SAF’s European Headache

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There has been a lot of talk on midfielders in the comments section, I realise Penguin did a post on this topic, however, his was more centred on individuals whereas I will be looking at partnerships as well. And there is a big decision to be made by SAF on who to play in the centre of the park on Tuesday when we host Lyon in the second leg of the tie.

In the first match we got a very decent result — a 1-1 draw giving us the away goal and making us favourites to go through. However, that night in midfield we played 3 players, something I doubt we will do at Old Trafford. We had Hargreaves in a defensive role with Scholes and Anderson in front of him supporting Rooney in the lone striker role. Odds are we don’t play 3 in midfield on Tuesday but you never know with Sir Alex.

Here are the midfielders in contention for a place and a brief description of what they bring to the team.

Well, so who do we play against Lyon? That is the question (for this week at least). Here are the possible combinations that SAF might play:

Hargreaves and Anderson:

This combination brings a healthy mix of both flair and stability and has been played in the Premiership on many occasions. On the one hand, we have Hargreaves who is the best tackling midfielder we currently have and bought mainly for European experience. He also brings stability and is very good at covering for the defence. As he showed against Fulham he can hit a free kick very well, scoring his first goal for United. He is very composed on the ball shows a lot of strength and plays it simple but effective. On the other hand there is Anderson who has showed he is worth every single penny we paid for him. He brings attacking flair, is a very good dribbler of the ball. Has a decent passing ability and, surprisingly enough, is very strong — sometimes too strong in a tackle. This is one of my preferred partnerships and has worked well in Premiership matches, however, I‘m not so sure how it will work in Europe.

Hargreaves and Scholes:

This partnership is probably what Sir Alex expected would be his first choice central midfield pairing at the start of season. However, injuries to both of them hasn’t allowed this to happen as much as expected. Hargreaves and Scholes brings much needed experience in the spine of the team. These two alone probably have more European experience than all our other central midfielders put together. With these two in the team we have a ball winner and a play maker; Hargreaves wins the ball gives it to Scholes who starts off an attacking move. That would be the ideal situation.

But Scholes has lost most of that goal scoring ability and attacking flair but has proven time and again, he can still produce moments of absolute genius. When fully fit and on his game Scholes could probably play for any team in Europe. Scholes and Hargreaves is a partnership built for the Champions League. But Sir Alex is well known for picking players on current form and neither of the two are still in full flow.

Hargreaves and Carrick:

I’m not too sure how this partnership will work and hasn’t really been tested out properly, so I doubt it will be played in such an important game. As I said with Scholes and Hargreaves the ideal scenario with this pairing would be for Hargreaves to win the ball, give it to Carrick who in turn would spit defences with a pass. Carrick has shown how great a passer of the ball he is and, unlike Hargreaves and Scholes, he is bang on form. He has been given a good run out in recent matches and has not disappointed as yet. He had a blinder against Arsenal in the cup but was surely disappointed to have missed out on a starting play against Lyon after such a good performance.

All this did not knock him, though, as he continued his rich vein of form against Newcastle, splitting their defence with passes that he made look so easy. On current form he is as good as any midfielder we have but I’m not convinced at his effectiveness against a better defence. In conclusion, this pairing is not one to be played in Europe, at least not for the time being.

Scholes and Anderson:

This is also a pairing not tested much, though both players have attacking flair they both lack any decent tackling ability and so would not bring the defensive steel needed in a European match. And as we need to keep our defence tight in the match on Tuesday I doubt this pair will start together. More suited when we play a team that poses no attacking threat.

Scholes and Carrick:

Again, like Scholes and Anderson, there is not enough of a defensive presence in this pairing. So it is unlikely that they will be paired together in a tough European match. Though this was the pairing that we played last year we were knocked out because we were ripped apart by Kaka, whom we failed to contain. That result was a big reason behind the capture of Hargreaves.

Anderson and Carrick:

Simply not enough combined experience in Europe.

I think we will start with Hargreaves and Scholes and have Anderson on the bench as an impact sub in case it doesn’t go to planned. Also Giggs will probably be preferred to Nani solely on experience. However, don’t put it past SAF to surprise us all and play three in the centre.

I haven’t included Fletcher as I feel he is more of a squad player to be used only because of injuries.

Who do you think will be put in the CM on Tuesday? And who is United’s best midfielder?


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