Death, taxes and Manchester being linked with ex-players in the middle of a season. These are some of ‘the inevitables’ in human life. This time, it’s Leicester City’s title-winning midfielder Danny Drinkwater that’s tipped to be Mourinho’s January signing in order to beef up his already fairly well stocked midfield.
While there’s no doubts about how good this former Manchester United academy graduate has been for the last 18 months and how influential he was, in the Foxes’ unthinkable league win, there are question marks over whether he can cope with the pressures of playing for Manchester United week in week out in central midfield where going under the radar is never really an option.
The current midfield at United is at its strongest since probably the short time when United had the likes of Scholes, Keane and Veron competing for two places in the starting 11 which makes it all the more puzzling as to why Jose Mourinho would even want to sign another defensive midfielder for what is expected to be a hefty sum of money (given the fact that he signed a new contract this summer). Also considering Mourinho’s affinity to working with small squads, this seems to be a route he would not go down, at this moment in time.
This opens up another possibility to look at who, of the current midfielders, Drinkwater could efficiently replace. It’s hard to imagine Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera being sold but a case could be made for each of the remaining three central midfielders in the squad in Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini and Morgan Schneiderlin.
As always, statistics can only reveal one side of the story. There’s a number of things that Drinkwater has shown he could do that United were lacking in their midfield department, perhaps until the arrival of Pogba.
The England international deserved all the plaudits he got for his defensive work alongside Kante in the middle of the park that allowed the flair players to thrive on the ball but what went relatively unnoticed is the fact that Drinkwater, more often than not, quickened the tempo of Leicester, playing a key role in the transition from defence to attack with one long ball over the top – letting Vardy attack the space behind the opposition back four. As a result, he created 7 goals last season while none of Fellaini, Schneiderlin and surprisingly enough Carrick came close in terms of assists and chance creation from open play.
While the Belgian is important for United as a plan B when things don’t go well and sometimes they don’t but also for his obvious goal threat in the box which was utilized by Van Gaal to an appreciable degree which has been valued by Mourinho as well, by the look of things. Veteran Michael Carrick is not getting any younger and this is likely to be his final season for the Red Devils in a long and impressive career but Morgan Schneiderlin is the one that has a very similar style of play to Drinkwater which is evident as he’s the one that champions Leicester seemingly want to replace Drinkwater with, if United come calling.
Although Schneiderlin was not signed by the Portuguese and he has the right to have ‘his’ team on board whilst he is at United, it might be unwise to sell the Frenchman in a part deal to buy back another player who they let go four years back. There is no reason to suggest Schneiderlin would not be able to make it at United under Mourinho as he has got all the tools that Jose prizes in a deep-lying midfielder and all that the France international needs is a good run of games that he has never had partly due to Van Gaal’s mismanagement of the player since his move from the south coast.
United lost 10 games in the league last season and Schneiderlin had played the full 90 minutes in only two of them and their worst spell in December when they lost three games in a row to Bournemouth, Norwich and Stoke – coincided with the Frenchman’s absence from the starting lineup. Mourinho and Manchester United may actually have their own Daniel Drinkwater in the squad and now is the time to realize it.