Follow David: @DavidGee26
For the first time in some time Manchester United’s central midfield options look strong and, more importantly, balanced. Louis van Gaal has moved to bring in World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger along with Morgan Schneiderlin to add steel, craft, experience and depth to the Reds’ core.
With the likes of Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini, Daley Blind, Juan Mata and Andreas Pereira already at the club, United seem well set for any system the pragmatic Dutchman decides to employ. Competition for places will be fierce, but that is how it should be at a club of Manchester United’s stature, and it is hoped that competition will drive the players to greater heights.
With Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao both having been shown the door, all indications are that United’s manager is looking to play with one up front this campaign. The suggestion then (emphasised by Van Gaal’s preference for a 4-3-3 formation) is that 3 central midfielders will dovetail.
This, however, has been thrown into some doubt, with United’s manager seemingly preferring to adopt more of a 4-2-3-1 so far in pre season, with the likes of Memphis Depay, Andreas Pereira and Adnan Januzaj all given minutes in an orthodox no.10 role.
If this is to continue, the balance of the side is better served by two central midfielders happy to hold and dictate play from deep. It raises question marks over the place in the side of Ander Herrera, with the Spaniard undoubtedly better suited to more of an attacking midfield role.
The manager hinted strongly that the starting 11 fielded against Barcelona would be close to that which takes the field against Tottenham Hotspur to open the 2015/16 Premier League season. It certainly appears that Michael Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin are at the head of the queue for starting midfield roles but it is likely that things will change throughout the campaign.
United are back in the Champions League and the depth of the squad will undoubtedly be required. In that sense, the balance and options at Van Gaal’s disposal will be a welcome change to recent years, with each player able to offer something that little bit different.
Michael Carrick continues to bring experience and serenity, able to dictate play with a calmness and an impressive range of passing. Morgan Schneiderlin brings some much needed bite and steel, something the club have arguably lacked ever since Roy Keane’s departure, with injuries largely preventing the likes of Darren Fletcher and Owen Hargreaves from making that role their own.
Despite question marks over his age and his fitness, Bastian Schweinsteiger brings a winning mentality, leadership, and the ability to play more of a box to box role. The German is equally comfortable holding deep and dictating play with his passing along with breaking forward and arriving late into attacking positions.
Regardless of the minutes he gets on the pitch this season, the former Bayern Munich man will add the true quality to United’s spine that was called for at the start of the summer, his presence in the dressing room will prove invaluable.
Ander Herrera will look to build on an impressive first season, and offers an attacking option in a 4-3-3 and the ability to push forward into a no.10 role in a 4-2-3-1. His understanding with Juan Mata should not be overlooked with the diminutive Spaniard looking increasingly likely to continue in his role wide from the right.
Daley Blind looks likely to see the majority of his playing time in defence whilst Marouane Fellaini unquestionably faces a struggle to get into the side moving forwards.
Andreas Pereira and Adnan Januzaj offer viable options at no.10 and Memphis Depay has impressed in the role on tour, but it would not be a surprise to see the young Dutchman deployed in his more natural wide role as the season progresses.
Uncertainty undoubtedly remains, with murmurs of a ‘surprise’ striker being lined up, which may even see Wayne Rooney drop back into a no.10 role. Nevertheless, one thing that is sure is that United now boast strong options across the midfield which should give confidence and bring licence to play a more expansive brand of attacking football in the season ahead.
In terms of additions, the midfield merry-go-round should now have come to a halt, but it will now begin to spin with regard to the players now at the club. There is no question that rotation will occur but Van Gaal now has the options to have confidence in using different systems and different combinations.
When all fit, selection poses a welcome problem but, if pushed, United’s strongest midfield in terms of balance may well prove to be Carrick, Herrera and Schweinsteiger behind a front three of Mata, Rooney and Depay, with Carrick holding allowing Schweinsteiger and Herrera to break forwards and supplement attacks.
Schneiderlin will no doubt play a big role as well, and is likely to rotate with the aforementioned three as a core four midfielders for the season ahead.
For the first time in some time, United’s contentious midfield looks strong; who would you choose?