For the first time in years, Manchester United have options in the central midfield positions.
The acquisitions of Daley Blind and Ander Herrera have bolstered Louis Van Gaal’s midfield, an area that seemed to be neglected by Sir Alex Ferguson in his last few years as United manager. The resurgence of Marouane Fellaini and the return of Michael Carrick have both contributed to Van Gaal’s selection dilemma and the Dutchman still doesn’t seem sure what his best pairing is just yet.
Injuries haven’t helped the manager. Carrick missed the start of the season with an ankle injury before Herrera broke a rib. Just as the Spaniard was returning to first team action, Blind suffered a knee injury that is expected to keep him out until after Christmas. The Dutchman impressed before his injury, almost deputising for Carrick, while Fellaini has seemed a different player to the one who was, in some ways, made a scapegoat for David Moyes’ failings last year.
It all begs the question – what is United’s best combination?
The Reds have won six games on the trot for the first time in nearly two years and that is surely down to having some solidarity in their midfield. Carrick has brought control to the midfield with the help of Fellaini. Herrera was man of the match against Hull City recently as well, proving his worth to the team. Everybody has played their own role in the good run of form.
Despite Fellaini’s stellar performances this season, it has to be Herrera to accompany Carrick in midfield as United’s starting pairing.
The former Athletic Bilbao man has made United tick since returning from injury. His link up play with the forwards has been nothing short of excellent and has brought some much-needed energy to the middle of the park. Carrick seems to thrive with Herrera in the side as well.
The dynamism of Herrera allows Carrick to play his measured passing game to perfection and the two compliment each other perfectly. With the attacking quality of the likes of Angel Di Maria, Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney ahead of them, the midfield must ensure they keep the ball and help transition the play between the defence and the forwards.
Carrick is one of the best in the business at shielding his back four, not so much through brute force but more from clever reading of the game. Herrera’s harrowing of the opposition allows United to play more of a pressing game, giving Carrick the opportunity to dictate play from just in front of the back four.
While Fellaini has impressed this season, he doesn’t offer the drive that Herrera does. The Belgian doesn’t have the passing range of Michael Carrick either and that makes him slightly less favoured in the midfield role. Daley Blind will give United a huge boost when he returns from injury, even if it is just to help provide some much needed depth to the squad.
The Dutchman keeps the ball moving well, but on occasion has seemed slightly pedestrian in his work at United. He has been accused by Gary Neville of taking the easy option and, to be honest, the ex-Red has a point. Blind has done the simple things well but not much more. For a team who want to be fighting it out for the title, they need more from their midfielders in terms of taking calculated risks and bringing something different to United’s style of play.
Carrick and Herrera controlling the midfield gives United have their best chance of causing the opposition problems while still staying defensively resolute. With talk of Kevin Strootman’s seemingly inevitable transfer to United, it will give Van Gaal even more of a selection dilemma. For now, however, Carrick and Herrera definitely seem to be the right choice, leaving Blind and Fellaini, who are worth an estimated £43m between them, settling for the bench.
Of course, if Van Gaal decides to go for a 4-4-2 diamond formation then we would have to take a look at United’s best midfield trio and we’ll do that later in the month.