29. June 2011
With the retirement of central midfielder Paul Scholes and the looming retirement of an equally crafty veteran Ryan Giggs, the club’s long tenured creative forces in the middle, Manchester United has been actively searching for new playmakers to fill the deepening void in their midfield. Indeed the 2010-2011 Premier league champions seemed to have tripped the panic alarm following their defeat to Barcelona in UEFA Champions League final this year, and are desperately seeking the likes of Xavi and Iniesta in order to add creativity, poise, and control in the midfield.
However Manchester United’s need for a playmaking midfielder isn’t as desperate as it may seem. Current players Nani and Rooney both proved to be capable playmakers last season. Nani led the entire league in assists with eighteen, although he plays exclusively on the wings and not behind strikers, which is the area Manchester is trying to address. Nonetheless his ability to deliver accurate passes may allow manager Alex Ferguson to employ him in the middle, especially with the addition of capable winger Ashley Young to the team. Likewise, Ecuadorian winger Antonio Valencia has shown signs of brilliance with his passing and creativity, however his season was derailed by injuries. Moreover, both Young and Valencia can be employed behind Hernandez and Berbatov as facilitators next season.
The arrival of potent Mexican striker Javier Hernandez has resulted in Rooney dropping deep in several matches and effectively assuming the role of a deep lying foward capable of spraying long and accurate passes. Indeed Rooney’s early season struggles may have been a blessing in disguise, as they prompted Ferguson to play Rooney behind Hernandez, where the English striker has thrived. There is no reason why Sir Alex Ferguson shouldn’t continue employing this strategy come next season and United fans can expect to see the versatile Rooney employed as a midfielder more often than not.
Many forget that Manchester United finished atop last year’s Premier League table, nine points clear of runners up Chelsea. They did so with injuries to midfielders Nani and Valencia, seldom use of now departed Scholes, and early season inconsistency from Rooney. It’s clear that United’s search for a playmaking midfielder is to address future challenges from the likes of Barcelona, a team which now has beaten the Red Devils in two of the last three Champions League finals.
While a pick up like Dutchman Wesley Sneijder would undoubtebly provide United with an edge in their midfield, the Red Devils won’t be at a loss if they fail to sign a player of his caliber. Ferguson still has a tremendous arsenal of playmaking talent at his hands, spearheaded by Nani and Rooney both of whom can be employed in the middle. This underlooked versatility and flexibility in the midfield will allow United to continue thriving as the top team in the Premiership and possibly get over the Barcelonian hump.