Manchester United’s attacking midfield: Too many options, who must go?

Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho has, from a formational perspective, not deviated from the 4-2-3-1 system with which Louis van Gaal started his second and final season at Manchester United. Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 is different as a system but very similar in how United sets up at the beginning of matches. As such, there are three attacking midfielders on the pitch at all times, but that still doesn’t seem to be enough for United. United has three spots to accommodate the massive set of attacking midfielders in the squad. How do these players fit into the squad, and will all have a future at Manchester United?

Wayne Rooney

Attacking Midfield Positions: Central

Advantages: Rooney has the ability to score goals even when he isn’t in form, and he also offers massive leadership in this United side. Rooney scored 15 in 38 starts from last season, which would be a decent tally if he could replicate it this year.

Disadvantages: Rooney negatively impacts United’s build-up play with sideways passing and movement. He offers little besides goal scoring and likes to play in deeper areas, which says enough about the current quality of footballer Rooney is. He seems to get away from the scrutiny of poor performances, which is something that can’t be said about any other United player.

Verdict: Rooney’s presence in the first team is clear as ever, regardless of the fact he doesn’t deserve to be there anymore. Key Player in Attacking Midfield

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Attacking Midfield Positions: Central, Right, Left

Advantages: Henrikh Mkhitaryan is the most technically gifted player of all United’s attacking midfielders. With incredible movement, dribbling and passing, Mkhitaryan is a world class talent without his explosive pace on the ball. Mkhitaryan offers intensity, creativity and direct contribution to goals that have been missing at United for a long time.

Disadvantages: Mkhitaryan may struggle to adapt to life in England, as he did with Borussia Dortmund. However, players such as Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata are creative enough that there is reduced pressure on him to create and score goals. If he can focus on adapting to life in England, he will be a key player for United next season.

Verdict: Mkhitaryan is going to show the entire Premier League just how talented he is- he just needs the time. First Team Player in Attacking Midfielder

Anthony Martial

Attacking Midfield Positions: Left, Central? Other Positions: Striker

Advantages: Anthony Martial is used to the Premier League already- he’s settled in, with 17 goals and nine assists in 48 in a poor attacking side under Louis van Gaal. Martial has great quality and is young enough to be a part of United for a long time, with nerves as cool as ice and the tendency to show up in the biggest moments.

Disadvantages: Martial seemed to be unsettled with his shirt number changing, but he’ll move on eventually. This is a lesson, though- United needs to build everything around Martial because he is United’s biggest priority in the present and future.

Verdict: Martial is quickly becoming one of the best players in world football. Key Player in Attacking Midfield

Memphis Depay

Attacking Midfield Positions: Left, Central Other Positions: Second Striker, Striker?

Advantages: Memphis is a gifted player on his day, can score goals with incredible accuracy and is the hardest type of footballer to play against. He’s also young, mentally strong and has the potential to be one of the best players in Europe. Memphis is also a great player to have on the bench because he can create something out of nothing, even when he isn‘t in form.

Disadvantages: Memphis has been destroyed by the British Media because he gets torn apart even when he doesn’t play poorly. He scored 7 in 27 starts last season, which isn’t terrible for such a maligned player, but he could improve considering goals are the biggest aspect of his game.

Verdict: He needs time because he can be truly special, but he isn’t ready to start for United yet. Rotational Player in Attacking Midfield

Jesse Lingard

Attacking Midfield Positions: Right, Left, Central – Other Positions: Central Midfield (3), Wing-Back?

Advantages: Jesse Lingard became a Starting XI player under Louis van Gaal because of his versatility and ability to make an impact from many positions, even including right wingback and central midfield. Lingard scored important goals for United, too, most notably in the FA Cup Final.

Disadvantages: There are many critics of Lingard’s lack of end product. His 6 goals and 4 assists for United last season can definitely be improved upon. More importantly, though, his antics before United’s clash against West Ham United, an important game, were infuriating.

Verdict: He probably won’t be a world class player for United, but he continues to improve and has time to do so. Rotational Player in Attacking Midfield

Juan Mata

Attacking Midfield Positions: Central, Right

Advantages: Juan Mata is a gifted player and a wonderful professional with experience and a lot of winning in his career. He’s decorated with Premier League experience, a United fan favourite and shows up in the biggest of moments. If played in the centre of attacking midfield, he controls the entire football match without trouble on most occasions.

Disadvantages: Mata is a defensive liability on the right, which is his main position considering Rooney is favoured in the centre. He also struggles to make an impact from that area of the pitch, which means he should ultimately be a starting player for United in the centre, but instead will be a squad player on the right due to Rooney’s presence.

Verdict: If Jose Mourinho is going to use him, and it appears he is, Mata is a great player to have around at United. Rotational Player in Attacking Midfield

Ander Herrera

Attacking Midfield Positions: Central Other Positions: Central Midfield, Central Defensive Midfield

Advantages: Ander Herrera always comes up with the vital contributions for United. He works hard defensively, brings the best out of players around him, and is a fan favourite among United fans. Whenever United plays well, Herrera is at the heart of the action.

Disadvantages: Herrera is not the most buccaneering, an adventurous player going forward, and he is more suited to playing in a central midfield role than in attacking midfield. Often, playing in attacking midfield forces Herrera to advance into areas in which he cannot change games.

Verdict: Herrera’s presence in deeper roles will be more important, but he can always step into attacking midfield. Backup Player in Attacking Midfield

Ashley Young

Attacking Midfield Positions: Left, Right, Central Other Positions: Left Back? Right Back?

Advantages: Ashley Young is experienced, an adept crosser, and offers exactly the same impact every game. He won’t score goals or provide assists, but he’s always a threat to opposition defences with his direct running and crossing. He’s also a great professional and a fan-favourite at United because he’s like a fan himself- he loves to play for United.

Disadvantages: He’s the oldest of United’s attacking midfielders, and arguably has the least individual talent. Young can also be well replaced by Lingard, who represents an option for the future.

Verdict: He’s been a good servant to the club, but he’s no longer needed in the squad. No Place in the Squad

Marcus Rashford

Attacking Midfield Positions: Left, Central? Right? Other Positions: Striker

Advantages: Marcus Rashford’s energy is undying, crowd-pleasing and infectious to say the least. Offering an option regardless of where he plays, Rashford will not struggle to have an impact on the match. He also scored some key goals at the tail of last season- braces against FC Midtjylland, Arsenal and the winner at the Etihad were huge.

Disadvantages: Rashford is a little bit unprepared to play matches at the highest level. However, he needs game time and he will almost always have an impact. I also don’t fancy Rashford on the right- he needs to cut in to have joy in his greatest areas.

Verdict: He’s going to be the primary backup for Ibrahimovic, and expect him to start around 20 games up top. I’d like to see him on the left, where he made a brief impact for England. Backup in Attacking Midfield

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