Although Manchester United cruised to their twentieth Premier League title last season, they were far from a perfect side. Inconsistent wingers, coupled with a lack of options in center midfield, weakened a team that boasted one of the most deadly attacking trios in United’s history.
While players such as Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia should rebound this coming season, given the chance of course, the center of the park will still be a problem for Manchester United if they fail to strengthen this summer. In new boss David Moyes though, there is a hope that this growing crisis will finally be addressed. A big name signing or two would help him prove to any doubters that he is up to the task of managing the biggest club in the world. The truth is, though, that very few players meet the standards of Manchester United and David Moyes will have his work cut out for him trying to find the perfect option.
So, realistically, which center midfielders should Manchester United target to improve the weakest area in the team?
Here are 6 potential candidates (in no specific order):
1. Claudio Marchisio
The Italian’s great technique, vision and eye for goal have helped establish him among the best in the world at his position. The heart and soul of the Juventus team, not only does Marchisio offer an attacking option, but he can also get back and help break up opposing attacks due to his high work rate. Recently, he has even welcomed links with the Premier League champions, and now would be the perfect time for Manchester United to make a move. Marchisio would make a good partner for Michael Carrick, and also offer them another deadly option in front of goal, something they have been lacking from the midfield for quite a while now.
2. Thiago Alcantara
Manchester United were close to acquiring Thiago in 2011, but the Spain Under-21 captain elected to stay at Barcelona. This summer may prove to be different though, as the offer of constant first team football may be enough to pull him away. Thiago’s natural vision and technique are what makes him one of the best young talents in the game, and his impressive showing in the European Under-21 championships put these qualities on display. If he continues on the path he is on now, there is no reason not to believe Manchester United would be getting a top quality central midfielder.
3. Beñat Etxebarria
While many of his performances for Real Betis have gone unnoticed, Beñat is truly one of the most gifted playmakers in La Liga. Despite being a deep-lying midfielder he has been a vital part in Betis’ attack, while still contributing to the defensive side of things. Able to break up opposing movement and quickly launch a counterattack, he would be valuable to any top side. His tough tackling also suggests that he would be able to fit in with the physicality of the Premier League. With his contract running out in 2014, he has been linked with a move to Manchester United, who would do well to secure his services.
4. Kevin Strootman
Despite a disappointing showing in the European Under-21’s championship this summer, Kevin Strootman still remains a good option for Manchester United. Compared to United’s one time talisman and captain Roy Keane, not only does the 23 year old have a commanding presence, but he is also able to combine that with good ball control and vision to create an appealing overall package. In last season’s Europa League he averaged 91.8 percent pass completion, 7.7 tackles, and 1.7 key passes per game in 3 appearances. If signed, he would slot nicely into the team alongside Carrick and add a dimension to the midfield that opponents might struggle to combat.
5. Ilkay Gündoğan
Only fully emerging this past season, Gündoğan has proven himself in both the Bundesliga and the Champions League. He was particularly excellent in Dortmund’s stunning demolition of Real Madrid in the semifinal, and was even better in the Champions League Final versus Bayern, where on the biggest stage in European football he remained cool and composed throughout the entire affair. The only concern though, is that Gündoğan would not provide United with a presence in midfield. However, he would still greatly benefit them with his composure on the ball, and box to box movement off of it.
6. Lars Bender
Leverkusen’s midfield stalwart has been excellent for his side over the past two seasons, especially in the Europa League. At 24, Lars has earned 18 caps for Germany, and should be a mainstay for years to come if he continues to impress. If Manchester United were to meet the reported £12m price tag Leverkusen have set for him, they would be getting a defensive midfielder that offers them a variety of options. Through his strength, stamina, and skill, Lars can control the midfield and allow Carrick more freedom without having to worry about getting back and making tackles. Also, by acquiring a true defensive center midfielder, United can finally properly utilize the diamond formation that they tinkered with last season.
What are your thoughts about the 6 potential candidates? Are there any missing that should be included? Share your opinion in the comments section below.