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Are Manchester United lacking a midfield spark?

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Alistair Magowan - BBC Sport | 09:39 UK time, Monday, 7 February 2011

So Manchester United's 29-game unbeaten run in the Premier League has come to an end. Who guessed it would have been Wolves, the division's bottom club on Saturday morning, who inflicted the damage?

Not many, perhaps. Yet coming after the wins over Chelsea and Manchester City at Molineux, the 2-1 victory showed that Mick McCarthy's side are more than a match for some of the league's biggest teams.

Goals by George Elokobi and the industrious Kevin Doyle cancelled out Nani's opener but there was evidence from the back to the front that Wolves deserved their victory.

The problem now for McCarthy is to maintain that sort of form against lesser teams, a key factor if the Midlands outfit are to stay up.

"Wolves were absolutely sensational," said Match of the Day pundit Alan Shearer.

"During the second half you were expecting an onslaught by Manchester United and they attacked in little bursts. But whatever they threw at Wolves, the home side handled really well and defended so well too."

Resolute defending was also a feature of Wolves' wins over Manchester City and Chelsea at home this season, where they only allowed two and three shots on target all game.

Chelsea usually average more than double that figure but the reduction was, in part, down to the Wolves defence willing to put their bodies on the line, blocking six of their attempts on goal.

On Saturday, Manchester United only had four shots on target all game, where they usually average about six, but with Wolves only blocking three other shots it shows how much the visitors petered out in the second half.

Passes to Kevin Doyle show he was often Wolves' out ball from defence

Some of that was down to the indefatigable Doyle, who allowed the Wolves defence time to breathe by maintaining possession even when the ball was hit long to him. Judging by the passes he received in the graphic to the right, that was an awful lot.

McCarthy's team were also clinical in front of goal. From only five shots they scored twice, a similar story to when they beat Chelsea with a goal from only three shots.

In three other games this season - against Aston Villa, Birmingham and Blackpool - their shot total has hit double figures with only one goal as a return, whereas in five other matches more than 10 shots on goal have yielded nothing.

"Kevin Doyle up front was magnificent," stated Shearer. "He worked his socks off, he worked the channels, he held the ball up and he was brilliant.

"I'm still not totally sure if he got a touch for the second goal but he deserved it because of his work rate all afternoon."

As good as Wolves were, Manchester United finally came unstuck having spent most of the season getting results without playing well. This time they forgot the first part.

The signs were there: only an injury-time winner from Park Ji-Sung separated Sir Alex Ferguson's side and Wolves at Old Trafford in November.

More recently, another late comeback saved United from defeat at Blackpool, where Ryan Giggs helped turn their fortunes around, and a similar scenario was repeated in the FA Cup tie at Southampton where they came from behind to win 2-1.

Even before then at Tottenham in January, it was a vintage performance by centre-backs Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand that were the most outstanding aspects in a display in which the forwards and midfield failed to fire.

In all of this, the reliance on veterans Giggs and Scholes may be the most worrying aspect for United fans.

While others have scored goals, they have provided more zest and energy to the centre of midfield, where the likes of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Anderson have failed to do so.

Driving runs by Giggs on the ball have been matched by Scholes' never-ending capacity to gamble on getting into the box. This was emphasised when he replaced Carrick on Saturday and was more involved in advanced and wider positions.

Scholes' touches against Wolves showed he was in more advanced and wider positions

Comparisons with the other top four teams show that United appear to be lacking a creative influence from the middle of the park.

Arsenal have Cesc Fabregas, Tottenham have Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric, Manchester City have David Silva and Yaya Toure, while Chelsea can usually rely on Frank Lampard, whose injury-hit season has contributed to his team's stuttering form.

Only Manchester City are in the same category when it comes to shots and goals from central midfield but that is only because manager Roberto Mancini prefers a more defensive approach, with the likes of Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry anchoring the midfield.

From their regular central midfield players, Tottenham average 1.59 shots per game, Chelsea 1.41, Arsenal 1.17 and Manchester City a lowly 0.69.

Fletcher, Carrick and Anderson make up three of the six central midfielders from the top five clubs who have taken the least number of shots. (John Mikel Obi, Nigel de Jong and Wilson Palacios are the other three.)

And together with Scholes, they have totalled 31 attempts on goal, at an average of only 0.6 shots per game.

Does that indicate where Manchester United need to improve? Or with them still sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League table is it an overplayed issue?

You can also discuss more tactical issues and suggest future ideas on Twitter


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  • Comment number 1.

    What a stupid knee jerk reaction article to a defeat. Who are the top scorers in the league this year? Does it matter if your mifield don't contribute when you have a ruthless front line?

  • Comment number 2.

    Agreed with #1. They have been itching to write this about United and finally a defeat happens - "is it the poor midfield that are so unimaginative, and create so little....erm ok except for the fact that they're the league's leading scorers with the leading scorer in the league"

    Chelsea win one game against Sunderland and they're made out to be the team to beat. Why not do a tactical analysis of them and see how short they come up?

    Finally catching up with United? Shouldn't the others start putting wins together as consistently to actually catch United?

  • Comment number 3.

    Arsenal have Cesc Fabregas, Tottenham have Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric, Manchester City have Yaya Toure, while Chelsea can usually rely on Frank Lampard, whose injury-hit season has contributed to his team's stuttering form.


    This is not a tactical analysis, this is an opinion

  • Comment number 4.

    I think the stats are there to see.

  • Comment number 5.

    Always interesting to see an article focussing on the tactical formations. Its hard for me to make a comparison with other clubs as I haven't seen them.

    With respect to number of shots on target from central midfeilders, what I would say is that we rotate our central midfielders more than any other side in the premiership so I would suggest a more talling stat would be number of shots per minute - or minutes per shot.

    I would also say that our creativeness tends to come from the wing, so players like Park, Giggs and Nani have weighed in heavily with goals as a result. The team tends also to play with a front four that provide plenty of movement and diagonal runs but the central midfielders tend to spend more time sitting deep retaining possession.

    However the most important stat that seems to be missing from the entire article is that United are the premiership's top scorers. Maybe I missed it.

  • Comment number 6.

    Actually it does matter, because you start to rely on those strikers to score the goals (that is thier job after all) but when they don't alot of other teams will have midfielders chipping in and creating chances. Utd it has to be said have lacked a creative force in midfield since paul scholes' hayday, and its clear he is on the decline. With VDS retiring at the end of the season, uncertainty over scholes staying for another season, and issues in the defence (Evans unfortunately seems to have regressed a touch this season) utd will have to spend in the summer. Lindegaard to me looks good, but if VDS isn't going to take up a goalkeeping position at the club, united might need someone with a bit more experience as having Kuzchzck (can't spell it) as the most experienced keeper at a club like man utd doesn't fill many of us with much confidence.

  • Comment number 7.

    I say I haven't seen other teams - rather I haven't really focussed on their play to the same extent.

  • Comment number 8.

    Erm 1 and 2, I don't think Alistair is disputing that Man U has not been getting the results and scoring goals at the same time.

    He's asked a perfectly valid question - does United have a creative midfielder to unlock a disciplined defence when United are REALLY being frustrated, as was the case with Wolves.

    And he's made a valid argument that United do not really have that midfielder with the killer pass. Yes they have great players in the middle of the park, as an Arsenal supporter I cannot dispute that. But who knows, maybe United need one with that little extra.

  • Comment number 9.

    If you think average shots per game is the comparison to end all comparisons between midfielders, you have an incredibly limited view on football.

    Let's look at goals/assists, the most basic of stats - Fletcher has more in both categories than Modric this season, yet you'd think Modric was rattling them in left right and centre, whilst putting it on a plate 5 times a match. Oh but I suppose they average more shots, so they're more creative! I wonder if this is the real reason the blog writer chose to highlight average shots per game, cos not many other stats back the theory up

  • Comment number 10.

    Being top goalscorers in the league is great, but put the paul scholes of say 10 years ago into this side and we would score so many more than we currently are, Anderson does it on occasions, carrick rarely and Fletcher isn't that type of player. United do need someone who can create chances for the strikers consistantly from the center of midfield. Perhaps we should just genetically modify Scholes and Giggs and make them 20 again, probably a moral issue with that, but it would solve alot of issues.

  • Comment number 11.

    #8, ah yes, it's not the midfield it's the strikers who have also been routinely criticised this season!

  • Comment number 12.

    United do suffer from a lack of imagination in midfield generally but they are scoring a lot of goals so I don't think it's the pressing concerns.

    For me these are

    1. Tactics away from home. Every man and his dog apart from Fergie and Harry plays 3 in midfield away from home so if you are going to play 2 they need to be absolute top class. Even Wenger who is widely recognised as an advocate of attacking football doesn't allow his side to be outnumbered in this crucial area. United have failed to go away and dominate even the most average of midfields (Saturday a case in point). United's midfielders are decent all rounders but they need to be played as a 3 to excel. At home its a bit different as teams tend to park the bus which means there is less pressure in the middle.

    Fergie himself recognises the need to match up when going away in Europe or to other title challengers but he has yet to consistently adopt that approach even away at Spurs which is now undoubtedly a tough fixture.

    The solution has to be to drop Berbatov away from home who cannot play as the lone front man. If Rooney could put together some form this would happen - as Berbatov was dropped for Arsenal having scored 5 in the previous game.

    2. Rio Ferdinand. His absence has already cost United likely victories at Everton and Fulham and once again his absence led to a pathetic level of organisation at the back where Johnny Evans in particular continued his woeful season. Having acknowledged Smalling as Rio's heir where was he? He's still raw but he's a monster and wouldn't be bullied by championship standard forwards like Kevin Doyle. Personally I'd stick with the solid Wes Brown with Vidic until Rio is back. Experience counts for a lot in at the business end of the season.

    In the long term United need to either look for two monsters to allow them to play 442 or accept Berbatov was the wrong fit and adopt their future transfer business around thr 433 formation utilised by the majority of top sides. Finding the top players needed with the shackles of the Glazer ownership will be tough so perhaps making the best of what's availible is key and away from home Fergie simply hasn't done so.

  • Comment number 13.

    Didn't take long for the Man U mafia to come out of the woodwork.

    Back down, will ya. People are reacting like this is some sort of reactionary hyperbole article from one of the other writers on here. These articles are actually quite balanced and interesting to read, rather than the rhetoric and hyperbole that litters the other blogs. At no point is Alistair saying that Man U are some sort of spent force - he's simply stating facts. In recent games, Man united have looked out of sorts, and have needed to get out of jail a few times now. He's also (unlike a lot of other pundits) giving a lot of credit to Wolves, rather than pointing the finger solely at United. And read the question at the bottom - he's leaving it open to interpretation as to whether or not the Man U midfield are a spent force or not. Judging by the stats and analysis here, in recent games they haven't sparked.

    Good article as always, and please, I have no beef with Man United, but those quick to suddenly whinge at the first sign of critisicm of your beloved club - pipe down. You're still leading, and still looking strong for the title, despite recent lapses in form. Take the criticism on the chin, or respond to it constructively rather than just "yeah well who cares, we're top of the league, nah nah nananah". No wonder the BBC are shutting down 606 - a lot of threads have become running battles between WUMs, very touchy fans of the top clubs, and ABU merchants.

  • Comment number 14.

    With Wolves I would say they played very well but we threw away a goal through sloppy defending. My biggest frustration in attack was Rooney being too static. Nani and Fabio did put crosses through but there was noone gambling for the nearpost run.

    Again though, I would say Wolves defended well but the forwards were poor. That said, I was surprised Berbatov was the player who made way for Hernandez tbh. I thought Rooney and Giggs had poor matches.

  • Comment number 15.

    #11 Sorry have to disagree there. The strikers for United have been doing a sterling job, Berbatov in particular, and I don't think anything much has been said in criticism of United as a whole from the sports media (and I read a lot of media). In fact, their ability to get results without playing well has been praised.

    Let's face it mate, this defeat HAD been coming, and now that it's happened, Alistair is well within his rights to analyse where United could have done better.

  • Comment number 16.

    Any suggestions about who we can get in to liven things up? Scholes and Giggs - HUGE shoes to fill. Whoever he/they are, the expectations are going to monumental

  • Comment number 17.

    Yes he is within his rights to criticise, but average shots per game is the biggest joke of a criticism I've seen on BBC! Especially when Modric has fewer goals and assists than Fletcher this season

  • Comment number 18.

    Personally this defeat is a blessing in disguise, united have been woeful away from home and a defeat to the bottom club in the premierleague will highlight how bad we have been away from home to the utd players and should encourage better performances away. (wolves deserved to win, incase people think the defeat was purely because utd played badly)

  • Comment number 19.

    Has he really put down Yaya Toure as citys creative midfielder? if thats the case then united have darren gibson.

  • Comment number 20.

    I still don't understand why Fergie insists on keeping Rooney on the pitch when his contributions are pretty much a net negative at the moment. And much as I love Carrick, it's time to save him for cup games we don't care about. Although Anderson wasn't much better last time out. Oh and Evans needs shipping out to the Championship on loan or otherwise, he's a liability.

  • Comment number 21.

    Oh for Pete's sake!!!!

    They've lost one game (it was bound to happen at one point).

    Get a grip man!

  • Comment number 22.

    The Wolves defeat was down to poor defending and lacklustre attacking. Rio's organisational absence was the biggest factor. Interestingly I see Lindegaard's apparent gobbiness as a good sign as him as a future keeper. Schmeichel was similarly dominant and as a result helped keep our defence solid.

  • Comment number 23.

    Too easy to point to lack of goals from midfield as missing a creative influence. United have been scoring with their Strikers, not their midfield hence the difference. I have to say, I was nervous about every single match United played this year, except this one. I was sure they were going to run riot against a Wolves team short on confidence.
    I am not one for singling out players, but I think the presence of Evans at the moment brings nothing but grief to United. Smalling should have been in there from the start. He is a more complete player on form at the moment. Perhaps Anderson in the middle of the field might have brought a first half onslaught by his surging runs, and Smalling might have defended and prevented at least one of two very defendable goals.
    All credit to Wolves for not dropping the head after conceeding so quickly. I think they will still go down.
    I think United are very much in danger now of throwing it away, or being found out. The absolutely have to win against City, anything else will be fuel for the chasing pack. Smalling at the back with Vidic please as Rio isn't fit. Park Nani scholes in a more defensive role and anderson in the middle with Berbatov and hernandez up from playing off one another, Giggs and Rooney to come off the bench if it needs rescuing, which it certainly did against Wolves......

  • Comment number 24.

    This problem has been coming for a long time at United, I'd say for a good few seasons at least. And Fergie has sat back and watched it. Without Keane and an ageing Scholes the midfield lacks that cutting edge of a truely world class side. Ronaldo acted as a distraction from this with his outstanding goalscoring record and Rooney last season far exceeded anyones expectations. Now Ronaldo has gone and Rooney isn't exactly on top form at the minute, Utd are struggling. Berbatov has scored a few but when he doesn't score Utd don't look as much of a threat as they used to. I wouldn't be surprised if Utd made a big signing in the centre of midfield come the summer. Carrick can't cut it, Fletcher isn't that type of player and unless Anderson matures, very quickly, into the player he promised to be Utd will struggle.

  • Comment number 25.

    Disappointed by this analysis. Was hoping for more. I didn't see the match on Saturday but I've thought for a long time that Carrick doesn't offer enough to be at a top club so was hoping for better analysis than this. Taking a pure shots per game ratio is not enough as United have scored a lot of goals from elsewhere.

    I do think that United's spending in the summer should have the following priorities:

    1) A proven Keeper (they suffered for so long after Schmeichael's retirement)
    2) A world class central midfielder (Someone like Sneijder)
    3) Another wide man, Nani, Park and Valencia aren't quite enough, Giggs can't last for ever and Obertan doesn't want to be there.

  • Comment number 26.

    Antonio Valencia is the big miss for United this season. i think with Nani on the left and Valencia on the right with an in form Rooney and Berbatov will be close to Unstoppable ! Valencia had the most assits last season in the league if i remember correctly and will be a huge boost when back fit at the end of month!

  • Comment number 27.

    Of the clubs you mention, bar Spurs, Man Utd are the only side that has proper wingers. They are the players to create and have shots in the MU side so the need for a central attacking midfield player is lessened. In the last few minutes it was Evra and Rafael who pushed forward with a midfielder sitting so they aren't going to have lots of midfielders shooting.

    Tottenham play with five midfielders and one striker so they are 25% more likely to have a shot from a midfield player than Man U.

    Like most people have said, it sounds as though you have written the article and found the stats to back it up rather than the other way round.

  • Comment number 28.

    I agree this is no time to panic etc but the fact remains that United do need a top-class creative midfielder. Scholes is likely to retire at the end of the season, Anderson is yet to fulfil his potential and the likes of Fletcher, Carrick and Gibson are more suited to the defensive midfield role. There are some youngsters out there, Matt James and Tom Cleverly, but I do think United need to invest in a top quality creative midfield player in the near future if we want to compete. There has been talk of dropping Rooney back into that position, similar to how Scholes moved from striker to midfield. In my opinion I think it could work. Rooney has an excellent work rate, he can tackle better than Scholes ever could, he has great vision and awareness, can pick out a pass, has an amazing first touch and can score goals with runs from deep or long rage efforts. I would be interested to hear what other United and football fans think.

  • Comment number 29.

    Man Utd is top of the league and top scorers. But this masks the fact that the midfield is only above average and rely on defense and the form of Nani and Berbatov this season. I'm big fans of Fletcher, Carrick and Anderson but they are not top midfielders. Only Fletcher is a regular for his national team, albeit an average Scotland. They cannot be compared to Keane, Scholes, Beckham & Giggs in their heydays.

  • Comment number 30.

    @28, I have been saying play rooney a la Roy keane for years, he would be immense in the middle of the park....

  • Comment number 31.

    RE: Rooney in midfield, it could well work believe it or not, only problem would be his temper and he would get alot of sendings off Ala Keano. He does have good vision and a sense of whats going on around him.

  • Comment number 32.

    @24: You can't be serious saying United are struggling when they are 4 points clear at the top of the table, without Valencia playing can you?

  • Comment number 33.

    Valencia has been a huge miss though collie, would of meant Giggsy not playing as many games as he has done, we are missing park aswell i think.

  • Comment number 34.

    All our midfield problems could be solved by kidnapping Andres Iniesta.


  • Comment number 35.

    As a Manchester United fan I admit that a defeat was imminent, but I definitely agree with the fact that most opponents of the club have been waiting to criticise a particular aspect of the team when we eventually lost, that being the midfield. I totally disagree with the criticism towards the midfield, which is evidently shown by the fact that Luis Nani (midfielder) scored our only goal. But I cannot wait for Valencia to return as he was extremely threatening with his crosses. I think that with Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes approaching retirement, and Michael Carrick in my opinion not performing to his standards - Manchester United should definitely make one or two midfield signings during the next transfer window. I still think that although yes, we did lose against bottom of the table Wolves, we can still go on to victory by obtaining The Premier League trophy!

  • Comment number 36.

    Not sure about Rooney in the centre of the park. He has lost the ball a few too many times and comes across to me as a more instinctive player. Sometimes you need to take things in a little more quickly and at times play it backwards to simply retain possession. Rooney is always trying to make things happen. No bad thing but when it backfires he always has the midfield to clean things up.

    What I would like to see though is some more unselfish runs when things aren't going to plan or the ball isn't on a plate.

  • Comment number 37.

    #19 - i think he point is to emphasise the defensive-mindedness of Citeh's midfield by the fact they use toure as an attacking/creative midfielder!

    #28 I too think that Rooney would be useful in a more central role, for the attributes you list and to get him more involced, especially away from home or against the bigger teams at home.

    I still think we need a new creative mid tho, a certain Dutch man would fit the bill!

  • Comment number 38.

    Have to agree with the title of this blog. United do lack creativity. Michael Carrick showed for one season how good he was but now has gone back to being a complete waste of time and space on the pitch. Scholes can't go on forever and United seriously need to sign a creative central midfielder in the summer. If Spurs don't qualify for the champiions league, why not attempt to sign Van der Vaart or Modric. Both quality players but I doubt Spurs would let them go unless United pay extravagant prices. United should still win the league though but only because Arsenal can't go the distance and Man city aren't quite ready to challenge.

  • Comment number 39.

    #12 just remind me, what did the tactics you insist united should adopt (go back to as default) achieve last season or the season before that was better than those united have mainly used this season?

    interesting also that you suggest actually dropping berbatov away from home because - according to you - "he can't play the lone frontman role", when in reality in the corresponding fixture last season berbatov did play alone up front, did very well for the team, and united eventually battled to a 1-0 win.

    as for the thrust of the blog, i tend to agree with the point made in one of the early replies that united's midfield creativity comes from players drifting into 'the hole' from off the flanks - park, nani, giggs, even rooney. with the personnel available to fergie (especially with park away, bebe and obertan unconvincing and valencia still out) the option of a diamond was always there, although i was surprised he opted to try it using the reserves at southampton. there is definitely an argument that one through can be the safest and most adaptable option in the up-coming two-legged games. but the problem is that it is not the best solution to suit the personnel available to the manager, who has to find the right balance and combinations to make full use of the stunning attacking talents of Hernandez, Rooney, Nani, Valencia and Berbatov, as well as Park and Giggs. it hasn't always been a comfortable ride so far this season, but the goals have flowed and united are in at least as strong a position as they have been the last two seasons when 4-5-1 has been their default set-up.

  • Comment number 40.

    Who else plays 4-4-2 at home let alone away from home???????

    can't have 'gung ho' centre mids when you have 2 wide men and 2 up front.
    discipline is fundamental.

    Van der Vaart actually plays as a centre forward
    Fabregas is also a 'second striker' most the time
    Lampard........great season Frank
    Ya Ya Toure again second forward and looks clumsey/robot do city!

    look at assists and alround performance, not shots on goal, as that isn't the primary function of a centre midfield player in a 4-4-2 formation.

    article is pointless and we all no shearer hates utd!

  • Comment number 41.

    lets be fair utd have been average away from home all season, theyre only top because the others are just as bad and their home form is far better than anyone elses. if they were ever going to lose a game then it was always gonna be away from home. hence why theyve only won 3 away games. its nothing to do with their midfield its just that other teams have sussed how to play them when utd go to their grounds as they did with arsenal (my team) for a period except teams sussed how to play us at our own ground this season hence why we have a better away record than a home one this year. theyve only lost 1 game and as much as i hate them. you have to give wolves credit because utd had more of the ball for long periods but wolves defending was just better than utds was for this one game. the 2 goals utd conceeded they wouldnt usually conceed everyone has a off day. and wolves deserved the win in the end. still though scholes and giggs are getting on in age so they will need replace them eventually.

  • Comment number 42.

    I agree that this is a fair article and I too am concerned about United's midfield.

    Considering Carrick is a ball playing midfielder a lot of his passes go amiss and he is not ruthless enough in a challenge. Fletcher is a good player, he works hard and has his moments but sometimes he reverts back to giving the ball away and getting frustrated.

    I'm confused by Anderson. He looks like a great prospect but doesn't start too often and when he does he never finishes a match.

    United have been too reliant on Giggs and Scholes and there is a worry that when both of them jack it in Nani is the only midfield supply man who can create a spark on demand.

    United are sitting nicely at the top of the league so critising sounds ridiculous, but when you look at the facts, Giggs and Scholes have come in to games this season and turned United's fortunes around. That implies that Giggs, Nani and Scholes aside, United can't rely on the remaining midfield names to provide game in game out, which is worring.

  • Comment number 43.

    The analysis of United's midfield is spot on. It is the worst United team for ages, BUT as their rivals are even worse at the moment does it matter?....NO NO NO... not when you are holding the Premier League trophy aloft in May.... call it good timing.

  • Comment number 44.

    Lets get one thing straight here, United are TOP because of the failings of others. Didn't United's captain express his surprise about being top before Christmas ?

    2 seasons ago, Liverpool should have won the title ? How many games did they lose ? 2 (being undefeated, or losing so few is irrelevant, they drew too many). THEY BLEW IT United won the league, this season United have already drwan NINE and now lost 1 in 25 games, they should not be top.

    Last season, Chelsea scored 100+ goals, United fans on these pages were bemoaning their midfield then, for a team that scored 100+ goals, how many points did Chelsea win the league by ? 1. THEY ALMOST BLEW IT

    This season, as I said before, the season before last, Liverpool lost very few but drew a lot, similar to United this season but whereas United capitalised on Liverpool's failings that season, who is there to capitalise on United's failings this ?

    Arsenal ? Yeh right. Saturday was simply the biggest example of why they will never win it.

    Man City ? Take out Tevez, oh dear what is there ? You score first against City and their goose is cooked. Anyway, teams not a bunch of egos win titles, and City are still a team with too many egos.

    Chelsea ? They almost bottled it last year, they have this year, have you ever seen champions self destruct like they did pre Christmas ?

    The league may be Premier in name but in terms of quality, certainly not. Pre Christmas, Liverpool were hovering near the bottom 3, 6 weeks later, they are hovering not far from Chelsea and Tottenham for a Cl place. That lack of quality from teams 2 to 19 is why United are where they are.

    United fair play to them will win the league again because more than anything they have the best consistent mental attitude (tell me in the 29 games undefeated,how many times have United really performed ? I would say not many, so to go unbeaten for that length of time should be applauded). United have become consistently functional, certainly in midfield, with the occasional brilliance, they have the good fortune that others remain consistently dysfunctional.

  • Comment number 45.

    "Are Man U missing a Midfield Spark" the title provides the clue - I thought the blog was well balanced and more framed to the "what if" scenario. i.e. if Man U had a midfield spark how good could they be!

    Can't people put their tribal thoughts to one side and debate the blog? Most contributors are positive but there are always a few who take such a positive article as being a slight on their club.

    Having said that the comments about Modric v Fletcher lead me into a slightly tribal rant - At Spurs last season we were doing OK but then HR was forced to play Tom Huddlestone and Luka Modric in the centre because Palacios got too many bookings and in my opinion they have never looked back.

    Following the recent draw with Man U everyone commented on Modric being the star of the show and being precisely the player Man U requires, I don't care what the assists and goals columns say anyone who thinks Fletcher is as good as Modric needs help.

    The guy is a little genius and if assists included the passes that launched most of Spurs offensive moves, I am sure he would be streets ahead.

    With regards Rooney in midfield, most commentators talk about Rooney being more suited to the wider role where he often reverts for United in away games. Watching him chasing a Wolves player back the other day he doesn't have the positional sense, or the pace to compensate for the lack of to be a central midfield player - remember Alan Smith! It is not an easy transition and very few are capable, only good example I can think of is Kennedy at Liverpool who was quite exceptional

  • Comment number 46.

    I agree with this article 100%. United's old unbeaten run and league position are very misleading. This is the most average Man Utd team in a long time, and its only Fergusons greatness that is keeping the team where it is. Even b4 the defeat I was thinking that United would, sooner or later, crumble, and while this defeat does not prove me right, its obvious the teams flaws will be exposed when it matters. Most probably the latter parts of the CL and when they play Chelsea and Man City. The thing is, United have not evolved their squad and progressed. Fergie can say "there's no value in the market" but we all know why United are so quiet in the transfer market. Although why they would pay £7m for Bebbe I don't know, but I think the Glazers thought he would be worth a couple of million more after a season of or so and they could then sell him for a profit, and why they did not buy Van Der Vaart for £8m well at 27 they did not believe he would have a high sell on fee, although now his worth £20m+. Rooney is very overrated, and Mark Lawrensons recent comments that on his day Rooney was the best striker in the world was a either delusional or a joke. Yes he scored lots of goals last season, n is very good but nowhere near as good as Tevez, Drogba, Torres etc Nani has had a good season but will he deliver against the top clubs? If Valencia returns this season and can play to the ability he had before his injury then I can see Rooney scoring goals again and an injection of speed and power that will lift the team, he will be like a new singing.

  • Comment number 47.

    Average shot's per game? yeah great stat! How about % of goals scored per shots? That is a far more telling statistic. I like these articles, but that really is a nonsense statistic! How about the fact that bar Van Der Vaart, nani has scored more goals this season than those other midfielders mentioned put together?! Why on Earth do our midfield need to score goals? Let alone the fact he also leads the league in assists! Berbatov is top scorer, Hernandez has double figures for the season! how many other teams have 30 goals between their 2 strikers? How exaclty do you expect these players to be scoring all these goals/getting assists if the midfielders are always shooting! Maybe that's why United are top of the league and top scorers! because the players who are supposed to be scoring and creating are actually doing it!
    THAT would ahve been a better "tactical analysis" of United compared to other teams.

  • Comment number 48.

    Also, their inability to cope without a Rio/Vidic pairing is starting to show and I do worry if Smalling and Evans are tough enough to cut it in Rio or Vida's absence.

    Against West Ham in the cup they were bullied and destroyed by Victor Obinna and against Wolves recently with Evans in the mix, United didn't look as organised as they have been with Rio and Vida at the back.

  • Comment number 49.

    Manchester United certainly lack a creative player in the centre, but it's too quick to come to snap conclusions like this after one loss. Scholes has dropped deeper and deeper in recent years, and now plays as a deep lying DMF. Carrick only plays short, simple passes, and Anderson would be the only choice but has so fair failed to live up to the hype and is unproven.

    I also disagree with whoever wrote this article's choice of so called 'creative midfielders'. Fabregas and VDV certainly, Modric is a maybe, however Yaya Toure, who is originally a DMF, and rarely gets forward, is going too far. Marauding runs up the centre are not creative, creativity is someone like Wilshere or Fabregas who have stunning vision and the ability to complete a key pass or create a chance from relatively nothing. And Lampard? Really? Long range deflections are not creative.

  • Comment number 50.

    Arsenal ? Yeh right. Saturday was simply the biggest example of why they will never win it

    sorry but if your basing forever on 1 game then u know nothing about football. yes we have our failings but it cant be that bad when we are the closest challengers and still only 4 behind. muppet

  • Comment number 51.

    Absolute bang on analysis

    Since Scholes started playing in the deeper midfield role a few seasons ago, we have failed to bring in any central creativity. We had Ronaldo and last season the two wide men (Valencia was excellent last season), but we've had little imagination through the centre of the park.

    This season we've struggled away from home due to the injury to Valencia. This only leaves Nani as a creative element in midfield or Park who, for all his endeavour, is never going to set the world alight.

    This along with a top class keeper is priority in the close season. Ideally I would also like to see another winger and a centre back to replace the awful Johnny Evans who has been a disaster for 12 months now.

  • Comment number 52.

    Because Man Utd lost one game?

    The blog states 'creative' midfielder.

    Man Utd have scored 55 goals this season in the league, Arsenal for example have scored 54.

    From what I've seen this season, when Man Utd have one of Ferdinand/Vidic missing at the back they are weaker, and they have missed Antonio Valencia as another wide option. They also need to find a midfielder to do the Hargreaves role, but I would not say that is a 'creative' role that they are missing.

    But maybe I'm watching a different game to everyone else, most fans always say their team lacks a striker or a creative player, but for me cover for Ferdinand/Vidic, cover for the wings and replacing Hargreaves are the three areas where Man Utd have weaknesses. Obviously in the summer they will need to replace Van der Sar as well.

  • Comment number 53.

    Just for the record this analysis is not saying there is any sort of crisis at United, they are top of the league after all and as many of you have pointed out top scorers too!

    The point I am making is more about the future. Scholes has been a force as a creative central midfielder at United for 15 years now but do they have anyone to replace him? Maybe they don't need to. Maybe they can rely on the strikers to keep scoring and the defence to remain tight, but in Europe, in particular, players that can break from midfield and score are very valuable.

    My argument is not solely around shots per game, of course, it is more based on what I have seen in games they have played and as Saturday suggested United were missing something in the middle with Fletcher and Carrick. I'm not sure it is even technical, as they are both very good players, maybe it's an ability to grab the game by the scruff of the neck like Giggs has been doing recently? To be a driving force.

    #12 Bellion-wonderland makes a good point. Carrick and Fletcher are very good as part of a three-man central midfield, almost like Wilshere and Song at Arsenal but the difference with the Gunners is that they have Fabregas as well. Scholes a few years ago would have been perfect to complete the trio, but even he doesn't know if he will be playing next season. So for United what is the answer?

    By the way Carrick's pass completion for the first half against Wolves was 71%. For Scholes in the second half it was 91% and some of his long passes were delicious.

  • Comment number 54.

    sorry but if your basing forever on 1 game then u know nothing about football. yes we have our failings but it cant be that bad when we are the closest challengers and still only 4 behind. muppet

    Well you must be cos the team you're 4 points behind have no creativity and are apparently seriously lacking away from home.

    It's all about the shots per game! Forget goals scored/points won

  • Comment number 55.

    #46 I echo your point on Bebe. Sure, he can still come good and prove to be value for money, but it was an £8m gamble and so far Bebe has looked mediocre.

    I was gutted when Ozil (star of the World Cup)went to Madrid for £12m and we signed a player that no-one had heard of for only £4m less. Ozil had proven himself on the biggest stage in World football and we signed a player that 'looked good' at the homeless World Cup...

    Fergie's a genius, but I have a feeling he got the Bebe deal wrong. If he was such a great investment why has he featured so little for United this season!?!?!

  • Comment number 56.

    55. At 1:41pm on 07 Feb 2011, olrion wrote:
    #46 I echo your point on Bebe. Sure, he can still come good and prove to be value for money, but it was an £8m gamble and so far Bebe has looked mediocre.


    He's played 5 games (2 goals) and he's 20. There's criticism and then there's being silly and jumping on a media bandwagon. He was blatantly bought for the future.

  • Comment number 57.

    Following the recent draw with Man U everyone commented on Modric being the star of the show and being precisely the player Man U requires, I don't care what the assists and goals columns say anyone who thinks Fletcher is as good as Modric needs help.


    You make out like Modric is head and shoulders above Fletcher. Fletcher has been a constant selection in a side that has won 3 leagues, and got to two champions league finals in the last 5 years. Yes, Modric is a top drawer player, but Fletcher is more than useful. If he was argentinan and called Fletcheranho, people would be all over him.

    United's midfield, not as strong as generations gone by, but still extremely underrated.

    Another comment I've just picked up on in the blog is apparently Chelsea's creativity has only suffered because Lampard hasn't been involved. Firstly, lampard played yesterday (19 shots, 1 on target, I guess the blog writer thinks that's exceptional creativity), secondly, if 1 player's absence completely shuts down the creative aspect of the side, then that side has big problems.

  • Comment number 58.

    55. At 1:41pm on 07 Feb 2011, olrion wrote:
    I was gutted when Ozil (star of the World Cup)went to Madrid for £12m and we signed a player that no-one had heard of for only £4m less. Ozil had proven himself on the biggest stage in World football and we signed a player that 'looked good' at the homeless World Cup...

    Mesut Ozil didn't want to play in England, he preferred the Real Madrid offer. You can offer a massive salary and bring in a mercenary but even if you do that remember Ozil might have fancied playing for Real sooner or later.

  • Comment number 59.

    @Nevs_A_Red u seem to confuse creativity and goal scoring!!! Against Wolves, and many other teams, United have lacked that spark and bit of genius that can make something out of nothing, produce the unexpected. Aka Ronaldo against Porto in CL several years ago, or Modric type passes, basically that idea or piece of instinct that wins games. Only creativity from United this year has been from Nani and even then now its just becoming the same repetitive skill cut in squarely along the edge of penalty box and shoot, the best teams will be aware of of this and will easily stop him. With United u this season when its not a counter attack move and the opposing team has all its players in position u can see the bewilderment of the United players and the fact they have run out of ideas. So skill, goal scoring and creativity interlinked but not necessarily the same thing

  • Comment number 60.

    United do have a weak point in the centre of midfield creative wise but then you can say all the top teams have a weak point -
    Arsenal lack a decent 'hard man' centre back and a decent goalkeeper,
    Chelsea have a great starting line up - but then when it comes to there bench if they have injuries there replacements arent that great.
    Tottenham dont have a huge squad so injuries for them is a huge problem.
    City probably have the best overall squad but there starting line up isnt as good as chelsea's, united's maybe even arsenal's.

    Not every team is perfect (apart from maybe Barca) so not having a creative midfielder isnt that big a deal?? id say Arsenal have the biggest problem as there defence isnt the best thats putting it nicely.

  • Comment number 61.

    Doesn't it cheer you up when 'analysis' doesn't count for a great deal because for the first time in living memory the Premier League season is anything but predictable, the bottom- can outplay the top team and the standard across the twenty clubs has never been more even ? Whether 'mistakes' have played a part in that is irrelevant: it's made for the most exciting season that most of us can remember.

    I'm delighted that 'statistics' and 'analysis' - those American cultural obsessions which, along with practically everything else American, we've embraced - are proving so difficult to back; sport is partly beautiful because of its unpredictability. Let's hope we continue to see more of the same until May.

  • Comment number 62.

    It wouldn't be such a big problem if it we had genuine width on BOTH sides. Yes, Giggsy has played well at times on the left this season but he often comes inside now, with Rooney drifting to the left to fill in whenever Giggsy drifts inside (also the current version of Giggsy relies heavily on combining with Berba/Rooney/Evra whereas Nani can do it on his own, so if Berba/Rooney aren't on form like against Wolves, Giggsy isn't very potent). But with a lacklustre and unimaginative central midfield, you need to have both wings being able to stretch teams. We just have the one. The play, this season, is predictably geared towards the right wing where Nani is. He has done a really good job this season, probably the best wide player in the league this season but if the opposition take care of him, than United are very dodgy in providing a consistent threat from other areas. Wolves doubled up on Nani in the second half, add the injury Rafael picked up during the game so he wasn't as energetic as he normally can be with Nani, we ended up having very little from that right wing and surprise, surprise, the rest of United's attack simply couldn't make up for it.

  • Comment number 63.

    Good response Alistair, and picks up on something I was going to comment on - the awfulness of Carrick. He gives the ball away so much for somone who's biggest asset is his passing ability. he has no pace, no skill, and isnt a great tackler. he is only in the team because he sits in front of the defence as cover, but he isnt even brilliant at that. The sooner he is dropped the better - play Fletcher as the holding midfielder, with instructions to not push forward as much as he does at the minute, and bring Anderson back in. he had a run of 3 or 4 games where he was or close to man of the match in each - he was simply brilliant, and was bursting into the box/creating around the area superbly. On top of his work-rate and bursting runs out of defence. Yet for some inexplicable reason, fergie has dropped him again! Even when he came on in a couple of games, he changed them. He gives a different dynamic ability to our midfield which we need to have out there - plus he's the only central midfielder we have with any sort of pace!

    Thoughts anyone?

  • Comment number 64.

    I believe United need a long term successor for Van Der Sar, a young solid ball playing centre back to provide cover for Rio (maybe with experience Smalling could be the key) a creative midfielder who can play the Scholes role, support the attack and shift the ball to the wings at pace. With such player on board I think that would be United sorted for the foreseeable future.

    When Giggs retires we can look to Nani playing on the left and Valencia can return to his direct dribbling and crossing down the right. Sorted!

    Rooney and Berba will serve up top with Hernandez pushing his way into contention.

    Rafael surging down the right, Evra down the left with Vidic and Rio (or young replacement) making up United's defence.

    In midfield Nani could operate down the right and mix it up by cutting inside on his right or taking the ball down the left and Valencia would operate on the right. In cetre mid I'd have Anderson (with experience)sitting and a playmaker of the Jack Wilshire mould supporting the attack and making things happen in the final third.

    Someone mentioned Hargreaves earlier - he's never wearing the United shirt again. It saddens me to say that, but lets be realistic!

  • Comment number 65.

    United need to do some surgery on their central midfield for next season.

    Carrick: form has been horrible for more than a year. Confidence shot to pieces, can't string together two passes to teammates. If we win the league this season it will be 4 titles in 5 seasons for Carrick at United, but it's still time to go.
    Anderson: remains a great prospect but isn't ready to be first choice yet. I think 2011-12 will be his last-chance season.
    Scholes: has aged a decade in the last 12 months, and looks like a red card waiting to happen every time he plays. I'd rather he retires in the summer than start to look like a liability.
    Hargreaves: looks finished, which is very sad.
    Gibson: has gone backwards this year rather than progress, and the guy is 23 so is running out of time to be called a prospect. 2011-12 will be his last-chance season too.
    Fletcher: the only one that really looks the part at the moment.

    United have some great midfield prospects on the books: Cleverley, Petrucci, Pogba, Morrison, but none of them will be ready to lock down a first-choice first team spot next season.

    In my opinion next season should see Fletcher and someone new as the first-choice central midfied pairing; Anderson, Cleverley, and Gibson as squad backup; Scholes either retired or reduced even further to a bit part role; Carrick and Hargreaves out.

    In an ideal world that "someone new" would be Bastian Schweinsteiger, who I think would be perfect for United, but he seems rather inconveniently committed to Bayern and has recently signed a long contract.

  • Comment number 66.

    'I was gutted when Ozil (star of the World Cup)went to Madrid for £12m and we signed a player that no-one had heard of for only £4m less. Ozil had proven himself on the biggest stage in World football and we signed a player that 'looked good' at the homeless World Cup...'

    Tactically, Fergie has rarely set up a formation that Ozil thrives in. 4-4-2, especially the kind Fergie likes to use, is not Ozil's cup of tea.

    'You make out like Modric is head and shoulders above Fletcher'

    Two very different types of midfielder. One is a subtle creative orchestrator , the other is a box-to-box player (although Fletch should be a sitting midfielder, as he is too much of a messy loose cannon as the box-to-box midfielder especially in the current United set up. He has
    been poor this season).

    'If he was such a great investment why has he featured so little for United this season!?!?!'

    One would have to be ridiculously impatient and fickle if they were expecting Bebe to have a regular showing in his first season.

  • Comment number 67.

    I'm sorry to say I've seen this defeat coming, and it's surprised me how long it's actually taken! United have looked incredibly poor at times, and they've had to rely on flashes of inspiration from a select few, whilst collectively under-performing. Still top of the league, yes, but at no stage of the season have they played to their abilities. I keep feeling that the great United teams of the past would run rings around this team, and I shudder to think what will happen if they meet top European opposition! Barcelona or Real Madrid would tear this United apart, it would be humiliating...
    The biggest problem, as I see it, isn't actually a lack of creativity, it's a lack of grit in midfield. Carrick and Fletcher are good footballers, but not the types to get stuck in and get at the opposition, like Roy Keane used to. Anderson is an attacking midfielder, and should be used as one. His natural instinct seems to be to get forward, and make runs. Rather than try and turn him into an allround midfielder, he should be allowed to play in this more forward role, which best displays his abilities.
    There's a worry when it comes to the centre-back position as well, though. Vidic and Ferdinand are fantastic together, but Rio's back problem is now becoming a major worry. Evans just isn't good enough for this level, and Smalling is still growing into his role, he's not quite mature enough just yet. The potential is definitely there, and I think SAF should use him more, allow him to get comfortable in his role, he's a cut above Evans, at least!
    Like an earlier poster has already noted, United's major creative force are their wingers, and Valencia's imminent return fills me with a huge amount of hope. His runs and crosses were a major part of Rooney's burst of form last season, and if these two can find that spark again, with Berbatov scoring goals for fun, the future looks bright, even with the defensive frailties United have shown this season.
    After all, the object of the game is to score more goals than your opponent, not to concede less! ;-)

  • Comment number 68.

    I totally agree Manchester United have needed a creative midfielder for quiet sometime.
    It is a miracle that we are sitting at the top of the table. At times this season we have been plain awful to watch Wolves x 2, first half against Barnsley, game away to Birmingham.
    We are supposed to be one of the best teams in the world and yet have players like carrick and fletcher who would struggle to get into the teams mentioned above.
    To be honest there are not many teams in the premiership who do not have a midfield pair better than them two!!!
    I can not wait for Valencia to return and hope he is able to regain his form soonest. (Is it also worth a few prayers for the return of Hargreaves?)
    Saying all of this I still think that we will win the title this year more by default than talent.

  • Comment number 69.

    "Manchester City have Yaya Toure"

    This is the funniest/worst piece of analysis I will read all year.
    In what world is Yaya Toure a creative influence?!!
    He's a destroyer and all pace, power and no guile or creativity.
    Msncini's insistence on playing him in such an unsuited role is what is costing City this season.
    Milner and Silva are both far more creative for City.

  • Comment number 70.

    Utd still need a more creative central midfielder, but not having one has been good enough so far this season to be top in February.
    It really galls me that we didn't sign Van der Vaart in the summer, esepcially as he was going on the cheap.
    With him in the side Utd would be obliterating this league this year.
    I really hope we sign someone dynamic and creative in the summer.

  • Comment number 71.

    United have lacked a decent centre midfielder for an extended period of time. The passing from Darren Flecther and Michael Carrick on Saturday was appauling. Anderson has some promise, but is too inconsistent at this moment. Personally I feel that spending 7-8 million on BEBE is a huge waste, the man wasn't even watched before he signed. Also Darron Gibson is the most frustrating of players and although he may average well over 50 million shots a game, which in itself is ridiculously frustrating, he is not the answer that United crave in the middle. If united lose the long running battle with Owen Hargreaves' fitness then it has to be time to re-invest in this area because far too often it is evident against tough opposition. So who is out there and is available for the right price?

    Charlie Adam - Maybe not as good as Holloway makes out in my opinion.
    Wesley Sneijder - If you have Man City's money
    Kaka - Gamble at this current time

    I am struggling to think of many others who are out there but this is a problem that needs some serious thought, with the UEFA money rules and the need for a new stopper at Old Trafford.

  • Comment number 72.

    I'd suggest that the reason fletcher in particular is very good in a three man midfield is because he isn't as good technically as a united midfielder needs to be. also, the point about having players drive from mnidfield goes directly to tempo, and playing from a three united are usually only ever able to create that tempo on the counter attack, and have plenty of players in attacking positions to make that happen. the prime example of this is seen by the way the forward line cut arsenal to ribbons on the last two trips to emirates

    on replacing scholes and giggs, why do they need replacing? they haven't retired yet. also, who could replace them anyway? a lot of people are talking about the spurs lads, but neither of them are in scholes' or giggs' hey-day class and neither are likely to improve to that level either. there's talk that scholes will call it a day in the summer, and at that point i expect a midfielder to be fetched in. but expecting even the likes of those two at spurs to fill the boots of scholes (or giggs) is too much, and is part of the reason the decision has been put off up until now, well that and the fact that they are both two of the best players in the entire league even regardless of their age.

    #46 i take it you have seen united's record against the top sides this season have you? this line about how they'll be found out when the big games come around is a nonsense. they may or may not lose some of the big games as the season rolls on, but they have already played plenty of them and haven't lost any.

  • Comment number 73.

    should read:

    I'd suggest that the reason fletcher in particular is very good and is more effective in a three man midfield is because he isn't as good technically as a united midfielder needs to be and his limitations are more easily exposed in a two

  • Comment number 74.

    #63 - I totally agree. To play for United Carrick obviously has the attributes to cut it at the highest level but I agree with your assessment. For a player praised for having great passing ability, he gives the ball away a hell of a lot and he is unbelievably frail in a tackle and doesn't stamp his authority on a game enough.

    I remember when United beat Roma 7-1 a few years back Carrick was magic, but I haven't seen him play anywhere near as good since. He pitches in now and then with an above average performance, but in my opinion he is not good enough to be in United's starting XI.

    Last season against Bayern Carrick showed his lack of strength when Olic muscled him off the ball to get Bayern back in the game. When it matters Carrick bottles it and United can't afford to have those kind of players. There is too much pressure at the top to have a weak link...and as much as it pains me to say it, Carrick is for United more often than not.

  • Comment number 75.

    The blog is spot on. every Man Utd fan knows central midfield is the biggest problem to be addressed , i mean a pairing of Carrick and Fletcher is not going to worry anyone.Why i had to check if Carrick was on the pitch on Saturday because he was sadly missing in action again,no wonder he was hauled off at half time.We cannot go on depending on Giggs and Scholes defying the years and pulling us out of the mire again and again . For god sake they will be playing with zimmer frames next!
    Anderson has promise but is not a "creative midfielder" , i hope SAF has one or two targets for the summer because i think we are going to need them.

  • Comment number 76.

    Even as an Arsenal supporter I totally agree with the 1st comment. Man United are still the team to beat this season, they are a class act - we all have our occassional bad days.
    Full credit to Wolves though, who didn't know when to quit.
    The person who wrote this article obviously knows nothing about football.

  • Comment number 77.

    Rio Ferdinand - His absence has already cost United likely victories at Everton and Fulham and once again his absence led to a pathetic level of organisation at the back where Johnny Evans in particular continued his woeful season. Having acknowledged Smalling as Rio's heir where was he? He's still raw but he's a monster and wouldn't be bullied by championship standard forwards like Kevin Doyle. Personally I'd stick with the solid Wes Brown with Vidic until Rio is back. Experience counts for a lot in at the business end of the season.


  • Comment number 78.

    'It really galls me that we didn't sign Van der Vaart in the summer, esepcially as he was going on the cheap.'

    VDV plays his best football in the hole, behind the striker. When taking that into account, he wouldn't be able to play in that position for United as Berba-Rooney are playing up front. Yes, he could do a makeshift job on the left but that would be a waste and would bring no width, United like to play with some width.

  • Comment number 79.

    Unquestionably United need a creative midfielder. Our consistently poor performances away from home highlight that when teams play with a high intensity and put our midfielders under pressure, we lose rhythm. This isn't a problem at home where Carrick, Anderson and Fletcher are given more time in the central areas of the pitch to pull the strings.
    I actually thought the reason for the defeat against Wolves was more to do with our defending. Our set piece defending was woeful against Blackpool, and even worse against Wolves. We're half asleep when teams take quick corners against us. There can be no excuses.
    As has been rightly pointed out, there's no need to panic given United's league position and with their rivals (with the exception of City) unable to take full advantage of our loss. But yes, absolutely United need one, and how it would compliment the threat of Nani, Giggs and Valencia on the wings.

  • Comment number 80.

    ' Personally I'd stick with the solid Wes Brown with Vidic until Rio is back. Experience counts for a lot in at the business end of the season.'

    When fit, Wes seems to be out of favour at both centre back and right back this season. Me thinks he is on his way out in the summer

  • Comment number 81.

    Anderson I think should be given one position and be given a consistent run. To often he is swapped between holding, then central, then almost as a center forward. His best position is as an attacking midfielder, he has power, pace, skill and can make defense splitting passes. In fact, in Anderson I see attributes of various midfielders combined. A bit of Veron for his through ball passes, Viera for his power runs, Scholes for his getting to the box, and the buzzing around tracking back and box to box of Keane. But he needs to grasp the opportunities he gets. Maybe he needs one great man of the match match winning display to give him the confidence he needs. Otherwise I fear he might become a waste of great potential and under achiever who will be sold to a mid range team and either fade away or do very well and then be bought by a top team where he will then again either fall or establish himself.

  • Comment number 82.

    Question: Who could united actually afford and who do we have to offload to get them? Bearing in mind we are going to need: 'Keeper and Creative midfielder at the least

  • Comment number 83.

    #69 my mistake that should have said David Silva and Yaya Toure. I agree about Toure, he has been a defensive midfielder in the past at Barca, for example, but with De Jong and Barry often in the middle with him, he has been pushed further forward and has been impressive when I have seen him. He can certainly shoot, score and set up goals.

    #61 you make the same point I was having in a conversation the other day. This season has proved many people wrong and I refer you to a national team manager who gave me this pearl of wisdom a couple of years ago: "What's the point in predicting football matches? The reason I go to watch games is because I don't know what is going to happen. That's the beauty of it." For the record, I agree with him.

  • Comment number 84.

    I always find analysis like this interesting, no honestly i do. Why?

    Well no matter what United do there is always this "masking" accusation levelled at them.

    Remember Ronaldo? Well we were a one man team and he was MASKING the fact Berba wasnt firing in his first season. Then Rooney made us a one man team last season again MASKING the fact our midfield was a bit short goals wise.
    Now Berba is filling his boots his performances are MAKING a lack of creativity in midfield.

    Funny, but the last time i checked we won the league in 2009, finished a point behind Chelsea in 2010 and are currently 4 points clear this season with most goals scored.

    One day someone in the tactics bus will twig that United are usually greater tahn the sum of their parts. Thats called a TEAM and that why is why SAF is a genius.

    Masking this, masking that! Do me favour

    I will admit that this summer is crucial though. We need at least 3 outfield players to freshen things up and thats if SAF doesnt let anyone go.

  • Comment number 85.

    While I agree fully that there is absolutely no need to panic, I do think that in the coming seasons United are going to have to address the long term successors of Scholes and Ferdinand as well as Van Der Sar.

    United always prosper, that's what is so great about them. They are not even playing that well this season and they are still at the top of the table. But with a creative influence in the centre of midfield and perhaps a different dimension, United could be in a far more favourable position than they already are.

    With an extra creative mind in centre mid and I doubt United would have drawn so many games away from home.

  • Comment number 86.

    39 - If you look at last season United were undone by a defensive injury crisis and by losing to Chelsea twice. Over the season the away form was a lot stronger than it has been this year. I maintain that this was largely down to being harder to beat in midfield. It's easy to point to Berbatov doing well in game at Wolves (as he did at Bolton that season) but it's not a role that suits him whereas Rooney has often flourished there and in the big games. In any case Berbatov in a 433 > the status quo away from home - tactically something needs to change.

  • Comment number 87.

    we are missing a creative central midfielder and Anderson is supposedd to be part of the solution to this. Seems like the scenario is set for Charlie Adam to takle the step up in the summmer and do at United what he has been doing at Blackpool

  • Comment number 88.

    I do think we have midfield problems. And whilst we might well get the league through sheer grit, and through other clubs all having their off days too, I think we're going to be found out badly in Europe. You just *cannot* pass the ball to the other guys as often as we do, and hope to get Euro silver.

    In midfield, I think there are two players we have never quite replaced: Roy Keane, and Paul Scholes in his glory days. Oddly enough, Scholes now seems to be playing the Keane role - but while he can surely still pass, he just can't tackle... (Keane was a persistent fouler too - but that was entirely deliberate, intended to make good opponents nervous about coming into his half of the field....).

    So, imho, we need both a deep holding player, breaking up attacks, looking for the pass that then launches the counter, calming things down when it's all a bit frantic, never, ever giving the ball away. And we need a last-third neat distributor, slotting stuff through the final channels, and hanging round as a deadly poacher for rebounds. Not many players can combine all that in one set of boots (I mean, even Barca have Iniesta *and* Xavi). And - despite the thought that we are perhaps a touch cash-strapped just now... - I firmly believe that SAF thinks you cannot simply buy those two types of players (at this level); you have to get 'em young, and make them.


  • Comment number 89.

    I don't agree about this creative midfielder thing. Its pure hype by an Arsenal obsessed media.

    We have never had a creative central midfielder. Scholes and Keane used to play as box to box midfielders in a team that used to play so high up the pitch that getting into the box and scoring was never a problem, especially a player as technically gifted as Scholes. Both Keane and Scholes were high scorers. The other thing that contributed to their goal tally was the movement of the forwards in front of them - Yorke, Cole, Solskjaer and Sherringham were always making diagonal runs that opened up space in the middle for the central midfielders to come in and score goals.

    Our creativity has ALWAYS come from wide, Giggs, Sharpe, Kanchelskis, Beckham and also with Cantona and Sherringham as deep lying strikers against the deeper defensive formations. Its a simple concept pull the central defence out with diagonal runs and let the central midfielders come through the middle.

    However, sometimes the tactic of playing high up the pitch left us open in the middle so Fergie has started using attacking full backs more and encouraged the wingers to cut in to provide variation.

    As for creative midfielders, Scholes is playing more creatively than he ever did before playing from a deep lying midfield position. This has given him the time and space to play some quite sumptuous long balls for the front runners.

    I agree that Carrick has had an iffy season as has Fletcher but I think Fergie is again changing things by using the entire squad in games and this chopping and changing has impacted on the fluidity of our game at times. However, this is IMO to give players more rest time and to keep the reserve players sharper.

    For Carrick, Fletcher and Anderson whose role has been to keep things ticking this has at times been a challenge. For the wide players (full backs and wingers) and Berbatov this has helped.

  • Comment number 90.

    #79 it's hardly "unquestionably" is it - this blog has thrown up plenty of questions. the biggest question is how do you attract top quality to come and play for a united side that can't make up its mind what formation it wants to use? as #78 says, someone like VDV (or ozil or whoever) would likely be in and out of the side as and when one of the front two is left out. the context for all this has to be that until this season most people slating united were adamant that berbatov was as good as useless and should be got rid of.

  • Comment number 91.

    71 = Also Darron Gibson is the most frustrating of players and although he may average well over 50 million shots a game, which in itself is ridiculously frustrating, he is not the answer that United crave in the middle.

    Ha ha 50 million shots you are not far wrong there!!!

    On a separate note Rio Ferdinand - when he is missing the defence is not the same much the same as liverpool without carrager. It is not that the replacement are not good enough I think Smalling and Evans are great CB's. It seems that the defence is fine as long as Rio is in the side it does not matter who is alongside him. Off course Vidic is a fantastic player but I think Rio's influence is under estimated both for club and country. RIO RIO RIO!!!!

  • Comment number 92.

    FINALLY, A BBC JOURNALIST HAS THE B.... TO CRITICIZE A MAN-UTD PERFORMANCE...albeit the tactical formation????
    Wonders will never seize....
    Where is the great Phil McNoulthy I ask on a day like this?

  • Comment number 93.

    #81. I agree and I really don't understand why Anderson out.

    He was just starting to play well and Ferguson dropped him. I don't get it. Does Ferguson see something in the Carrick/Fletcher partnership that I don't??!?

    Maybe Anderson has a bad attitude or something - why else would Ferguson continue to keep him out of the starting XI. He is a decent player who uses the ball well, can tackle and gets the ball forward.

    I don't understand why he doesn't feature week-in week-out.

  • Comment number 94.

    It's nice to see so many top teams, and Liverpool, gloating about Utd losing to Wolves. It shows just how scared they are that Utd have been back to winning games with style. But let's be honest. 3 points at the weekend & Arseanl, Utd's only serious rivals, know that the season will be as good as over.

  • Comment number 95.

    United have a perfectly good attacking midfield player in Anderson. He is far better suited to that position than Fletcher.

    For some reason SAF keeps leaving him out of the team in preference for the likes of Gibson and the very out of form Fletcher.

  • Comment number 96.

    Hope that i dont come out rude..but a pointless article/analysis. Over the last few years, United have never needed a "creative" midfielder. All their creations come from the wings. It is like saying that Arsenal and Barcelona need a strong striker up front in order to play the longball tactic...they dont need it because of the simple fact that they dont play that way. Same for Man Utd..they dont need a creative midfielder because one part of their central midfield sits in front of the defense while the other goes forward to support the attacks...chances are created from the wings or from the "hole".

  • Comment number 97.

    Does Ferguson see something in the Carrick/Fletcher partnership that I don't??!?


    hmmmm.....olrion or Sir Alex Ferguson. Who to trust....

  • Comment number 98.

    Agree with the gist of the article. I think United are weak in midfield and have been all season.

    Out of there current midfielders there is only Nani who you could make arguement for getting into a Premiership XI. I believe he has come of age and is truely showing his skill this season.

    Giggs is great for 45 mins but with Valencia injured for most of the season I think we have been over using him.

    Carrick needs to move on. I simply don't know what has happened him but he is not the player he once was an I break an arm of if a club offered us £7m. Time to go Michael.

    Fletcher is determined but not creative enough. A good squad player who trys his heart out.

    Park again is good in flashes and trys his heart out but is a notch down from being a great premiership player.

    Anderson is showing signs and I think if he could form a decent partnership and would improve if we brought in a world class CM next season.

    Gibson, I hate to say this as a fellow countryman of mine but he is one dimensional and should thank himself lucky he has got so many games for Utd to date. £5m move in the summer to Newcastle.

    Obertan, huffs and puffs with a wee bit of skill but not going to make it at the very top, needs to move on, we should recoup our £3m and at least it'll make space for some younger players to come in from the reserves.

    Touchy subject. Scholes. Thanks for so much over the last 15 years but I do not believe he is playing at a level that merits him staying on next year. And for the club to move on we have to be cynical. Scholes can still make the great long field passes and his vision does still shows glimpses of brilliance but, and I suspect I will get shouted down here, I think he has become a liability on the pitch. He is short of stamina to boss the midfield and consistently fails to track back, dodgy tackling and stupid stupid mistakes creeping into his game. I have lost count of the number of short passes he has under hit this seasn, losing possesion etc. Thank you cause you have been great but Fergie needs to dictate his retirement now.

    So, Scholes should retire, Gibson, carrick & obertan to move on bringing inpossibly £20 - £25m and we then need to spend money on two top class replacements, Valencia back from injury soon and let the reserves do the rest. Cleverly is an option to step up next season. Will think about prospective replacements...

  • Comment number 99.

    I've been saying this for a while - United's lack of goals from central midfield has been apparent for a few seasons, probably since Scholes' more prolific younger years.

    The goalscoring exploits of Berbatov & Nani this term, along with Rooney & Ronaldo in previous years, has merely overshadowed the fact.

    With more teams playing this fashionable 4-3-3 system there's a definite need for a goal-seeking midfielder (a la Fabregas, Silva, Lampard etc) to join the front man.

    In United's case this deficiency was highlighted in the recent comeback at Blackpool where, when starting with Fletcher, Scholes and Gibson (you could have thrown a blanket over all of them for much of the first half), Fergie had to throw on Giggs and Hernandez in a 4-4-2 to change the game.

    Definitely missed the boat on van der Vaart.

  • Comment number 100.

    P.s. someone mentioned earlier that more often than not Sir Alex likes to play this 4-3-3 system away from home. This explains a lot if you take a look at United's away form this season.


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