because of confidence in what they already have. In terms of the future, one option could be the young Tom Cleverly fresh off his stint at Wigan. United fans saw Cleverly’s potential as an explosive attacking midfielder during the summer tournament last year. His play was a major factor to Wigan’s survival and the experience truly made him a better all-around player. He is already playing for the England U21 team and is definitely highly touted for the future due to his central role in creating chances from the center and the wings of the pitch. He’ll still need time to develop with United, but he is definitely a long-term solution to the midfield. In my opinion, if he wasn’t with the team already and was a transfer target, he would be a lot more hyped.

In terms of the immediate future, this could mark the year that the Brazilian Anderson emerges as a consistent force in the midfield. After four years with Manchester United, Anderson has undergone his ups and downs. Despite doing well in his first couple of seasons, Anderson was looked over in the bigger games for the likes Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher. It was a lot of disappointment and pressure for a 21 year old to deal with and he clearly had some maturity issues. Then, injuries from rupturing his cruciate ligament in his left knee and from being in a serious car accident sidelined him for months.

However, the time away may have been a blessing in disguise because he played remarkably well in the first half of the season last year. His form confirmed the great potential he has and warranted a new deal that will see him remain at Old Trafford to the end of 2015. For the rest of the season, Anderson continued to play in a comeback year for him in both the EPL and the Champions League.

In the upcoming season, Anderson finally looks ready to become a permanent fixture in Manchester United’s midfield after not having to deal with any injuries. He himself is confident in his abilities as he recently stated in an interview with Manutd.com. “I think I’m already there.” “I’ve played well for Manchester United in the past and I’m confident I have the quality to play in the position of Scholes. “He was an unbelievable player – of course I understand that – but I think I’ve learnt a lot from him. I think of him like my teacher. He’s helped me a lot.”

When looking at Anderson at his best, there is a lot to be excited about. He’s become an excellent passer in terms of short and long balls which will remind many of Scholes. He has shown his talent in driving up the field during attacks while at the same time staying committed on defense. His competitive flair spurs on those around him and after his noted struggles in terms of scoring, 2010 was his best year yet with four goals after only one in three prior years.

Would I like it if United signed a world class talent like Sneijder or Nasri? Of course I would. However, the Red Devils shouldn’t be seen as desperate to buy a new midfielder. With Anderson and Cleverly blooming at the right time, Red Devil supporters should feel comfortable with what they have already. At the end of the day, there is no such thing as the “new Paul Scholes” whether it’s Sneijder, Nasri, Anderson or Cleverly. There can only be the new player ready to fill Scholes shoes and right now, Anderson looks like the most realistic option.

45 thoughts on “Examining the State of Manchester United’s Midfield”

  1. Nice article. I agree with a lot of what you laid out for us. However, I believe that Sir alex’s apparent indifference towards Sneijder and Nasri comes from his confidence in the fact that he feels he has a replacement for Scholes already in his squad. Wayne Rooney.

    I have pushed this idea for months now, starting with Rooney’s England role, that Rooney is a better midfielder than he is a striker. He has all of Scholes’s abilities in terms of passing ( maybe), goalscoring, defending, etc. He is a natural midfielder who currently, when United are struggling, tracks back to get more possession anyway. He is a better tackler than Scholes and at his age, is approaching his prime.

    Ferguson has hinted that he will not use Rooney in that role, but I bet that he’ll have no choice as the flow of the game will decide where he plays. He’s already shown on tour that he has the skills to do the job, and I’ll wager that Ferguson will be doing some chin scratching over the next few weeks.

    The Case for Rooney, Crouch and Defoe without Lampard http://www.soccerlimeyinamerica.com/?p=855

    Rooney for Scholes is Ferguson’s trump card

    1. SAF has already said rooney wouldn’t be able to replace scholes….. rooney is far better as a striker, remember the 34 goals he scored for us??? why put someone who scores so many in a position that takes him away from scoring..?

    2. I agree completely. I have also looked at Rooney as being a “midfield player”. I am sure, as the years go on, that this will be his eventual position and he will be a better player for it overall.

      1. would also relieve some of the pressure on being “the man”. His form last year was so-so compared to the season before the WC. will be interesting to see where he fits in next month.

  2. The center midfield is short two natural players. Unless SAF is planning to give Cleverley a lot of time, Anderson and Carrick are the only two natural players in central midfield who have played in the current pre-season.

    Fletcher should be okay, but who knows. He has zero match fitness dating back for a while. Gibson is apparently going to be sold, but there’s a question mark on him as he’s currently playing with the reserves. Jones can play as a holding mid, but he’s a natural defender. Cleverley will need time to adapt and will need loads of matches to gain SAF’s belief more so trust that he can do a job.

    It’s never been about United worrying about other clubs (that’s always been and always will be media-talk), it’s about quality depth/quality cover.

  3. Thank you. So sick and tired of all the “When will United sign so and so” headlines all over the place, as if we need to sign a world-class, expensive CM to be able to compete. People seem to forget that we won the league last year, and that was with Scholes (who evidently we’re trying to “replace”) playing very very few matches. Sure, our midfield needs more stability, but it’s not absolutely vital that we sign a Nasri or a Sneijder just to remain afloat. In my honest opinion, players like Ando, Cleverley, Morrison, Pogba etc. will be excellent in a few years but would do well to develop under a good CM pairing. Therefore, I obviously think our squad would be stronger if we signed someone like Sneijder or Nasri (I prefer Nasri, but that’s all opinion-based) but if we don’t, we’ll still be one of the top teams in Europe.

    1. Yeah, and we were absolutely crap away from home. So yeah we definately need a quality midfileder. I dont believe we actually played that well last season, about 85% of games I saw was so lacklustre, its like we have lost a spark, especially in midfield. Can anyone name a true world class midfileder we have in our team?

        1. Id love it we some how got De Rossi from Roma for that role but I think SAF has this kid Tunnicliffe lined up long term for that role.

    2. Sounds like a 16 year old bandwagon Man United fan from the States. I mean look at you, talking about winning trophies and wanting to cling on to trophies so you can look all cool to your friends and tell them you support a club winning trophies. Your reputation with your friend depends upon Man United winning trophies every year so they don’t laugh at you when someone else wins the trophy. What do you know about the history of the club, the supporters, the rebuilding after Munich 1958, the shops and restaurants around Old Trafford??

      1. I consider your opinion myopic and very wrong. A true fan supports whichever club he likes. You don’t have to be tribal in supporting your local club because most times you find true fans supporting clubs because of either plays or the coach or the style or even the jersey colour.

  4. Agreed 100%. while it would be nice to get Sneijder or Nasri it wont be then end of the world if we dont, id rather we go with what we already have in terms of players than over pay for a player just to bring in a “big name”.

    Anderson has shown he has the ability in midfield but like Nani he needs to play consistently to be at his best.

    We really do have some brilliant kids coming through from the reserves. Pogba, Tunnicliffe, and Morrison(if he can stay out of trouble) all look like the future stars of the club.

    I would be more than happy to start the season with our current squad as we would have as good a chance as always of winning the league.

    1. Ahhh! Another bandwagon glory hunting United fan. Talking so arrogantly about “having a good a chance as always of winning the league”. LOL. Clearly you have no understanding of how clubs are run in England. This isn’t the NBA where if you finish last, you get rewarded with the highest draft pick. You get relegated and you lose £40-50 million not being in the Premier League and you say goodbye to your dreams of seeing “your” team win the league. It’s stupid to assume that Man United will always be #1 in the world. Don’t be afraid of supporting them when and if they come crashing down to Earth. Don’t be ashamed of them if they are playing in front of 20,000 fans in Colchester or Dover every week instead of playing in Milan, Madrid, & Munich in European matches. But ultimately it’s your choice whether you want to support them or jump the bandwagon of Barcelona or Real Madrid.

  5. I Don’t think Manchester United need to buy any player in the midfield this season because of the players Manchester united already have .Even in the past 3 years Scholes was not one of an important member of the Squad ,he was always on the Bench.I think Manchester United should Sign a midfielder When Ryan Giggs Retires

  6. i think SAF is very clever. he is going to test the young midfielders like anderson and clevery in the first half of the season and when the january window opens if nasri doesnt sign a new deal man utd can offer half of the amount now and arsenal will also be very desperate to sell.
    man utd should be alright with the 3 signings and build the team during the january transfer window but i would recommend to SAF to buy 1 or 2 players from the barcelona youth team as fringe players like chelsea did with the signing of oriol to boost the strength in depth.

    1. I think it’s a good idea to have cleverly split time, gain more experience without playing too many minutes/picking up an injury. if he can stay injury-free, could be a long-term answer in midfield.

  7. not targeting to close the gap between us and barca would be a huge tactical mistake for club. For how else do u improve if u dont aim to topple e guy at the top. We simply have find players to match the xavi inesta busquets axis. If i were manager i would get Lasana diara and sniejder or nasri. With e Intention of deploying a 5 man midfield in the tough games made up of . Young carrick sneijder diara valencia..with roo up top…with tht team bring on barca anyday

    1. Barca are unique and temporary. Xavi and Iniesta are extremely rare talents. In 3-5 years, Barca will crumble as these two age (same with Spain’s team).

      1. ** With that, I meant:
        There is no point in copying Barca when their model (and performance level) is unique and will not last for much longer. United (and Fergie) look long term (as they have done over the past 25 years) and copying barca would be a mistake. Let United lay down the blueprint for the next 10 years of success!

  8. although we don’t really need to
    signing Sneijder will be like giving man utd the league trophy no team in the league will be able to match them just look at Chelsea and man utd’s preseason friendlies man u players are clearly outclassing chelsea’s

  9. Personally I don’t want to be ‘one of the top teams I europe’. I want to be the best,and you’re dreaming if you think our current squad has a hope in hell against Barcelona. We need to sign if we want to be the best again, where is your sense of ambition?

    1. The game against braca last year made sick, and destroid any celebration of wining the PL.
      MANU they are either the best all around team, or nothing halfway that counts. We are not looking for breadcrumbs. We should win it all.

      1. only Mancity have the checkbook to match your ambition. SAF has already shot his wad this transfer window–remember all the debt?

  10. I think Paulo Henrique (Ganso) would be a better option, he’s only 21 and he would certainly bring assists and a goal threat from that attacking midfield role, he is very skillful, has a great left foot, has pace, and his vision and composure are insane.

    1. And unfortunately he’s Serie A bound. There’s even quotes from last season of him saying it’s his dream to play in Italy, can’t see that changing.

  11. I also agree with alot of what you have said , cleverly needs to be given a chance we are never gona know If he can cut it in a team like united if he isnt given a chance but I also think we need to buy 1 good attacking midfielder with some experience because carrick just can’t cut it in the big games he just freezes , he was like a cat caught in the headlights in the CL final against barca he didn’t know what to do , I for 1 think Daniel de Rossi would be a great addition , he is a tough midfielder very good at long balls and tackling and with the added bonus of him being cheaper than either Nasri or Sneidjer but that’s just my opinion what does everyone else think ??

  12. There is clearly a problem with globalization of football. The teams and the leagues that are able to market themselves the best have a huge and unfair advantage over teams that don’t. Paul Scholes is a good player, but i’m sure there are others like him in the world in hundreds of football leagues around the world, but they aren’t given a shout why? because they don’t play in the ‘premier league’. this is plain Eurosnobbery glory hunting. and following the premier league is kinda like glory hunting because you’re only following the best league in the world instead of supporting your own team and league. For those of you who are Americans, support your own local team. If you don’t have one, get a petition from the city council and MLS to give you a franchise. by supporting english and european clubs, you’re hurting the growth of the sport in the country. We may have more exposure to it, but that doesn’t translate into local support for the teams. And all Manchester United fans in the US and around the world and outside of Manchester, England are indeed glory hunters. For those of you who started supporting United after the 1999 treble winning season and beating Bayern Munich(who were very unlucky to not score a couple of more goals and put the game away for good), you are glory-hunters. Doesn’t matter if you stuck with them when Arsenal won the league in 2004, and Mourinho and Abramovich’s Chelsea won it in 2005&2006 and have to this day, you are glory-hunters. And many of you are from the East or West Coasts, and there is no shortage of soccer clubs in that part of the country. You have the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA on the West Coast and you have New England Revolution and Red Bulls New York on the East Coast. You have the Miami Fusion or Miami FC. It’s not just MLS. Support teams in the division below it as well. You think clubs just function on international bandwagon fans’ $$$, think again. If Old Trafford’s attendance was to drop in half, it would really really hurt the club and it’s image. The local support is more important than the international fans who just trash-talk and gloat when United win or say “Premier League is a given, we want champions League” and bull**** like that. You should be happy and proud of your team whether they are holding aloft the league trophy and continental trophy, or whether they are plying their trade in the 3rd division. I don’t blame you guys for being glory-hunters. American sporting culture is like that, you see. Franchises are not locally-supported clubs. they just relocate them to another city when that franchise isn’t doing that well in the present city and the owners are losing money. So the league commissioner bails out the owners of the franchise and tells them you can go to another city and change the name of the team to something different and build a new multimillion dollar complex. Clubs cannot go bankrupt ever and fans can’t start their own “clubs’. the franchises have to be owned by a powerful owner and fans are only customers of the franchise, not supporters or real fans with voice. Americans have always been used to playing in the top leagues. As a Houstonian, I support the Houston Astros and for those who follow baseball, they have the worst record now. They’re heading towards a 100-loss season. But they won’t get relegated to a lower league. They’ll “come back next year” and win the World Series. Football clubs in england and Europe are not afforded the same luxury. The fans live and die with the club. It’s serious business over there unlike in America, where supporting long-lasting teams is impossible and teams can be moved to another city at the whim of the owner. that’s how clubs in England survive and it’s justified that English football fans feel apprehensive when they see foreigners supporting the big four clubs and buying up all their jerseys and giving the big four a revenue advantage. it’s no wonder that the big four are so far ahead of everyone now in terms of money. Champions League matches, int’l glory-hunters, more TV deals. It’s impossible for the lower league sides to compete. That’s why don’t make the mistake of abandoning MLS teams for European sides and bankrupting your own leagues. Think about your children. Who will they support? the team that’s close to them or Man United/Liverpool/City because you supported and they were successful teams? you want them to become glory-hunters like you and incur the wrath of those true fans who love our clubs no matter what?

    1. Fantastic, this rubbish again. Listen, Sunil Gulati’s personal assistant, if you don’t want to support any teams or clubs except your local ones, by all means go ahead. Don’t try and tell people not to follow better-caliber football, or insult them for doing so. People follow clubs in better leagues because they want to be a part of something interesting and meaningful. I follow United, but I also follow D.C. United and I can tell you right now that watching United in a pre-season friendly is about ten times more interesting than watching D.C. in a cup final would be. It’s the same reason guys in Europe watch the NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL, because their domestic leagues simply don’t come close to the caliber of play. Kindly keep your nationalist snobbery to yourself.

    2. Bwhaha! Not everyone that follows PL football are 16 year old dbag “glory hunters”. Gawd, you’re a tiresome windbag. Bet you’re all kinds of fun at a party.

  13. As Thomas has alluded to above, I too believe that we need to be concerned with building a squad that can challenge Barca. Sure we want to win consistently as the writer put it. Yet, we need to remember that Barca have become the benchmark of European success and that if we simply ignore the giant elephant in the room that is Barca’s domination, we are choosing to merely be content with just winning domestically and coming up short in Europe. We’ve demonstrated our ability to win the PL title despite having a subpar midfield as well as an atrocious home record last season. Surely, that speaks to a degree about our ability to win somewhat consistently against English teams. However, United have never just been about winning the league or FA Cup.

      1. I can tell you’re an American Man United fan, aren’t you?? If you were a real Manchester United, you would be proud of them for what they’ve achieved…but since you grew up in an American culture supporting top-league teams because there is nothing below NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, I don’t really blame you. You don’t understand how the professional football setup in Europe and England works, do ya??? There is a chance that Manchester United will not be challenging for European glory in the next coming years and their domination of their own league might also come under threat. Oops, now you can’t gloat to your friends, who are true football fans of lower league or lower quality teams in MLS, that “I was there when United won the Premier League and FA Cup double in 20##-20##.” They might descend into mid-table mediocrity. What will you do then?? Start supporting Manchester City or Liverpool or Chelsea? Look at you, man. Talking as if it’s a given that United will win the Premier League title. Like LA Lakers fans think it’s their God-given right to see their team lift the NBA Champions trophy and parade in Los Angeles every year. That’s typical mentality of American sports fan because they don’t have to worry about their teams being relegated to a lower division because their is no lower division to be relegated to. That’s why when people like you adopt a successful team like Manchester United, you can treat it like an American team and call it “Man U'” “Yeah, Red Devils!”. “Arsenal and Chelsea. you’z goin down!”. If you support a team, have the humility to accept victory and defeat gracefully. A football club will not always be on Planet 9. Look at Leeds United if you don’t know how successful they were back in the 70s. They made the semi-finals of Champions League in 2001 and now they just got into the second division. Sampdoria was in the European Cup final in 1992 and they’ve been relegated. Deportivo la Coruna won the Spanish league 11 years ago and now, they’ve been relegated. AS Monaco were finalists in 2004 Champions League final and now they’ve been relegated. But the fans of these clubs will continue to support their players and wear the kits and scarves on their hearts with pride next season and many seasons to come. So you understand what I’m saying to you??? You’re not supporting a sorry-ass franchise that won’t be relegated, in fact, they’ll be relocated to another town like Oklahoma City, lol. You’re supporting a football club that was built on the backs of the supporters who went to those football grounds and paid to watch their team play. People for whom the club is a community center, a second home. If you don’t have a local MLS team, support the closest university league, or sunday league team to you.

        1. Sorry, but you make it sound like local soccer clubs are superior to ones that are created overseas when, in fact, they’re all businesses that are run to make money.

          So, your description of “You’re supporting a football club that was built on the backs of the supporters who went to those football grounds and paid to watch their team play” can sum up any team anywhere in the world.

          The Gaffer

  14. Why ignore the obvious. Man U’s next great center mid is Ryan Giggs. Sir A used Giggs in that role more and more often. gs has said that he likes playing in the center since he doesn’t have to cover so much ground, and he is everything that one needs in that position.

  15. As the author of the article, I just would like to say thanks to everyone for their comments which have been truly interesting. To all those who say we need to think about Barca, I say you’re wrong because we could buy anyone in the world and I still don’t think that would have changed anything because they have CHEMISTRY!!! You can’t just buy a Sneijder or Nsri and all of the sudden think “Oh now Barca are fucked because we have a world class midfielder, woohoo!”. That’s not how it works. The Barca players have all played with each other so much for Barca and Spain over the years that they know their each others’ movements, style, tendencies and abilities in terms of passing and building chances. Manchester United need to focus on what they have already before spending extravagantly on some superstar who could easily be considered a bust considering the price.
    P.S.- Support Your Local Team Guyz, u need to take a chill pill. I’m a United first but I also support the Red Bulls because at the end of the day, I love football and want to take in as much as possible. I honestly hate it when people in generally tell others what they they should do or think or in this case follow. U have no right to tell anyone who they support is wrong because at the end of the day, it’s just plainly not your business.

    1. Woot! Go Red Bulls and United! but seriously that local team guy needs to rethink and restate his argument. Its self contradicting and confusing. I shouldn’t think the team I root for will do well? And then you knock American fans of other sports because their teams can’t be relegated? You realize that MLS teams can’t be relegated, and whoever comes in last gets better draft picks, right?

  16. Support Your Local Team Guyz why dont you do us all a favor and support a local web site/blog in your own town of Houston. If you don’t have any, get a petition from the city council and get one started. By supporting other websites/blogs you’re hurting the growth of blogging in your local area.

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