Having already focused on the defence earlier this week, it now time to look at the midfield, an area that concerns the majority of our fans.
While the defence conceded fewer than any other team in the league and the red hot Wayne Rooney kept United in the title hunt, it was the midfield that played the support cast to both the defence and the forward line.
With almost the same lineup looking likely, the midfield next term looks good; on paper at least.
With Sir Alex switching between the 4-4-2 and the 4-5-1 formations, United’s midfield has changed its shape and players have played in a variety of positions. This is where the versatility of the squad has been tested and on many an occasion, they came through. Yet on others, they came unstuck.
The old guard
Let’s face it; Giggs and Scholes are not getting any younger. The both of them have one season tops. Although they both churned out stellar performances last season, there is no denying that the legs are going. Scholesey in particular rolled back the years with breathtaking displays towards the end of the season but has claimed this soming season will be his last.
With Antonio Valencia having a good solid season, injecting that bit of directness into the United attack, and Nani finally coming good, the first choice on the flanks are pretty well covered. Obertan has shown flashes of mazy dribbling and bursts of speed but whether he will step it up to the next level remains to be seen. Giggs can always be relied upon as an option out wide and Park is ever ready to run his socks off for the team. There are talks of a couple of youngsters breaking through but quite frankly, I’m not too sure it’s going to happen this season.
The engine room
Darren Fletcher has been nothing short of phenomenal. The kind of work that the boy has put in and the kind of displays that he has put up over the past couple of seasons has vindicated the Gaffer’s faith in him. He has become the box to box midfielder that United have been starved off since Keano’s departure and Scholes change of role. He has been the dynamo that has kept United ticking. At the other end of the spectrum is Michael Carrick. The dip in the elegant midfielder’s game has been alarming, so much so that many were questioning his inclusion in Fabio Capello’s England squad. With him unable to wield his influence with his stunning range of passing, the back end of last season saw him fall behind even Darren Gibson in the pecking order.
Of the young guns, a lot is expected of Anderson, subject to him staying, staying fit and getting his head screwed on straight. Possebon will return to the first team fold next season and expect him to add that bit of quality to the squad. Darren Gibson has shown that he has a fantastic right boot but must work on his overall game. Giggs and Park can slot into the center of midfield when needed.
The ‘other’ Owen
Whether United make a signing from now until the end of the season, one new face is sure to appear in a red shirt; a face that not many united fans have seen over the past couple of seasons – the ‘other’ Owen. IF, and I must stress the word IF, Hargreaves manages to stay fit, United’s midfield will have a whole new look to it. His sense of positioning, his tackling ability and his general reading of the game are such assets that he frees up positions for others to exploit. As a holding midfielder in a 4-5-1, he’ll allow for effectively a 5 man attack and in a 4-4-2, he’ll provide cover for the fullbacks to get forward more. Add to this, his ability to play on the right side of midfield or even or right-back, and you’ve got a complete midfielder. Who knows! Maybe another season of the liberated Scholes of old could be on the cards. Now that would really be something!
That’s a look at the midfield then. With another year from the old guard, the coming of age of the young guns, another consistent performance from this season’s performers, the return to form of Michael Carrick and the availability of Hargreaves for an entire season, United’s midfield looks in pretty good shape. There are ifs and buts all the way but somehow somewhere one expects that they will indeed come good.