Manchester United fans learned a lot about the shape of our squad on the 2017 pre-season tour but the main feeling I come away is one I had before we’d kick a ball out in the USA this summer, it’s just been massively reinforced.
This season, Man United cannot mount a title challenge in the Premier League nor get past the group stages of the UEFA Champions League unless we sign a new defensive midfielder.
Prior to the tour, fans knew it was an area of weakness in the squad and while we may have won four out of five games out in America, nobody is under any illusion that a new defensive midfielder is absolutely necessary because Michael Carrick simply can’t be that man every game any more.
Once upon a time, Carrick had the legs to run the midfield from a deep position on his own. He was never a tackler, more an interceptor who predicted the pass before it happened, and that movement made it possible for him to boss the midfield without support. Now, he’s physically incapable of doing that.
Take the Barcelona game as the prime example; Ivan Rakitic ran rings around Carrick and he couldn’t keep up with the Barcelona midfielder. Whenever they countered, Carrick wasn’t able to break the play up as when he missed a tackle he couldn’t recover. United were exposed terribly in that area and we saw the same issue against in our previous games as well. It’s a problem which is glaringly obvious and every team we play knows our weak spot – so will all our Premier League rivals unless we strengthen.
For this Man United team to have the balance Jose Mourinho desires, a new defensive midfielder is the key to it.
From a defensive perspective, a proper powerhouse solidifies our team – somebody like Fabinho in that role protects us from a counter-attack and shields the two centre-backs.
From an attacking perspective, relieving Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera of their defensive duties would allow them to solely concentrate on creating going forward and that in itself will make such a difference to the shape and quality of our forward play. Too often last season we saw Pogba receiving the ball too deep in our half, so giving him the ability to receive the first pass in the opponents half means he can pose so much more danger.
So a new defensive midfielder is not only essential for strengthening the midfield from a defensive viewpoint, it will change the shape and balance going forward. Without that new signing, we don’t have the quality needed for it not to be a weakness.
Carrick isn’t young enough to play there every week, Marouane Fellaini isn’t good enough, Herrera’s ability to play there for the full season is unknown and Andreas Pereira is not a defensive midfielder. Simply put, we don’t have the quality in the current squad.
Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof were two key signings in areas where Mourinho needed to strengthen but if 1 September comes around and Mourinho hasn’t brought in somebody to strengthen that defensive midfield role, I’d be very surprised to see United still contending for the title come the start of May.