As pre-season continues, the almost annual cry for Manchester United to sign a new midfielder has been ringing in the ears of all Premier League fans. For several years, this cry has fallen on deaf ears as Sir Alex Ferguson decided what he had was good enough and decided not to purchase a central midfielder. This year there is no Sir Alex Ferguson, Paul Scholes has retired and David Moyes is in need of a marquee signing. Many have felt that United have fallen behind the other top European teams due to this lack of quality in midfield. In the Premier League they have managed to cope, but looking ahead to this season with Manchester City and Chelsea strengthening, Manchester United need a central midfielder of proven quality.
Earlier in the summer, Manchester United looked in pole position to sign Thiago. This did not turn out to be the case and the player decided to join his former manager Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich. Somewhat surprisingly, Moyes then turned his attention to Thiago’s former teammate Cesc Fabregas.
Moyes has spoken publicly of bids for the former Arsenal captain, which many feel was not the best way to go about the situation. Whether this is a part of a master plan to woo the former Arsenal captain away from the club he fought to join two years ago is debatable. What isn’t up for debate is new Barcelona head coach Gerardo Martino’s desire to keep the player which he quickly stated on his arrival. Barcelona understand that they have a ready-made replacement for Xavi and after losing Thiago, Fabregas looks to be a very important player for Barcelona’s future, even if he is not one at the moment.
Some have suggested that Wayne Rooney’s departure is integral to United’s move for a central midfielder. Whether that is indeed the case can be disputed and although he has played in that position, Rooney is not a central midfielder. He mainly operates as a striker or behind a main striker. Manchester United’s need for a centre midfielder is not out of a need for squad depth.
They have Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Anderson, Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher when he returns and youngster Nick Powell who can all operate in that position. The reason Manchester United need a new centre midfielder is that they need quality. Rooney’s departure does not affect this need for a top midfielder as they do not play in the same position. What Rooney’s departure can affect is the formation United play. If he stays they are more likely to adopt a 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1. If he leaves a 4-2-3-1 could still be possible with Shinji Kagawa playing as a number 10, but a 4-3-3 could be more suitable with the addition of Wilfried Zaha and the hope of a return to form for Ashley Young.
So who is there for Manchester United to sign? Internet forums and message boards have been buzzing with opinion but are any of these players actually who United need? Along with Fabregas, United fans have suggested Ilkay Gundogan, Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal or Lars Bender. All of these would bring great energy to a United midfield complimenting Michael Carrick’s deeper lying role. It then depends whether United want a midfielder who can weigh in with his fair share of goals and assists. Vidal had the best season of the four offensively scoring thirteen goals and supplying ten assists in all competitions. Surprisingly he also had the best tackling average with 4.9 per game but Lars Bender had the best interception average at 2.5 per game. Ilkay Gundogan had the highest average of passes per game as well as a high passing accuracy, so he would be comfortable in possession for Moyes’ men. Marchisio didn’t come top of any of the criteria, but his style of play would complement United’s.
Out of these four, there is no question that Vidal would be a very strong addition Manchester United but at the moment Moyes has not turned his attention to the Chilean. If Fabregas’ decides to remain at Barcelona as expected, that could change. The Old Lady would be unlikely to want to part with Vidal and he would most likely command a fee similar to that being offered for Fabregas. Whether United would be willing to offer that much is another matter. Gundogan, at twenty-two years of age, would be a long term solution for United and he would be ready to slot into the side immediately. Like Vidal it is unlikely that Dortmund would willing to let him go, and whether he would want to leave a side that reached the Champions League final last season also weighs against the possibility of a move. So for the time being any addition to the Manchester United midfield is what it has been for the last several years, just rumours. It is possible that Manchester United could head into next season without signing a new centre midfielder. Or they could just sign Marouane Fellaini.
European stats were taken from WhoScored.