Manchester United have signed a total of six midfielders in the past three years, unfortunately, none of them have been highly successful. Under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, the only success came in the form of the FA Cup, in which the two main midfielders used were Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick. As Manchester United supporters hope for a much better spell under Jose Mourinho, it is likely that the new manager will do a slight clear up of the players in order to have the ideal players who will help the club reach better standards. Below I will analyze how beneficial each of United’s main midfielders can be to Jose Mourinho.
Jose Mourinho will be likely to keep two main players, with Carrick having signed a year extension on his contract, and Rooney likely to continue an inherited role in the midfield, where he is able to lead the team more effectively as the club’s captain. The build up of a world class midfielder is also highly possible, as at the moment the only world class player at United is David De Gea, whilst others such as Anthony Martial have the potential to get to that level under Mourinho. Taking away Carrick and Rooney from the picture, the main midfielders who can help Jose Mourinho and the rest of the team to improve is Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
The player who has the highest potential to help Jose Mourinho is Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian International has had a rocky period at Manchester United, being brought in by David Moyes, his second season under Louis van Gaal was his best. He was able to gain the trust of van Gaal, who went as far as saying that the team pressed the opposition better when Fellaini was played. Fellaini can cause an impact as a player who comes on as a substitute in late game situations; his height can benefit both on the attack and defense. In my opinion, I have found it frustrating to watch Fellaini play, as small factors such as the elbowing and the bad passing have become annoying. Fortunately, Fellaini did seem to find his stride in the advanced midfielder position, on the 4-3-3 formation 2 seasons ago. Moreover, Fellaini might have already made a good relationship with Mourinho, who he states had wished him good luck before Euro 2016. Fellaini’s Belgian coach Marc Wilmots told The Times:
“In my eyes, he is a box-to-box [midfielder]. He could also play as No. 6 by himself, but not with a partner.
“He has the ability to play on the offensive too, as Everton used him. He is the best goalscorer I have. He is a very good player with a unique profile, but he is a player who must be used taking his qualities into account.”
Being completely different to Fellaini, another option for Mourinho would be to use Ander Herrera. Herrera was a ‘victim’ to Louis van Gaal’s philosophy, in which he was damaged due to constant rotation and shuffling around the pitch. Fortunately, one of Herrera’s best characteristics is that he is very good at adapting to different styles of play. This enables him to play well in a variety of different positions around the pitch. His willingness and ferocity suit the Premier League well, as it requires speed and physicality to succeed for most players in that position. In addition, Herrera is often praised for his defensive contribution, where he is always looking to help his teammates. Mourinho should look deeply into why Herrera didn’t succeed at United, as hoped. Additionally, Herrera would find himself out-of-place in Van Gaal’s rigidly structured formation. Mourinho’s style of play opposes this, as his team plays a free moving style of play, where players demand the ball, instead of waiting for it. Arsenal legend Thierry Henry noticed this on a Monday Night Football program, where he expressed his frustration with the system, Herrera was held back from developing and performing from his instincts. Herrera commented on how beneficial it can be to work alongside Jose Mourinho, by saying:
“Working with Mourinho is a unique opportunity to work with one of the best in the world. He has a widely acclaimed method of working and I want to learn and improve. I consider his arrival to be a one-off opportunity for me to continue to develop and grow.
“And aside from that he is a coach who soaks up the pressure on the players, someone who prefers to take the heat so that his players can be relaxed. I only know that his Chelsea, with all the difficulty that comes with it, won the Premier League last season with four weeks to spare.”
A third player who can benefit Jose Mourinho in the future is Morgan Schneiderlin. The Frenchman came from Southampton, looking to bring defensive security to the Manchester United defense. Unfortunately, he has faced bad patches of games where either he was on the bench, or he got too distracted going forward. I believe with assistance and patience from Jose Mourinho, he has the potential to turn into a world-class defensive midfielder. Mourinho has a rich history of having midfielders with the aim of breaking any threat to the defense, and these players have been key to his success in the past. From Claude Makelele in Mourinho’s first spell at Chelsea to Sami Khedira in Real Madrid, and Nemanja Matic in Mourinho’s last spell at Chelsea. These players were extremely important to their respective teams, however, were not able to do it alone. Makelele had Lampard, Khedira had Alonso, and Matic had Fabregas, all of these where players that had the task of distributing the ball around the field. Schneiderlin is still relatively young and just needs the patience to develop into the new main man for Jose. Last season Schneiderlin had stints where we missed his defensive presence, however, he was often not used due to his carelessness when he goes up the field, so if he is able to stay back and let a player such as Ander Herrera do the attacking, the rest of the team will benefit greatly. Schneiderlin commented on his difficulties this season, by saying:
“I’ve been like the squad – some good matches and some that were not as good, but everything is definitely different at Manchester United. A good match at Southampton can be viewed as a bad one in Manchester.”
When discussing how he can learn from others around him, he added:
“Of course it [playing with them] will help my game. I am not the finished product; I am just 25, which is the middle age for a professional footballer. Training week in and week out with these players helps you learn and improve your game. I’m ready for it.”
Finally, another player which can favor Jose Mourinho is Bastian Schweinsteiger. Whilst he turns 32 before the start of the season, he still has the opportunity to show that age is just a number and that he can help bring more success to Old Trafford. Schweinsteiger was a bargain purchase coming from Bayern Munich, and though he might have struggled in his first season, Mourinho might benefit from having his experience, and changing up how the German midfielder is used, will be the best way to know. Schweinsteiger featured in just 18 of United’s Premier League fixtures, winning 45% of his duels. The first team missed him the most in late game situations, where his patience and confidence on the ball could have kept the team in the lead, such as in the game vs West Ham, late last season. Personally, I hope that Schweinsteiger is kept at the club for rotation purposes, but he is clearly one of the players under the most amount of risk to leave. A player who knows very well what Schweinsteiger is capable of is his German international teammate Andre Schurrle, who commented:
“Mentally, he’s so strong. He knows what to do on the pitch and he’s so calm. We’ve seen it in the training sessions. He’s been one-and-a-half weeks with the team and class is permanent, you know.
“It’s not that easy to come from the Bundesliga into the Premier League. It’s something different and it was not easy for him when he came with the injuries. It was a hard year for him. When he’s fit, when he’s the leader he wants to be, he makes every team better.”
It should also be considered the types of players that Jose Mourinho will attract this season. He has already signed young defender Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and is reportedly signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Rumors for players such as Paul Pogba can harm the future of certain players, and If Pogba does eventually come back to Old Trafford, I could see the future of Ander Herrera at Manchester United ending quickly. I also believe that in the next couple of years, Timothy Fosu-Mensah has the potential to turn into a class player, but won’t harm current players as at the moment the most important thing is for him to gain experience, and playing alongside Schweinsteiger and Carrick will get him to a period where when they stop playing, Fosu-Mensah can continue their roles. Lastly, due to Dailey Blind playing in the majority of last season, alongside Chris Smalling on defense, I consider him to be an emergency central midfielder, but if whether or not Jose Mourinho continues to use him on defense we will find out in pre-season.
To summarize, each player can have their benefits to the team, but small improvements to their negatives can possibly cement their future at Manchester United under Jose Mourinho. Fellaini needs to find momentum and stick to it, whilst Schneiderlin must become more focused on keeping the defense secure. Herrera is United’s most forward-thinking midfielder and has potential as a playmaker, and now has the potential to show Mourinho how he can also perform in a central role. Lastly, Schweinsteiger needs to be the leader we all know he can be, as with his leadership he might just break into Mourinho’s side. Manchester United’s midfield is looking better than it has for a couple of years, and if each player can show the dedication to improve and show their abilities on the pitch, a successful season is to come.