SAF announced in his post-match interview after the Chicago Fire match that he will not be looking to delve into the market for a replacement for Paul Scholes. For a lot of fans, this will be a far cry from what they wanted to hear as they fully anticipated that established talent would be brought in to replace what Scholes brought to the team. However it looks like we will be strengthening from within this year, so where does that leave the position of our squad? I wrote an article back in June that I think bears re-publishing in light of these comments from SAF because I fully believe, call me red-tinted and what not, that on analysis our squad is capable of merging the gaps and creating a fluid and strong central midfield that will be able to take us to the dizzy heights of European glory once again.
The deficiencies in United’s midfield from last season boiled over the surface when the news broke that Paul Scholes would be retiring and many United fans, including myself, are hoping that SAF will make his move in this summer transfer window to try and bring in an established creative midfielder that can compliment Michael Carrick and fill the void that seemed so apparent all season, not least in the Champions League final against Barcelona. However, all this doom and gloom I am reading from impatient United fans that want quick movement from SAF in the transfer window has got me thinking. What will our team look like next season if we don’t buy a central midfielder? Not bad is the real answer. De Gea has all but signed for United as well as Ashley Young and Phil Jones with deals likely to be wrapped up in early July and I have decided to draw up a potential formation and starting line-up that could be utilised by SAF next season, looking at heat-maps and chalkboards to suggest how the formation will work in real game situations.
What these heatmaps show us is how both Rooney and Young like to move across the pitch through-out the match, drifting into space and helping create fluid movement for their team. Wayne Rooney did this much more often due to his role being freed up a lot as United required an archetypal number 10 on the pitch but if Young and Rooney can work well together on the pitch, then United could find a winning formula. Too much last season we depended on the passing range of Rooney to bridge the gap between attack and defence. He will no doubt drop deeper again next season as he excelled in that role where he was able to dictate the game more but with Ashley Young coming into the team from an Aston Villa squad where he was the main man, we should have more options. Combining these 2 with Nani on the wing should give United a plethora of attacking options with Hernandez running wild up front and creating the space like he did last season with such elegant ease.
If United can make this work then they should be a well oiled machine going forward but where does it leave us in defence?
This is where many people may see a fault in our team but the possibility for link up play definitely exists in this starting XI. One thing I want to say now is that I am a big defender of Michael Carrick as I think he is really important for United if we are going to succeed in the immediate future. Take his performance in the 4-2 win against West Ham away this season. As both his heat-map and his passes show (65 passes with an 82% success rate) he is great at holding his position and breaking up the play of the opposition in the centre of the park. I will be the first to admit that the creativity side of Carrick has lacked in the previous couple of seasons but he has made up for it in his ability to stop the progression of the opposition’s game. His role as holding midfielder next season should let his central midfield partner gallop forward and help keep the attack fluid and moving. If SAF indeed doesn’t buy then I think Darren Fletcher will be the first choice to partner him. Everyone at United will hope that Darren can re-find the form that made him such an integral part of our 2008 double winning team. His energy and passion are contagious when he is on form and it really might be up to him next season if we are to not find ourselves run over in the midfield.
It should also be noted that we won the Premier League title last season pretty much without Patrice Evra. The personality on the pitch didn’t manage to find his form after the dismal World Cup campaign of France and it placed more pressure on Nani to control the left hand side of the pitch, something which he did competently in the first half of the season but dwindled towards the latter part of the season. If Evra can revitalise himself over the summer break and give United that extra energy down the left hand side of the pitch, then it should close the gap between the midfield and the attack. As well as Patrice we have the twins and Fabio, who was rewarded for his hard work by starting the Champions League final, has grown massively in the past 6 months. His forward runs looked fantastic last season and with Young looking likely to be in front of him, a player who can drift central better than Valencia, we may well see our side backs play a bigger role in the overall work ethic of our team next season.
Combining all these positives with the fact that we would still have a strong bench consisting of talented individuals in Park/Valencia/Anderson/Berbatov/Owen/Rafael/Giggs/Smalling and Jones and we soon come to realise that our squad is not looking too bad. Alongside that, the possibility of Pogba making a step-up to the senior squad could bring a youthful exuberance into the squad that might invigorate it back into motion. If I had my way then I would like to see SAF bring in a midfielder but all is definitely not lost if he decides to place faith in the squad that he already has. Anderson grew last season but was still blighted by injuries so lets hope that the Samba star can avoid a repeat next season. A good tour of North America could do our players the world of good and I strongly believe that even if we don’t manage to land an established midfielder, this squad can win United our record 20th title in the 20th year of the Premier League. Fate? I’d say so.