midfield_2016

Michael Carrick@BusbyMUFC

2015 has been a largely disappointing year for Manchester United and this is perhaps perfectly reflected by Michael Carrick’s inconsistent form. Towards the end of March we saw some wonderful football as United steamrolled Spurs, Liverpool, Villa and City in quick succession. Carrick’s influence in that run of wins was obvious but it will likely be looked upon as a brief highlight of an otherwise disappointing year for both player and club.

Increased competition in midfield, injuries and a dip in form have all contributed to less game time for the 34-year-old veteran and rightly so. Whilst his passing has never been in question, his lack of mobility is increasingly becoming a problem in midfield and United’s better performances have tended to coincide with his absence from the starting line-up. It is a similar story for many players at the club but the majority still have time on their side. This season will likely be Carrick’s last in a red shirt, though that should not take away from his fantastic overall contribution in helping United win 5 league titles and a Champions League since his arrival in 2006.

Ander Herrera@OliWinton

Ander Herrera is a top footballer but, due to a combination of injury and team selections, has not kicked on from last season as much as fans, and indeed himself, would have hoped.

He was at his best, as were many others, in the March 2015 purple patch of form where his through ball at Anfield to Juan Mata was one of my favourite moments of the season. However, that slick and incisive passing has been rather absent this season, apart from at the away games at both Everton and Brugges – Herrera was great in both. For someone of his build he is not afraid to get stuck in either, and his fearless approach to ‘Stevie G’ got Gerrard sent off within a minute of coming on last season. It was a beautiful moment that most Reds coming back into the away end after half time didn’t even know had happened.

Away from the pitch, his name has often been suggested as a negative force in the dressing room against Louis van Gaal. Fans will be torn as to whether this makes him a figure to be resented or someone with good judgement who just adopted concerns earlier than many of his colleagues. It certainly didn’t help him replace Wayne Rooney in the side when many fans wanted that to happen – and he couldn’t have done any worse in that role as a number 10 this season either.

Bastian Schweinsteiger@CraigEnglish92

Bastian Schweinsteiger’s arrival in the summer generated much excitement, with him being a serial winner and current captain of the World Champions. Bastian started the season in need of match fitness, according to Van Gaal, and in the 30 minute cameos he displayed experience and leadership qualities that this side is bereft of. The calmness and composure he possessed on the ball meant every game ended with complete control – Van Gaal’s literal dream. Basti did not only have the full respect of his teammates – who rushed into any position he pointed to – but also the opposition; he seemed to have an eternity on the ball at all times. Full match fitness was not far away and his 30 minute cameos became 60 minute spells before he was fully up to speed after helping United into the Champions League proper.

Unfortunately, Bastian’s season did not continue on this upward curve – although the dominating performances’ did continue, Van Gaal’s system of possession-based but ultimately defensive style did not really suit the natural instincts of our first senior German player. His performances’ did not tail off as dramatically as others’ – most notably Juan Mata – it seems a long time since the Autumn where every game seemed to end with United’s 31 in possession with his ten teammates having complete faith in whatever Schweinsteiger told them to do.

Marouane Fellaini@What_Alyn_said

Fellaini has had a properly weird 2015 really, hasn’t he? He started out from January through to the end of February as what we’d been used to at Old Trafford – useless. He was the only 6-foot-odd player I’d seen that couldn’t win a header fairly. Then he changed.

During March and April he looked a completely different player all round, even chiming in with a goal or two, looking like he’d changed his season around completely, until he went back to his old, useless self against Hull in the last game of the season and got sent off for an elbow. Shock.

So far this season he’s just kept that form up, not really showing any signs of ever becoming a “Manchester United type player”, which we all expected anyway.

Morgan Schneiderlin@Tommy_CTS

Until today I had never spent any time thinking about Morgan Schneiderlin. I doubt I am alone in this. Even his arrival at United barely registered as an event; the equivalent of stepping out to play a small acoustic set while Bastian headlines the Pyramid stage. Evaluating success necessitates identifying the purpose of the transfer. Van Gaal has a space obsession. The danger area in front of the back four was an Achilles heel in his first season. Allowing opponents to directly threaten a back line regularly featuring a failed Hollywood stuntman and an Abercrombie and Fitch model asked for trouble and we got it. So feeble was the ‘protection’ offered by our existing midfield squadron that Captain Wazza was brought back from the front to man the resistance. (No one has ever really worked out why – his ability to shout presumably?) Schneiderlin was signed to plug this gap. The adoption of a risk-averse ‘philosophy’ garnered a vast improvement in the goals against column and Schneiderlin has played a significant role. He ranks twelfth in the league for average interceptions despite playing for a team typically in possession for two thirds of the game.

Tellingly the disastrous performances that have soured Van Gaal’s second season have not featured the Frenchman. Tempting as it is to cite his non-association as reason to inflate his importance the question remains as to why he has not been involved. Despite a positive start, a seemingly key component of the Dutchman’s parsimonious approach has been demoted in favour of a faltering Michael Carrick and floundering Marouane Fellaini. Clearly he is falling short of the expectations of the man who signed him. Schneiderlin displays for Southampton suggested a player with the potential to develop into a far more complete midfielder but a significant drop in key passes (1.2 to 0.5) and shots per game (0.8 to 0.2) for United compared to his final season at Southampton suggest the offensive aspect of his game has been neutered. He isn’t alone in appearing straitjacketed by the tactics of Van Gaal but spending the last quarter of his time at the club on the bench is evidence that all is not rosy. If he is to establish himself at the heart of the Manchester United midfield he needs to show more in 2016.

Ashley Young@TheCockneyRed

Given how well he performed last season, this has been a strangely underwhelming season for Ashley Young. Our most impressive outfield player in the second half of the 2014-15 campaign, Young has found his opportunities in midfield limited due to the arrival of Memphis and Martial, while the signings of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger signalled a new reliance on the holding midfield system that naturally reduces the need for a wide player. Even though he’s playing regularly in the side at the moment this has been as defensive cover and therefore we’ve only seen glimpses of the rejuvenated Young we enjoyed so much from March to April of this year. Quality players playing out of position and having their creativity suppressed? Pretty much sums up United under Van Gaal! For me he is still the most naturally gifted winger at United, which I suppose has worked against him given the rigid system Van Gaal plays. However, unfortunately, you still fear that he is just as able to commit yet another ludicrous dive for his embarrassing collection as he is to whip in a peach of a ball.

All in all, I’m happy to see the lad still demanding a place in the side amongst the big money signings that have been brought in over the last 18 months. His miraculous turnaround – from scapegoat during the David Moyes era, to outplaying and displacing £59.7million Angel di Maria while securing a £120k a week contract at the start of the season – certainly deserves to be rewarded. Unfortunately, given the restrictions presented by the current system, his chances of impressing again as he did last season are massively reduced and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go at the end of this season.




------------
Made in Manchester is available for just £5. It includes 30 articles from the country's best football writers about graduates from the Manchester United academy. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.
amazon smaller