As soon as the team sheet was announced on Saturday many United fans reacted with disbelief that Sir Alex was trusting a midfield lacking in real pace and grit against an opposition’s made up of exactly that.
Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick are three of the most successful midfielders weve ever seen at Old Trafford, but asking them to protect a somewhat fragile defence against the likes of Mousa Dembele ,Clint Dempsey and Sandro was a tad naive to say the least.
A few days earlier United had taken on Newcastle in the trophy formerly known as the Carling Cup in a game at Old Trafford that seemed more about giving the youngsters a chance than any of the more experienced players. While many Reds were complimenting the display of Scott Wootton and Michael Keane, it was the midfield trio of Tom Cleverley, Darren Fletcher and Anderson that truly caught the eye.
It’s not that we don’t know what any of the aforementioned trio can do, it’s just for many of us the jury is still out on whether they can be relied upon to provide the level needed to compete for the highest honours against the best opposition.
Tom Cleverley has proven his ability with a number of stellar showings, there’s little doubt the Yorkshireman has the talents needed to play for United. The question mark hanging over Cleverley is based on fitness rather than ability. The twenty-three year old played a total of 32 games over the past two seasons a record which left many questioning just how much he could be relied upon during a hard fought campaign. During the Summer and so far this season Cleverley has already managed 13 games for club and country – not to mention Team GB- and has no doubt benefitted from being rotated each week rather than having to play every game.
Some people may have thought to signing of Shinji Kagawa would’ve been detrimental to Cleverley but nothing could be further from the truth as it’s given Sir Alex the chance to rest one of them yet still maintain that type of play. The question that many are asking is can the two play together? I believe they can but it will obviously take a little longer than just a handful of games alongside one another to reach a real understanding. Cleverley is good enough for United of that there’s little doubt, the question remains is he fit enough?
No such questions need to be asked regarding Anderson’s fitness, it’s been blatantly obvious for about three seasons that the salad dodging Brazilian has only been sporadically what you could call ‘match fit’ and desperately needs to get his weight down. Anderson is a bulky player, there’s nothing wrong with that if you can still do a job but more often than not the midfielder simply can’t hack the pace. I’ve been one of Anderson’s fiercest critics over the past few seasons- the six one being the final straw for me- but I’m not too proud to admit I may have been a little hasty when I said Fergie should get rid- or at the very least send him off to fat camp. The past few outings for Anderson have hardly convinced me he’s turned a corner but they have at least shown he COULD still do job, as against Newcastle and FC Cluj he put in decent if hardly devastating performances. Anderson offers something most other midfielder’s don’t – and I’m not talking about pasties round the dressing room- he can hold off players, stick a challenge in and carry the ball, which could be vital for United.
Darren Fletcher may be a football genius, but he’s a football genius with a serious medical problem who’s missed the better part of a season and a half through his virus and is now only getting anywhere near back to full fitness. Fletcher is the one player who deserves to be back in the United side more than anyone with the trials and tribulations he’s overcome. Played out of position and labelled ‘Fergie’s lovechild’ early on his career, a bit part player in the double winning season of 2007/08, wrongly sent off to miss the 2009 CL final and not fit enough for the 2011 one, you have to wonder just how many black cats the Scottish skipper has run over to deserve such bad luck. Unlike Anderson and Cleverley, Fletcher may not have the natural ability of his colleagues but he has the grit, determination and toughness that’s been sorely missing from the starting XI ever since his problems started.
With Paul Scholes approaching his seventieth birthday, Ryan Giggs seemingly no longer able to start against the top teams United need other players to step up to the midfield mark. Michael Carrick is beyond reproach of late and will always do the job asked of him but certain games need a different type of player. The trip to Newcastle last season badly exposed United’s midfield frailties and this season could offer the perfect chance for the trio of Anderson Cleverley and Fletcher to show what they’re made of and that United aren’t as ‘weak in midfield’ as everyone thinks.
I understand games against Newcastle reserves and FC Cluj aren’t proof of an ability to handle the very best, but it would be foolish to totally disregard those midfield performances.
If we can handle the likes of Chieck Tiote and Yohan Cabaye at St James’s this weekend then there’s no reason we can’t handle some of the toughest midfields in Europe. I know by playing Anderson, Fletcher and Cleverley you’re sacrificing our best midfield pairing of Scholes and Carrick, but the fact is you can pick and choose which games to use which midfielders in. Can Scholes and Carrick do a job against Aston Villa, Braga and West Ham? Yes. Could they battle it out against Toure, Nasri and Garcia at City, or Alonso, Khedira and Ozil at Real? I’m not so sure. For certain games you need certain players, not necessarily the best at your disposal, but the best for that particular game. Ando, Clev and Fletch may just be the trio we need for the games against the tough sides, the sides that have caused us problems these past two seasons, the sides that include Newcastle this Sunday.
Am I wrong about the idea of using these three in midfield against tougher sides? Is Anderson really good enough? Do we trust the pairing of Scholes and Carrick? Am I getting carried away after Cluj? Feel free to comment suggest and abuse below: