Central midfield. An area discussed in-depth for the past few seasons. Numerous fans have offered various views on it and the general consensus seems to be whether the central midfield is defensively minded or attack minded. Some have gone as far as saying our midfield is screaming for a new signing. If there is such a dire need, then why haven’t we bought one?
Sir Alex recently admitted the other day he too notices the issues we have in midfield. However, here we are approaching another season and the indications point to not signing a first team ready midfielder. I’ve been pondering over it the past few days and decided to say my two cents on why I think we haven’t signed a new midfielder and why I think that, if we do sign a player, he won’t be a defensive midfielder.
Let’s rewind back to the first couple of months of our previous season. Youth and exuberance were the main themes at the time and mostly everyone was excited by our style of play. Who can forget the second goal against Manchester City in the Community Shield. Some fans were even saying it was Barca-esque. Although we provided similar performances throughout much of August and a bit of September, there were increasing worries on the amount of chances conceded and fans zoned in on one location – central midfield.
Instead of re-hashing our midfield issue, let’s look into why we haven’t bought one just yet. Simple. Paul Scholes. The ginger magician who, at the age of 38, still dazzles on the pitch with his passing, movement and vision. Although his legs arent what they were, he was largely responsible for our resurgence in the second half of last season. It’s obvious how much Sir Alex still rates him and is willing to play him.
I am quite certain after this upcoming season, we will buy a new central midfielder. At this point next summer, Scholes will have retired, Giggs will be 39 and Carrick will be getting older himself. There’s no reason not to make a signing other than the presumption that Sir Alex will put his trust in the youth as he has done over the years. However, this would require a big season from Anderson and Cleverley as the youth are still a few years away from being ready. Nonetheless, prospects such as Lingard, Petrucci, and Tunnicliffe are showing increasing signs of promise, with Jesse Lingard in particular impressing during the pre-season friendlies.
“In the modern day game, you don’t need tacklers the same way you used to. There’s no call for it. It’s about anticipation and reading the game.” – Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex’s recent discussion about the disappearance of a Keane-esque player in the modern game suggests to me he’s not in the market for a defensive midfielder. Football is becoming more about reading the game well and making interceptions. There was a time where Fergie mentioned the best defensive performance he had ever seen was by Maldini in which he never made one tackle. It also suggests Fergie’s vision for the midfield as well as the team hasn’t come to fruition yet. Ideally, I think he sees our team as one which defends from the front and is capable of executing a high-pressing game consistently.
People laud Spain and Barcelona or the way they play yet don’t seem to notice how clever these players are from a defensive standpoint. Let’s take the Euro 2012 final against Italy. Most people now would probably think of the scoreline and how much of a rout it was but what I think goes unnoticed is the discipline and positional awareness of their midfielders.
Xavi, Busquets and Alonso were the standout reasons why Pirlo had so little influence. There was not one man dedicated to marking Pirlo. More so it was a combination of cutting off passing lanes and ensuring Pirlo didn’t get the time he wanted on the ball. Throughout the tournament, Spain were one of the best teams at covering for each other and at times, the opposition would be put in a situation where one of their attackers had 2-3 Spanish players surrounding them.
So what’s the point in saying all this?
We don’t necessarily need a defensive midfielder as this provides the potential of leaving too much of a gap between our midfield and frontline if he is more often than not sitting in front of our back four. Plus, I don’t remember us buying a dedicated defensive midfielder in recent memory. Hargreaves was defensively-minded and you could consider him a holding midfielder but he moved around quite a bit, was willing to join the attack and we benefited from his energy as well as his crossing.
I think the move is more towards producing a team ethos where we truly defend as a team with players being disciplined and positionally aware from a defensive standpoint. Cleverley and Anderson aren’t there yet but time permitting, and staying relatively injury-free, they will be or at least that’s what Ferguson is hoping will happen. Plugging any holes up that pop up and not giving our opponents much time on the ball or space to simply knock it about. Rather than giving this responsibility to one player, we’ll do it as a team. That’s my take. Feel free to disagree.