Even after a glorious 25 years at the helm, Ferguson is still faced with a major headache where United’s centre midfield is concerned.
Coming under much scrutiny, Fergie’s midfield has been the centre of blame for United’s vulnerability at the back so far this season. After conceding the second highest amount of shots on goal this season (17.2 per game) in the Premier League, the finger is being firmly pointed at the centre of United’s midfield.
With Anderson and Fletcher out of sorts, and the much maligned, Michael Carrick still the fans favourite scapegoat; the weight of the Old Trafford Faithfull’s hopes seemed to have fallen on young Tom Cleverley. After impressing on loan at the DW last season, helping a struggling Wigan stay adrift, Fergie presented him his craved opportunity and brought him on for the last half hour of the Community Shield showdown against bitter rivals, Manchester City.
The young English talent did not disappoint, putting a superb performance and inspiring United to a classy second half comeback. Unsurprisingly, his promising display did not go unnoticed, with the media signing his praises in full voice. Neither was it missed by Sir Alex who, to many people’s surprise, selected the young midfielder, alongside Anderson, to start during United’s league opener at the Hawthorns.
Again Cleverley impressed and his midfield partnership with Anderson began to blend promisingly, leaving him and Anderson to start once again during Spurs’ visit to Old Traforrd, where their pace and flare flurried once more, as a rampant United brushed aside the North London club.
Mixing the energy and flare of the Brazilian with the pace and creativity of Cleverley worked perfectly; inspiring an innovative, but defensively risky, style of play for the Champions. Nonetheless, it was this one touch football, all done at a great pace, which made the Red Devils a deadly side contend with. Just as the Gunners found out when they visited Old Trafford days later to receive that fateful drumming. Together, the imperious duo relentlessly attacked Wenger’s scarred outfit; condemning them to an 8-2 humiliation. However, despite the fact that the pair controlled the flow of the game, there were several warning signs for United as Arsenal on occasions exploited the space in behind the midfield.
Since the heights of that game, more and more cracks appeared in the centre of the park, as minnows Basel almost pulled off an embarrassing shock at Old Trafford, and a little fear started to creep into the minds of the buoyant United fans, after such a blistering start to the season.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before their fears became a reality, on a depressing day that Manchester will never forget- and a day which the Red half (or three-quarters) will remember for all the wrong reasons.
Dubbed the biggest Manchester derby ever, with both clubs lying 1st and 2nd, the eyes of the world were on Manchester on the 23.10.11 but what happened next could not have been foreseen in a million years.
His worst day at the club, Fergie labelled it; as United were condemned to their heaviest defeat in over 50 years. 6-1, in front of their home support.
United’s midfield was slated for the horror show, and rightly so. Their inadequate protection of the back four had been suspect all season and it was only inevitable that a higher-quality opposition was going to expose our midfield fragility.
Anderson, who had been looking laboured after a sensational start to the season, probably had his worst game in a Red shirt (and he’s had a few bad ones) and Fletcher, despite scoring a remarkable goal, was simply outclassed as the pace of City’s passing and movement bewildered the hardworking Scotsman.
However, since ‘that’ horror show, there have been drastic signs of improvement as United have kept 4 clean sheets in their last 4 outings and conceded far fewer shots on goal but it has come at a cost.
In the early stages of the campaign, the goals were flooding in. Now they are drying up and are hard to come by. The absence of Anderson in recent weeks seems to have solidified the midfield but reduced our attacking prowess, even with Rooney as a central-midfielder. Fergie needs to search for the balance; the desired mixture of attacking intent and defensive stature. The kind of blend we saw when Keane and Scholes were patrolling the engine room.
Without any players in the same class as these two legends and the likes of Cleverly expected to be out until Christmas, United need to find answers and fast. Personally for me, despite all his shortcomings, I think Anderson is a must, he has quality in abundance and despite being frustrating from time to time; is the most creative option we have available, despite Park’s good performances in the middle lately.
This leaves a straight battle between Fletcher and Carrick for the second central midfield place. Like Anderson, Fletcher offers energy and, unlike Anderson, possesses a faultless work ethic. On the other hand, Carrick is often criticised for negativity but no one can doubt that he is a safe pair of hands in the middle. Furthermore, it was none other than the mighty Michael Carrick who Sir Alex picked for particular praise after our tenacious one-nil victory at Swansea on Saturday.
Considering this, and everything else that has gone on this season, I’d be included to pick the contrasting Anderson and Carrick together as our next central midfield partnership, how about you?
Written By Guest Writer, Tom McGovern