Following fans’ and media criticism of Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s recent performances, this week the Red Thoughts team discuss other options for the number 10 spot.
DAN: With Lingard playing so well there against Swansea, Mata failing to impress there in the first half against Huddersfield and Mhikitaryan having gone very cold after getting a few early assists, I think Lingard should be given a fair run in his preferred position.
BETS: I know this is a really unpopular opinion but for me, right now, because Mkhi’s form is poor, I think our best no. 10 is Juan Mata. Despite the fact that his own recent form has been patchy, I still rate him as one of the top no. 10’s in the world. I have never understood why (a) Mourinho let him go from Chelsea or (b) why LVG shoved him out to RW or (c) why Mourinho continued with that policy. Mata’s link up play is second to none, he is creative, he scores goals and he doesn’t go missing. He was Chelsea’s player of the year two years in a row in that position. I understand maybe it wouldn’t have worked with Zlatan last year because neither are pacy, but with Lukaku, he would be the perfect no. 10. When he’s drifted in or swapped roles for 10 minutes here and there, for me, we’ve looked a better side.
As for Lingard … not for me. He’s another Nani – he plays one great game in every 10 and everyone thinks he’s going to be great. But he isn’t United standard (well, squad at best).
CARL: Mata doesn’t go missing? No comment. LOL
DAN: I rate Lingard, he’s far more consistent than Mhikitaryan, who was poor all last season bar a few European games and this season, bar a few assists. I would rather have Lingard in the side than Mhikitaryan – his attitude at times stinks. He’s had moments rather than good games, whereas Lingard has good games.
CARL: No disrespect to Lingard, but if you play him as your first-choice consistent No.10 then don’t expect to be greatly successful. He can be a very useful squad player and he has his moments, but he certainly should be nowhere near regarded as a regular starter, he just doesn’t show quality on the ball to a high enough standard frequently enough. Mhki hasn’t been great lately and he does have long spells where he contributes little, however, his quality is undeniable and he will do one or two things per game that plays a productive part in getting the result. He hasn’t done so for a few matches, but that has also coincided with Pogba’s absence and everyone in the final third has been starved of supply as a result. Herrera has just been no substitute for Pogba in a creative and dynamic sense. Mkhi will get going again, and Mata will face the same problem if he plays at No.10 too.
DAN: People keep saying Pogba’s absence is affecting the forward players, but it’s only two in my eyes – Mhikitaryan – which it shouldn’t, with his supposed quality – and, because of lack of service, Lukaku, although he had 2 great chances against Spurs. That’s why I would really like us to give Lingard a good run at number 10, use the relationship he has with the forwards and the pace he offers and see what happens.
DEAN: With Mkhi’s current decline in form, there’s definitely a good argument that he should be dropped and should be made to earn his spot back. He’s offered very little creativity-wise lately, so sitting out a few games and being used as a impact sub could do him the world of good. Mourinho has shown that he isn’t afraid to drop a important player due to poor form (Martial being a good example of that), so Mkhitaryan’s situation shouldn’t be any different. As for Lingard, he just doesn’t have the same vision, creativity and intelligence for the No. 10 role.
BETS: Why not play Mkhi out on the wing for a game or two? I think he’s a better player from out wide.
HEMOR: Lingard is not a bad player, but there’s no way I’d play him as a starting no 10. I think it was against Huddersfield where he kept ruining almost every counter attack by playing poor passes. He’s not very good at playing short and accurate passes, he’s not very good at playing long ones either. On the wing, he can use his pace to get behind the defence and cross the ball, but at no. 10, we need someone who’s very intelligent, can make the right decisions and who knows how to play short passes.
That’s why I’ll also go with Mata. Mata played 45mins there against Huddersfield and, yes, he was poor, but Mkhi has been poor there since Pogba’s injury, that’s about 6 weeks now, but José keeps giving him more chances there. So why not do the same for Mata? If Mata had a run of games at no. 10, I’m sure we’d see him back to his best. His lack of pace can be a problem at times though, but without a doubt he’s still a better option than Lingard or an out of form Mkhi.
I thought Mkhi would finally seal his position this season, but the way things are going it doesn’t look like he will. If we can get Özil in January that would be great, otherwise we should sign another CM in January to partner Matic (probably Dendocker), then play Pogba as a no. 10 for the rest of the season. We can then go all out for Griezmann in the summer and possibly get Özil for backup.
DEAN: Özil is a fantastic player on his day, and if he could regain his confidence under Mourinho, then he would be definitely a player that could improve our title chances. But again, inconsistency is a issue with him, and with our current situation of players being inconsistent, it’s a bit of gamble.
HEMOR: I think he’ll definitely get back to his best, or close to his best, under a manager like José, who will make him work hard. Having only 6 months left on his contract, he won’t be expensive and he doesn’t have issues such as being cup tied in the UCL. Also he has played under José before and if rumours are to be believed, he is also willing to reunite with José.
BETS: I was a big fan of Özil in the past but he’s become a lazy player. I think we have to go back for Griezmann in the summer.
DAN: On his day Özil is a good player, but those days are few and far between. And why pay for a player who is available for free in the summer and add another number 10 to the club?
HEMOR: Because we need him if we want to challenge for title before summer.
DAN: But we have better options than Özil . You can’t say “but look at him under José at Madrid”, that’s Madrid, where they play games that are a walk over. You have to base him off what you see in the Premier League and we have better options at the club and on loan than worrying about Özil. For him to come in, one of Mkhi, Mata or Lingard would have to go, as we have too many number 10s at the club as it is – especially with the talk of Ibrahimovic playing there as well, which will be like a new signing.
EHSAAN: Zlatan at no. 10 makes as much sense to me as us resigning Anderson!
DEAN: I wouldn’t say I’m against the thought of signing Özil, because he could definitely improve our title chances. But Arsenal and Wenger can’t take all the blame for his poor performance’s over the years, despite how bad the management has been. If Mourinho thinks he can get Özil back to his best,then I’m all for it, but it also depends on what direction Mourinho wants to take United.
HEMOR: I checked Özil and Mata’s PL stats from a Premier League website.
Özil – 124 games, 24 goals, 44 assists, 36% cross accuracy, 48% shot accuracy, 54 big chance created, 21 big chance missed, 100 true balls, 180 accurate long balls, 63.4 passes per game.
Mata – 201 games, 46 goals, 43 assists, 24% cross accuracy, 38% shot accuracy, 56 big chances created, 25 big chances missed, 76 through balls, 530 accurate long balls, 45.94 passes per game.
Long balls and passes per game is due to their teams style of playing, so if we exclude that, you’ll see that apart from goals, Özil beat Mata in every aspect and if Özil has been poor and lazy in the PL that stat is even more impressive considering Mata has been at his best in the PL, especially when he was at Chelsea.
The point is, Özil on his day is better than our no. 10s, so if Mkhi doesn’t rediscover his best form before January and we’re still in a position where we can challenge for the title, then we definitely need someone like Özil to feed our forwards.
BETS: I don’t think it’s fair to compare Mata’s stats for the last 3 seasons – he’s been played out of position.
EHSAAN: Mata was never very good on the right wing. He’s much better at CAM. It suits his talents better. I’ve always preferred pacy wingers. I really want Özil to be honest.
CARL: There’s little game control coming from the middle and it’s a big problem. Herrera and Matic are strong defensively but having to play them as a CM pairing limits the attacking tactics available to us. Our pass completion against Spurs was 74%, that’s poor. Nobody controlled the ball well. Pogba would hold it up and has the quality and vision to pick out a forward pass. We ended up having to go long and direct to find the goal we needed. Nobody would have done well at No.10. Matic and Herrera only made 7 successful passes to one another the whole game, most matches average between around 20 passes between a CM pair, so how do you expect them to feed a forward player?
REX: For me, it doesn’t matter who you play there right now. They will all struggle. There’s no one to connect the dots between no. 10 and midfield. I was so excited when Scholsey echoed these sentiments. It’s the whole reason we’re labouring in terms of ball retention and forward linking. Pogba is key to the entire thing. Watch how different we’ll look when he’s back. Fellaini too. His ability to hold up the ball is so underrated!
The no. 10 should always be a flair player, relieved of most, if not all, of his defensive duties. He should be free to roam because he knows there’s cover behind him. But when you ask the guy who’s supposed to create to run back and defend as well, you could put Messi there and he’d struggle too!
We need midfielders back fit, otherwise Lukaku and everyone else will be feeding on scraps, including any no. 10 you throw in there.
DEAN: There’s also Andreas Pereira. Should we bring him back in January?
JIM: Absolutely. Pereira is one of the most talented players in the squad from a creative standpoint, who genuinely could become as good as Pogba.
CARL: I don’t see it happening, no. Pogba and Fellaini will be available again by then along with Herrera and Matic, so I will be very surprised if it happened.
HEMOR: I think it’s best to sign either a no. 10 or a CM and play Pogba as no. 10, but recalling Pereira will also be a great option for us. I think he should continue his loan deal though, because he’ll definitely get more playing time there than with us.
REX: He’s actually being used out wide by Valencia to great effect. He had two assists in the last round of La Liga too. He’s gelled well with Zaza. He’ll be recalled I believe. If he’d been here, he would have already been playing. Whether it’s down to injuries or not, we need bodies.
BETS: I’m not sure I agree he’s done well wide left at Valencia. He kept getting subbed after 60 mins, then he got relegated to the bench for a few games. However last weekend, they were missing Parejo and so they let Andreas take all the free kicks and corners, and switched him to the right. He had a stormer. Now was that a flash in the pan, or will he play that well regularly if he’s playing right side or centrally? So I think we need to watch events unfold at Valencia a little longer before we get a good idea of whether he’s ready or not for the no. 10 role at United.
DEAN: Right now it sounds appealing to have Pereira back in the squad, just because of our injury crisis. But by January, I’m guessing all of our midfielders should be fit, and Pereria would be too far down the pecking order to have regular games.