Why Manchester United’s main issues lie in midfield, where they lack quality and depth


When looking at Manchester United’s squad, one can easily see the many options available in defence and attack, whilst the midfield looks completely thin and barely existent. It’s no secret to why the Old Trafford faithful are always nervous for when they see Ander Herrera or Paul Pogba suffer a knock or a minor injury, two midfielders who play a huge role for the side on and off the ball.

Also, the departure of Marouane Fellani half way through the season made very little sense, especially when a replacement did not come in and nor did someone get promoted from the youth academy. For sure, he wasn’t seen as a United type of player and may not suit the club’s style of play, but letting him go when the side are still in the Champions League and the FA Cup was a huge mistake.

The Belgian international clearly wasn’t the fastest, most intelligent or complete midfielder available within the squad, though, his aerial dominance and presence in the penalty box allowed the side to pose further danger to the opposition. Not only that, he has always got on with his job no matter what position he played in, whether it was as a defensive-midfielder or as an attacking one.

Focusing back onto the midfield department, Pogba is the only one that can influence the side’s midfield and attack to drive on forward, which is slightly down to the lack of tactics implemented by the manager but also the limited amount of midfielders to choose from. Due to this, the Red Devils do not have the total freedom to rotate around like Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City can.

Both Herrera and Nemanja Matic should be praised for how they constantly assist the defence and help to retain and recycle the ball, something that the duo complete at a high level and importantly when the full-backs are high up the pitch and out of position. Though, the former is not known to unlock the opposition’s defence from a deep position whilst the latter does not have the intelligence or pace to play as a box-to-box midfielder, which leaves everything to be done by Pogba himself.

Andreas Pereira and Fred have had their moments here and there to prove themselves, but did not make the most out of the limited opportunities they had so far, as they failed to take the game by the scruff of their neck and were unable to dominate the match and the opposition. On a serious note, the Brazilians should surely receive another match or two to potentially win over Solskjaer soon or later.

Having a quick look back at recent years, United did not do enough to replace the veteran Michael Carrick, an individual who had spent 12 years at Old Trafford and had gone on to become one of the most decorated English players of all time. When you deep the crucial experience and presence he brought to the side on and off the pitch, nearly everyone knew of how much he would be missed once he was gone.

Overall, Manchester United have decent quality and depth when it comes to defence and attacks, which can be easily reflected on when you see the likes of Alexis Sanchez Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly and Romelu Lukaku on the bench. Meanwhile, in the defeats to Manchester City away and Tottenham Hotspur at home, the side only had young Scott McTominay and summer signing Fred on the bench.

In the end, if United are aiming to compete in all competitions they take part in, they will need quality midfielders in the starting line-up and on the bench. The last time they had a good number of options to choose from, it was during the 2007-08 season under Sir Alex Ferguson, where they amazingly had Anderson, Darren Fletcher, Ji-Sung Park, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Owen Hargreaves.

Has Marouane Fellaini won over the doubters?

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When all’s said and done, a 2nd place finish in the 2017/18 Premier League season was the best Manchester United were going to get.

That may disappoint some, but for a team that are still trying to find their identity under Jose Mourinho, it’s progress.

Something Marouane Fellaini has shown year after year at the Red Devils.

Many decry the Belgian as one dimensional, but Mourinho has always backed Fellaini to the hilt. Indeed, the Portuguese has even gone as far as saying on more than one occasion that the team is much weaker without the midfielder in it.

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Will Michael Carrick be a bit-part player for Manchester United next season?

Southampton midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin looks set to follow Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger into Old Trafford this summer, with the French international reportedly undergoing a medical this week. He’d be the Red Devils’ fourth signing this summer, and could well be replacing existing midfielder Michael Carrick from the starting lineup next season.

The former Tottenham player has been a terrific servant for Manchester United down the years, but isn’t getting any younger. Carrick turns 34 this summer, and has struggled with injury problems and inconsistent form that no longer makes him the influential player he once was for United. Manager Louis van Gaal has two talented midfielders coming into the side in Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin, and alongside the impressive Ander Herrera, it’s hard to see where Carrick would fit in.

While never a pacey player, the England international has had to be tactically disciplined in his positioning to ensure he’s not being caught out in the midfield, but the two new arrivals are much more industrious, and will actively press the ball a lot higher up the pitch. It means United’s attacking ethos will come into play again as they have talented central players putting the pressure on their opposition in the final third, rather than inviting attacks onto themselves.

Last season, Carrick made only 16 Premier League starts, the first of which came in November. He suffered a total of three separate injuries keeping him out for a matter of weeks each time, and as a result, Van Gaal can no longer rely on the midfielder over the course of an entire season. It’s likely the veteran will still feature for United if the form of Herrera, Schweinsteiger or Schneiderlin was to diminish, but Carrick doesn’t appear to be in the manager’s reckoning for a starting place.

There’s even extra competition from the versatile Daley Blind, who played a number of games in the midfield. He’s likely to be subsidiary for United next season due to the elite talent now ahead of him in the pecking, but it’s another player Carrick is competiting with for minutes on the pitch. It’s a sign of how strong Manchester United are becoming when a player so important in the past can no longer command a starting place, and evidence that the Red Devils could be a force again in the new season.

So will Michael Carrick be a bit-part player for Manchester United next season?

Could Michael Carrick become a key player in England’s midfield?

Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick was recently recalled to the England national team by manager Roy Hodgson, and looks set to make his first cap for the Three Lions since mid-October 2013 – which was a 2-0 win over Poland (World Cup 2014 qualifiers). The 33-year-old has come back into the fold at domestic level, after having returned from injury, and was praised by his new manager Louis van Gaal following a contract extension.

“He is important because he can read the game as a player on the pitch. He can play the ball forward and that I like, as our aim is always to pass the ball more forward rather than sideways or backwards. He is my second captain and is an important man for my selection. That says enough what I think about (him),” said the United boss.

This season, he’s made just 14 Premier League starts for Manchester United, with injury problems forcing the likes of Ander Herrera and Wayne Rooney to occupy the central midfield area for the Red Devils earlier on this season. He’s been on the periphery with England even more, being an unused substitute against Slovenia (Euro 2016 qualifier) in mid-November last year. Hodgson hasn’t been too fond of Carrick, but could now be open for a return given England’s dearth of quality.

Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) and Michael Carrick (Man Utd) are likely to start in the midfield for England, potentially in the holding role to provide creativity for the forwards. The veteran midfielder’s strength is his passing. Carrick has completed 89% of his passes in the Premier League this season, with 79% of his long balls finding their intended target.

Carrick does provide protection too. He’s made 47 tackles and interceptions in the Premier League, but is very wise with his positioning to ensure opposition teams are stifled playing through the middle. So for England, the long-serving United midfielder could become a key component after two years of inactivity. There’s a real lack of top-level options at Hodgson’s disposal, so any experience he can get his hands on will be vital.

The likes of Fabian Delph (Aston Villa) and Ross Barkley (Everton) are fringe players, but there’s nobody else to pick in such a key area as Jack Wilshere (Arsenal) continues to suffer with injury. With no Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) and no Frank Lampard (Chelsea) in the England side, Hodgson has little choice but to plump for United ball-player. So can Michael Carrick now become a key player in England’s midfield? Could he make the Euro 2016 squad next year?