Manchester United have a healthy midfield conundrum

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With Morgan Schneiderlin joining Bastian Schweinsteiger at Manchester United there are growing questions about where these two will fit into a central midfield that is already packed. This is just the thing that United supporters have been craving for years, but has now created a conundrum of where to stick them all.

If they keep Angel Di Maria then he will likely start on the right wing with Memphis Depay playing on the left while Rooney plays alone up front. This leaves three midfield positions to be filled by seven possible candidates: Juan Mata, Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini, Daley Blind, Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger.

Out of those seven there are five that could be classified in a defensive midfielder category with Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Herrera, Blind and Carrick all capable of this role. While Fellaini may have fancied himself as a DMF, his best position has been further up the pitch. Mata is almost certainly United’s best No. 10, while also being capable of playing out wide, meaning that Di Maria and Mata could easily be swapped for one another or even interchange throughout a match.

All of this talk of midfielders still leaves the likes of Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Adnan Januzaj on the bench. With these three suited more as wide midfielders or wingers they can be integrated in with Di Maria and Depay as backups out wide.

Central midfield has been the big problem for United for a very long time. In reality there has never been a replacement for Roy Keane, following his departure in 2005. The signing of Carrick in 2006 was a fantastic purchase, but he was never going to replace Keane as a defensive midfielder. His role has always been more as a holding midfielder providing cover in the form of tracking players and interceptions, while directing the attack from a deep position. An entire article could be written on Carrick and what he has provided to United over the years, along with the split in opinion over his importance.

Anderson and Owen Hargreaves joined the club in 2007 and both were considered to be possible replacements to provide that solid cover for the defense that was so very needed. Instead Hargreaves spent the season (and the rest of his career) injured and Anderson became the poster boy for unfulfilled potential.

It is telling that these two players were the last defensive midfielders bought by Sir Alex Ferguson and even more telling that he managed to convince Paul Scholes to come out of retirement to play for the second half of the 2011/12 season. The final central midfielder that Ferguson brought into the club was Shinji Kagawa, who was never really played in his preferred position and spent much of his time at United being invisible.

David Moyes was also unable to address the concerns in midfield. Instead of seeking out a quality defensive midfielder he went out and bought Fellaini and Mata in positions that were already being filled by Carrick, Rooney and Kagawa (occasionally). While these two weren’t exactly terrible purchases, neither one was every played in their best positions, which seems to be a recurring theme.

While Louis van Gaal also spent a year without a real defensive midfielder he at least began to design his blueprint for what he wanted in the team. With Herrera he got a scrappy midfielder who showed his ability all over the pitch. Despite his slight frame he became one of the best tacklers last season with an average of 3.5 tackles per 90 minutes, good enough for seventh best among players with at least 25 appearances (Schneiderlin was first with an average of 3.9 per 90). In addition to this he was third highest in average passes per 90 minutes with 74.8 and an average of 63 accurate short passes.

One should not forget Blind, who averaged 3.24 interceptions per game and 2.76 tackles per game over his 25 appearances. Blind also averaged the most passes and successful passes per game for Manchester United with 61.88 and 54.16.

What van Gaal is left with now is a glut of central midfielders basically vying for three positions in the team. In Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger he now has one quality DM and one world-class DM. With Herrera and Carrick he has youth and an ageing veteran. Carrick may be 34 years old now, but if he can stay healthy, he has the talent to continue to provide support for this United squad both on and off the pitch. Blind is young and talented and he has the ability to provide a supporting role for this burgeoning central midfield.

What Manchester United has now is a team filled with midfielders all capable of providing van Gaal with the balance he has been craving since the start of last season. With that said, there is still the problem of finding a top end center-back and striker, however, Premier League matches are being won and lost more often in midfield nowadays and United now have a midfield capable of competing for the title.

Adding Schweinsteiger alone was a coup intended to show their intent for the 2015/16 season. Adding the likes of Depay and Schneiderlin only solidify their chances of pushing Chelsea. What Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin really add is a depth to United’s ability to protect the back four, while also pushing the attack.

If either, or both, of these two are played in deep-lying roles it gives their midfield counterparts more time and space to operate further up the pitch. This addition means that any of the creative midfielders should thrive, whether that is Mata or Herrera playing in the third midfield role or Depay and Di Maria out wide.

With all of this taken into account I believe that the ideal team currently puts Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger in deep lying roles, most likely alternating the roles of defensive midfield sitting deep and a second holding midfielder capable of pushing further up the pitch. Ahead of these two would be Mata as the attacking playmaker, while Depay and Di Maria play wide on the wings. Alternatively Mata could play wide if Di Maria is sold while Herrera would fit in well in place of Mata. Up front would currently be Rooney, but if Cavani is brought in Rooney could drop deeper in place of Herrera or Mata.

No matter how you look at it, the signings of Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin have completely changed the title race for this season. With rumors surrounding additional transfers this summer the future is looking very bright for United supporters.

 

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