The last three matchdays saw United take on Norwich City and QPR in the Premier League, while playing Galatasaray in the Champions League in between, suffering a mixture of fortunes in the process. Perhaps the 1-0 defeat to Galatasaray can be overlooked to some extent, considering that Sir Alex sent out a team consisting mainly of younger players, having already qualified for the next round as group winners. There was, however, an almost worrying familiarity in United's first half performance against QPR yesterday, and the awful 90 minutes against Norwich last weekend.
It isn't exactly breaking news when I say that Sir Alex does sometimes make team selections with almost a sense of nostalgia. The persistence to use players with "experience", while noble, is part of the reason why we now see one of our most promising youngsters in Paul Pogba now lining up in Juventus's colours. Sir Alex recently said that Paul Scholes is still "the best passer of the ball in the world", and I think few fans would contradict that statement. However, this desire to only have experience in the team is the reason I believe United have conceded as many goals this season as they have.
United's problems in defence have not come about so much due to individual errors by defenders, but rather as an overall failing of the defensive unit (and that includes the midfield), especially in counter attacks. The central spine of the team, in which I'll include Ferdinand, Evans, Carrick and one of Scholes/Giggs/Fletcher is by no means the most dynamic quartet in football. There is no doubting the positional awareness that each of these players have, but this has perhaps sometimes papered over other cracks.
In fact, the best illustration of what I'm trying to say could have been seen in the two goals conceded against Villa two weeks ago. For the first goal, Benteke led the counter for Villa, and the goalscorer Andreas Weimann was in acres of space when taking his shot, primarily because Scholes and Carrick weren't able to get back to help out the defence in time. Even for the second goal, Villa outnumbered United's defenders once more, and Carrick and Scholes were stuck in the other half where the latter had given the ball away.
More recently, QPR's goal yesterday smacked of the same sort of lethargy in defence. QPR took a short corner, and literally no one came out challenge Dyer who eventually put the ball into the box for Jamie Mackie to score. Whether this is a function of complacency or a great sense of faith in the defenders, it is perhaps not something we would have seen with one of Cleverley or Anderson on the pitch. Maybe for that reason alone, it is important that the younger midfielders at Manchester United started playing a more regular part in proceedings.
The problem in pairing Fletcher/Carrick/Scholes is that they have become too similar in their style of play, and this limits United's creativity through the middle as well. Darren Fletcher of two seasons ago might have been the answer to a lot of United's problems, but given his recovering state, he will probably not play the box-to-box role, with similar effectiveness anyway. Having two midfielders in the centre of the park, both intent on keeping possession and shielding the defence at the same time really does limit options.
For this reason, I sincerely feel that the way forward for United should be to use one of Anderson/Cleverley and one of Carrick/Scholes/Fletcher (or maybe two from the latter selection as a midfield three). Picking two players from solely either one of the groups has led to a lack of clean sheets, both in the last season and the current one. No one is saying that we need to completely get rid of experience and persist with just youth. After all, Sir Alex's most successful youth revolution from 17 years ago had its fair share of older players. It is time to rethink the way that the United midfield is run, or very soon, it will be brutally overrun by the big sides in Europe.
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