It’s been almost two months since Darren Fletcher last played for the first team.
His energy, urgency and intensity in midfield have been missed despite the recent performances of Ji-Sung Park, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs.
With 41 appearances this season, Fletcher emerged alongside Paul Scholes as the first-choice partnership in the centre of midfield at the start of the season and had been one of United’s key performers this term. So with the renown big-game-player on the cusp of his return to first-team action at the climax of the season, things are surely looking up for United.
Fletcher has been vital to United this season as injuries and poor form in midfield forced him to be one of the first names on the team sheet. His vigour complimented Scholes’ elegance and he was rewarded with a new contract for his outstanding displays.
It was his form that led to many speculating the end of midfield counterpart Michael Carrick’s time at Old Trafford. But almost as if to do his team mate a favour, Fletcher has been absent due to a mystery virus for the past two months.
Over the last few seasons Fletcher has grown into the role of anchoring midfielder, he breaks up the play, hassles the opposition and is the instigator for numerous attacks. He has become a pivotal player that is always going to start the big games and has fought off competition from the likes of Michael Carrick and Anderson for a starting role.
A dilemma for Sir Alex Ferguson will be if United get to the Champions League final as Fletcher missed out on 2009’s final in Rome and has been cited as the type of player that would harass the likes of Xavi and Iniesta in their keep-ball antics in the centre of the park. Would he walk back into the first team or will Fletcher lost out to the current trio of Giggs, Park and Carrick?
He’s not all energy though, Fletcher has also contributed some vital goals, often darting into the area and out leaping defenders – as he has again managed this season when notching two goals against local rivals Manchester City. During the last campaign Sir Alex was even quoted as saying that Fletcher was now one of the first names on his team sheet.
But can this hard working midfielder really be described as world class, does he compare to former United legend Roy Keane? Unfortunately it is not a comparison that comes favourably. Keane had the ability to grab a game by the scruff of the neck, whether that was by bossing the midfield with his hard tackling or by finding a great pass or a definitive driving run. He not only made Manchester United the best team in England but was able to make his national side – the Republic of Ireland – compete on the International stage.
Darren Fletcher is thought of highly in Scotland but has never managed to stamp his authority on the national side, he works hard but struggles to impress with players of lesser ability. The big difference is that when Fletcher is playing for Manchester United he is alongside some of the finest footballers on the planet. He has legends such as Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs alongside him while Wayne Rooney is one of the best forwards in world football.
The Scot last featured in the 3-1 away defeat to Liverpool on March 6, and whilst playing in United’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal reserves on Thursday, the Scotsman will not return too hastily to the starting line-up despite boss Sir Alex Ferguson originally indicating he would.
Speaking to MUTV, Fletcher said: “The lads have done fantastic, it’s going to be hard to get back in that team. We’re in a great position with a month left and I want to give the manager another option and play some small part.
“It’s great to be back and get some minutes under my belt. The plan was always just to play 45 minutes because I’ve been out for such a long time, I don’t want to push too quickly and set myself back.
“It was a bad virus, originally it was supposed to be a week and it escalated. I lost a bit of weight and when you have to put the weight back on it’s a slow process, and what should have been a couple of weeks ended up being a lot longer.”
United face Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday, victory in which will see the Red Devils at least sustain their six-point lead at the top of the Premier League regardless of Chelsea’s result with Tottenham on Saturday.
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