Signing quality players in central midfield essential to Manchester United's progress
Manchester United had a decent 2014-15 Premier League season and were able to move back into the top four. Now that the season is done, their next focus is on being active in the transfer market, and they have shown their intent already, having signed one of the best young prospects in world football in the form of Memphis Depay.
Competition for places, especially in the attacking ranks is a lot at United currently, so much so that British record signing Angel Di Maria, finds himself on the bench in most matches. The Red Devils’ breakthrough player last season, Adnan Januzaj, went through a rough season, and has been forced to accept a place on the bench for most of the second half of the season.
Strikers Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie, who were two of the most highly paid players at the club, barely played during the second half of the season, either due to their form (in the case of Falcao) or their fitness (Van Persie). The lack of impact made by Falcao has seen him return to Monaco while the club have indicated that they are open to offers for the Dutchman.)
Make no mistake, this is indeed a very positive thing as Manchester United have still achieved good results, without some of their biggest stars. However, when I see news of them being quite strongly linked with yet another attacking player, be it Gareth Bale, who definitely would command a fee of £75-80 million, more than half of their reported budget, or Edinson Cavani, whose valuation may not be as high as that of Bale’s, but is still quite high, I am quite frankly baffled.
What has caused this is the fact that the midfield still remains a position where United need to strengthen, with the team too dependent on Michael Carrick, as his ability to bring the ball out from the back, and making crucial interceptions has lent some much-needed balance to a very top-heavy team.
Manchester United overly dependent on Carrick
The importance of Carrick can be seen in the matches he doesn’t play, as the team have been vulnerable in midfield and have lacked potency and creativity while going forward. He has undoubtedly, and evidently, been one of United’s best and most important players this season. They won a staggering 72% matches with him in the playing eleven, and a meagre 35% without him last season.
Every team needs an anchor and Carrick is that guy for Manchester United. The Englishman’s vision and ability to read the game is brilliant. His ability to build the game from the back, with an exceptional pass success rate of 89%, which means he rarely concedes possession, coupled with his ability to orchestrate his teammates’ movement are the reasons why he is so crucial to the team.
However, it is quite a major problem when he is not playing, as has been seen. Without him, the team have suffered. They defeated city rivals Manchester City 4-2 in the derby, in what was one of their best performances of last season but then Michael Carrick got injured, and suddenly, lost three in a row, after which they’ve drawn two and won only one.
Daley Blind offers more defensively, but any team hoping to compete for the Premier League and Champions League will look for much more in their holding midfielder, as far as vision and creativity are concerned. It is also clear that the holding midfielder role is neither Rooney nor Herrera’s speciality, as both have looked much better when played in their natural roles.
Michael Carrick has been a little injury prone and played in only 50% of the league games (18) this past season, leaving Manchester United stranded without a quality holding midfielder for quite some time. With Louis van Gaal assuring his fans that United will be competing for laurels at the domestic and European levels (top-tier, of course) next season, the team need a midfielder who can compete, at the least, with Carrick for his position.
This will also ensure that if there is an injury suffered by one of the central midfielders. there will be a quality backup central midfielder, ensuring that the balance of the team will not be affected.
Additionally, Michael Carrick is not getting any younger, and going into next season he will already be 34 and heading into his twilight years. There is no telling when age will get the best of Michael Carrick, and whether he will be fit enough to play 2 matches in a week once the Champions League starts (should Manchester United qualify, of course), another extremely important reason why they need to add to their roster of central midfielders.
Gundogan and Schweinsteiger potential candidates
The most likely to come and the most heavily linked midfielder at the moment is Ilkay Gundogan, who has had a decent comeback season after having been out for a long time due to a back injury. He is definitely one of the best young central (deep-lying) midfielders in the game and is hard-working, quite useful going forward and a good passer of the ball.
Quite similar to Carrick in some respects, he should almost have no problem fitting into Van Gaal’s system, gradually, if not immediately and could potentially become one of Van Gaal’s most important signings, if the move is completed. The fact that he is 24, just adds to it, and he could become a great player in the long-term.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was transformed into a central midfielder under Louis van Gaal at Bayern Munich, is another who has been linked with a potential move, with his current manager Pep Guardiola stating that it is completely the player’s decision if he wants to leave.
It is rumored that Van Gaal values Schweinsteiger around £10 million. A possible advantage with Schweinsteiger is that he already knows Van Gaal’s system, (having already played under him) and will fit in more easily than Ilkay Gundogan.
Both of these midfielders had a good successfully completed pass rate in the 2014/15 season – 85.6% for Gundogan in the Bundesliga and around 90% in the Champions league, while Schweinsteiger had approximately a successful passing rate of 88% in both the aforementioned competitions.
These players are more creative and adventurous than Carrick, and will probably pip him to a starting position if bought. This will also ensure that there will definitely be a quality backup for the central midfielder role.