For Sir Alex Ferguson the current international break could not have come at a better time. After a blistering start to the season, his Manchester United team have looked very laboured over the last couple of weeks and even though they have only lost once, that hiding received from Manchester City, they have looked uninspired at best and at worse downright boring. The Red Devils are sorely lacking a skillful attacking midfielder in the mould of a David Silva, Samir Nasri, or Juan Mata to name a few, who not only dictates the play but also scores goals on a regular basis.
Lets face it, none of the bunch of Anderson, Carrick, Fletcher, Cleverley, Park, Valencia, or Gibson is going to get you 10 or more goals per season. Giggs is not much of a factor anymore and Nani might get you 10 goals. However he is way too inconsistent and lacks that commanding presence. To top it off he is employed out wide where his pace is best exploited and is not much use in the middle of the park. End result, Rooney and the other forwards have to drop deep to pick up the ball or be isolated up front waiting to get it and by the time either happens the opposing team is back in numbers and any potential chance is lost.
The strength of recent United teams have in great part rested on the fact that they could conjure up goals from all parts of the park on a regular basis. The likes of Steve Bruce and Denis Irwin were regular scorers even though they were defenders. And midfielders such as Paul Scholes, Eric Cantona, Paul Ince and Roy Keane were so deadly in front of goal opposing teams had to give them as much attention as any of the United forwards which in turn left the forwards with more room within which to operate. Those days however are past and opposing teams are now fully aware that if they can keep Rooney quiet the United attack will most times grind to a halt. That other player who used to pick up the slack is now having a great deal of fun in Madrid.
Last season United became the first team to win the Premier League despite drawing most of their away games partly due to the fact that the home teams would pack their midfield and the Red Devils had no players with the guile and skill to unlock these football barricades. Already this season they have drawn two of their away games. Unfortunately for them this kind of artistry will not be good enough to win them the league this season. Manchester City are going to make sure of that.
Led by the sublime skills of David Silva, City’s attack has been fluid and deadly and between them, Aguero, Balotelli and Dzeko have hit a combined total of 24 league goals, only four less than the entire United team. Throw in Silva’s 4 goals and that difference is wiped away and the gap between the teams magnified. City’s attack shows no sign of relenting and if they continue to win games in the manner that they have so far demonstrated the title race could be over much sooner than anticipated.
Watching Wayne Rooney playing just in front of the defence in the second half of the game against Sunderland was simply painful. Rooney clearly has vision, passes the football very well and his goal scoring pedigree is unquestioned. In short, Rooney is the best attacking midfielder in this Manchester United team. He can pick a killer pass and he can find the net with equal efficiency. Maybe in the short term he could occupy that playmaking role behind the strikers with any two of the trio of Berbatov, Welbeck and Hernandez in front of him. Rooney is a great player, but he is not going to pass the ball to himself and those behind him are not going to create a great deal of chances for him.
Which brings us to the question of how does Sir Alex rectify this glaring deficiency within his squad? Simple really. He has to go out and spend good money on top quality. It may not be a bad idea to revisit the Wesley Sneijder option in light of Inter’s poor start to the season. Both Inter and Sneijder might see the move as a win-win situation. Sneijder gets the opportunity to take on a new challenge and Inter gets a bag of cash to help the rebuilding process, which is so obviously upon them. The obvious negative of a January move for Sneijder is that he is cup tied thus ruling him out of Champions League participation.
If a move for Sneijder does not work out, other players to consider are Parma’s Sebastian Giovinco and the German international Lukas Podolski, currently at FC Koln. Both players are better than any of the current United midfield and they have the added advantage of being younger than Sneijder and neither is cup-tied. Bids for both players should thus not be ruled out.
This boring United midfield was lucky last season. They will not be as lucky this season. Sir Alex needs to get things sorted out and quickly, established quality players need to be brought in. No more Bebe’s and, for crying out loud, no more wingers!