Manchester United’s history has been littered with great central midfielders. Paul Ince, Paul Scholes and Roy Keane are just a handful of the names who have enjoyed great success in a United shirt in the centre of midfield. Whilst the Scholes type who can push forward and create attacks are key, it is the tough tackling generals who are often the unappreciated heroes of the midfield. So with all United’s attacking flair, why hasn’t Sir Alex Ferguson addressed the defensive hole in his midfield?
There is no doubt that Fergie has been willing to invest in his squad this summer. The focus has been on youth and the future but positionally some of Fergie’s signings have left the squad a bit bare in other areas. David De Gea is the exception to this as he came in as a direct replacement for Edwin van der Sar but Ashley Young is a predominantly a winger where United already have the likes of Nani, Antonio Valencia and Park Ji-sung. Phil Jones is an excellent prospect but Ferguson already has Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling at his disposal. Central midfielder is where the heart of the problem lies.
Sir Alex doesn’t exactly have a shortage of central midfield options already the club with Michael Carrick, Anderson, Darren Fletcher and Darron Gibson on the United books. Carrick’s passing ability, Anderson’s attacking potential and Fletcher’s work rate box-to-box are useful attributes for Ferguson to call upon (whilst Gibson has never quite made the desired impact at United and has been the subject of transfer speculation this summer). Jones can also play slightly further forward in the midfield hole but is not established in that position. But there is no midfield leader, no tough tackling combative general to offer that guaranteed shield in front of the defense (think Claude Makelele, who defined the position with his no thrills style of play). Owen Hargreaves’ departure (despite rarely playing for the club in the last few years due to injuries) represents the loss of the type of player that Ferguson is missing.
But what are Fergie’s options if he did decide to shop for a defensive midfielder? None of the options I will mention below will offer flair or many goals but they are true central midfielders; combative, strong and tenacious.
There are a handful of world-class stars possibly available this summer who could fill that role at United. Despite his exploits in Serie A, Roma’s Daniele De Rossi’s move to a big European team has never materalised. As always he has been the subject of transfer speculation but in De Rossi Ferguson would have a true tough tackling central midfielder. Lassana Diarra is in the same mould of De Rossi and seems to be out of favour at Real Madrid so could be close to an exit. He would also come with Premier League experience after his time at Arsenal and Chelsea.
Another option, though more controversial, would be Javier Mascherano. Mascherano has also struggled to hold down a regular starting berth at Barcelona. In his time in England Mascherano perfected his destructive style of play though the fact that the majority of that time was spent with rivals Liverpool may be a major stumbling block for any deal. Newcastle’s Cheik Tiote is also an outside bet after an impressive first season in the Premier League.
All the above names come with experience but another option could be for Ferguson to continue his transfer policy of the summer and spend big on a younger central midfielder. Toulouse’s Moussa Sissoko is a name being linked with quite a few clubs and the 21-year-old holding midfielder has experience of playing on the international stage with France whist still having many years ahead of him to progress. Sissoko’s France teammate Yann M’Vila, 21, who plays for Rennes, is again a young option that Ferguson could consider.
The good news for Manchester United fans is that their club has been linked with the majority of these names and more (though transfer rumours fly around with so much ease and little truth most of the time). But Ferguson must follow through on the transfer talk and address the defensive gap that leaves a very big hole in United’s midfield.
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