The midfield has been an area that has been under intense scrutiny from supporters, pundits and anyone else who has an opinion on football. From the success of the Keane – Scholes partnership to the disappointment of the Carrick – Fellani partnership, in this post I will try my best to analyse the Manchester United midfield. I will discuss how over the years the Manchester United midfield has changed and why we suffer from the problems we suffer from now
Roy Keane and Paul Scholes
United went into last night’s game against Bayern Munich widely expected to be not only beaten but thoroughly humiliated, given the gulf in quality between the two sides. After a plucky effort, however, United remain in the tie and while a 1-1 draw places Bayern in the driving seat, it’s a lot better than what many of us would have expected.
Here’s five things we have learnt last night.
1) The (not yet) Special Juan
From the moment he signed, last night was always going to be about a man and one man only: Juan Mata.
The atmosphere as he entered the pitch was one of febrile anticipation, one we hadn’t witnessed at Old Trafford since Robin Van Persie made his debut in a red shirt last season and while the expectations were only partly met, Mata’s first game for United was a largely positive one.
Considering the circumstances that have surrounded United’s first half of the season, it’d be a tad premature and probably downright foolish to read too much into yesterday’s performance for, good as the 3-0 win at Villa was, we’ve already been inundated with false dawns and moments when “United turned the corner” this season.
While feet will be better left firmly rooted on the ground, it’s hard not to feel happy for Danny Welbeck who, after a season plagued by injuries and niggles, delivered the sort of performance every United fan know he’s capable of, apart from those who consider Welbz a waste of space and a player not fit to wear the shirt – which, truth be told, could be said about at least a couple of other elements of the squad.
If there’s been one lesson to be learnt so far this season, is that the options at David Moyes’ disposal resemble a blanket that it’s never quite long enough, thus always leaving some vital parts of United not properly covered.
Wednesday’s superb performance against Leverkusen highlighted how big a difference Shinj Kagawa can make when deployed in his favoured number 10 role but, given the injuries that sidelined Robin Van Persie and Michael Carrick, the formation Moyes adopted in Germany was borne out of necessity rather than conviction.
After a dramatic 3-2 comeback victory at Aston Villa a week earlier, Manchester United visited Carrow Road for a dangerous encounter with a Norwich City squad that is undefeated in their previous 5 games in all competitions, including games against Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. The Red Devils came into this game missing some key players, including their main playmakers, Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa.
Norwich came with a sound strategy, incorporating things that Aston Villa did well against the Red Devils a week earlier. Opting not to sit back and defend, instead they applied pressure up the pitch and tried to hit on the counter-attack. The Canaries also used Grant Holt as a strong target man, similar to Marouane Fellaini of Everton and Christian Benteke of Aston Villa, who United struggled against. Without Rooney or Kagawa, the Red Devils lacked any invention or creativity in the middle of the pitch and were too dependent on the wingers to create chances, especially considering the poor game that Antonio Valencia put in. With Sir Alex Ferguson’s side looking flat and without fire, it seemed that once Norwich took a 1-0 lead that United was never going to get back into the game. Continue reading
Aston Villa faced the league leaders with a positive game plan, a big change on the negative style that Aston Villa fans were forced to suffer through last season under Alex McLeish. They looked to play solid defense, pressing United’s midfield and denying space for Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney, while striking quickly on the counter-attack. Manchester United struggled throughout the first half, unable to find their rhythm, and ended up down by two goals with just over 30 minutes to turn the result around. A clever substitution and formation change by Sir Alex Ferguson fuelled another epic comeback from the Red Devils, ensuring that they would go to sleep that night 4 points clear at the top of the table. Continue reading
A fairly dreary game that wasn’t much of a tactical battle, Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over an embarrassingly uninspired Arsenal team was still 3 important points for the Red Devils. Arsene Wenger’s squad was missing some key players, such as Abou Diaby and Kieran Gibbs, but that still doesn’t explain such a poor performance by a squad that most neutral observers would admit plays some entertaining football. In the past 3 weeks, Arsenal has lost 1-0 to Norwich City, 2-0 to Schalke, had to come back from 4-0 to defeat Reading 7-5, and claimed a 1-0 victory over a 10-man Queens Park Rangers. Arsenal brought this extremely poor run of form into Old Trafford to take on an extremely dangerous Manchester United squad, fresh from a 3-2 victory over league leaders Chelsea a week earlier. Continue reading