For all his class, Toni Kroos is not the man to fix Manchester United’s great midfield imbalance. The talented German would be a ground-breaking signing for any Premier League club, but that is not to say that he would be a certain fix for the Red Devils’ engine room.
Louis van Gaal has tried every possible combination of his current midfielders and he is yet to find his own modern day Roy Keane – Paul Scholes axis. The Dutch manager is failing to learn from previous mistakes and, despite the early season humiliation against Arsenal, does not appear to have entirely ruled out played Bastian Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick together.
LVG’s Man United side have been an enigma in many ways. Against the better teams they show they have the resilience and organisation to at least prove to be tough to beat, yet their lack of creativity stifles any success against teams that arrive at Old Trafford and chuck their bus into neutral on the six yard line. Whilst Carrick has aged dramatically over the last year or so, Van Gaal is yet to acknowledge the need for Ander Herrera to occupy one of the deeper roles against weaker teams.
Attacking impetus is rare in a United midfield that usually includes two of Schneiderlin, Carrick and Schweinsteiger. There is an increasingly desperate need for the side to build quicker through their midfield pairing. A switch to a 4-3-3 would be ideal for Herrera – although it makes it difficult to fit Wayne Rooney into the team – as the Spaniard clearly thrives when he has the opportunity to surge from deep. The Athletic Bilbao man has looked uncomfortable in the No.10 role at times, which should really be Juan Mata’s position.
Four wins from their last five Premier League games has left the red half of Manchester with a sniff of Champions League football. The slightest whimper of a chance of the European big time might be enough to keep Van Gaal in a job and, if reports are to be believed, Van Gaal would love to add another German World Cup winner to his midfield in the shape of Kroos. The 26 year-old has largely been in the shadow of Luka Modric during his time at Real Madrid and, similarly to United, the Spanish giants have struggled to balance their central ranks.
Whilst Casemiro has provided the solidity at the base, Kroos has been afforded more freedom to express himself, and this is the role that Manchester United would surely look to use him in. A 4-2-3-1 with a Kroos – Schneiderlin pairing seems balanced, yet the lack of mobility is surely a concern. Kroos’ 1.8 key passes per La Liga game exceeds every single Manchester United player this season. Herrera, with 0.7 a game, is the most creative of the central midfield options for Van Gaal.
The shortage of creative spark in the United engine room is down to team strategy rather than individuals. Signing Kroos would be a magnificent step in the right direction for the club, but, unless other changes were made, it would not fix their midfield issues. Marouane Fellaini cannot be relied on by any club who wants to challenge for titles and, unless Van Gaal uses his attacking players in their most effective positions, the team will continue to look disjointed.
Ultimately, Manchester United cannot hope for a midfield balance until Rooney finds a position in the team that is not at No.10. The midfield experiment with the England skipper fell flat on its face in 2014/15 and it would take an exceptionally brave man to try it once more. 4-3-3, as Van Gaal has often spoken of, is the way to balance this Manchester United team. The creativity of Mata is not enough to compensate for the unimaginative Schneiderlin, whilst simply signing Kroos would not alone be enough to create a midfield to compete with the best sides in the league.
As Manchester City and Chelsea both look certain to spend big in central midfield, United, if they are to sign Kroos, must consider how they will balance their side. Since Sir Alex Ferguson left, the transfer strategy at Old Trafford has been chaotic, but hopefully they will have learnt that signing a ‘name’ will not fix the intrinsic problems that they face tactically.
If Van Gaal is fixated on his slow build-up philosophy, they required sharper dribblers, greater technicians and more explosive full-backs, but the fear is the Dutchman continues to focus on ball retention ahead of chance creation.