Saturday 24 November 2012. Manchester United 0-1 QPR.
60 minutes played and Manchester United are looking dismal and pedestrian. A midfield partnership of Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher left us with no pace or drive from the middle, and our attacking play was suffering as a consequence. Sir Alex Ferguson decides that a change is needed – off comes Ashley Young for Javier Hernandez, and Paul Scholes for Anderson.
The game completely changes, courtesy in no small part to the introduction of Anderson. His introduction brought a forward drive to the midfield that it was so desperately lacking and it was his power, his ability to run at pace with the ball, that made the big difference against QPR.
“I thought Ando won the game for us. His performance was outstanding. He took the game by the scruff of the neck and he was so positive and determined in his play that he picks himself on Wednesday.” Sir Alex Ferguson
Anderson won himself the fans Man of the Match award for his 30 minute cameo as well as rightfully earned plaudits from the manager. Taking the game by the scruff of the neck was exactly what he did – pulling at the QPR midfield, stretching it wide open – and quite how he still finds himself on the bench when he is the midfielder we crave is beyond me.
Last night against West Ham, Anderson continued where he left off. He is one of a select few players at Manchester United who has the confidence to run at a player with the ball and take them on, and at times he ran past the West Ham midfield and defence as if they weren’t there. 75/84 passes (89%), 50 in opponents half (90%), 28 in final third (87.5%), 3/5 dribbles completed – his statistics were extremely impressive.
Fans called out for a Moussa Dembele or a Yaya Toure-esque signing in the summer because that was the sort of player we needed – a mobile central midfielder who would bring the ball forward through the middle, driving at the heart of the defence but in Anderson, the player was always there.
I’ll be first to admit I have been a critic of his in the past and have overstated certain issues, namely his fitness, but I am a firm believer that of all the Manchester United midfielders this season, Anderson could make himself our most important. He has been extremely impressive when he has been given the opportunity but has found it hard to hold form given that he is always in and out of the team.
Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, legends that they are, should not be starting games this season. Giggs started in midfield against Norwich and Scholes against QPR, and in both games we were over-run in the midfield. They don’t have the legs for it anymore. Bringing them on in the last 20 or 30 minutes when we need a real game breaker, that’s the time to use them – but playing them over Anderson and Cleverley is doing nothing but stifling their progress and making it more difficult for ourselves.
Anderson came off with five minutes left to play last night clearly exhausted. If he can keep his place in the starting line-up for a few games on the trot, his match fitness will improve and it is surely only his ability to not finish 90 minutes that is keeping him out of a guaranteed spot in the first XI. With Manchester City coming up on 9 December, having a player like Anderson in our team is essential to give us that attacking flair and penetration we lacked last year when we limped to a 1-0 defeat at the Etihad in the title decider.
He may have struggled to live up to his potential so far in his Manchester United career but if his early season exploits are anything to go by, Anderson is ready to make his mark at Old Trafford.