Manchester United finally have the much-needed balance in midfield


Manchester United has struggled to replicate the 1999 treble-winning midfield of Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs over the years. From the time of his arrival, Jose Mourinho has made great strides at fixing the midfield conundrum, no doubt! With reports indicating Marouane Fellaini is edging closer to the exit door and Michael Carrick retiring to join Mourinho’s backroom staff, the United manager has been looking to make more additions in the engine room.

He has not wasted any time snapping up Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fred who was also being courted by Manchester City. On paper at least, the midfield now looks formidable; so how are Mourinho’s additions shaping up ahead of the new Premier League campaign?

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Paul Pogba

From his flick, silk, and technique on the pitch to his dashing hairstyles and rakish clothing off it, Paul Pogba is no doubt a lively character. Many would argue, however, that it’s on the pitch that the French international ought to concentrate most of his efforts if he is to realise the potential of being a world-class player. Over his two campaigns at United, he has had to deal with the weight of expectations of world’s most expensive football player tag bogging him down; and enduring criticism over the inconsistency with which he has played at times.

In the first half campaign of the league last season, he was on a flier, plying his trade in the midfield with an attacking flair and versatility that made United look the part of potential champions. In his element, Pogba’s impact to this United team has often times proved colossal; take for instance the second half comeback against Manchester City that briefly scuppered the cityzens title party preparations.

He controlled possession and set the tempo for the team and then he unloaded and went forward to score two important goals in less than two minutes. Pogba combines running and dribbling skills to brilliant passing and has got a penchant for goals. Last season he had to his name 6 Premier League goals and 10 assists. He found himself at times more restrained alongside Nemanja Matic at the base of United’s 4-2-3-1 formation; something that may change in the new season with Fred coming in.

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Nemanja Matic

Mourinho prefers to operate with a midfield player tactically disciplined and physically imposing, but cautious in possession and rarely ventures forward. In Matic, he’s got one of Europe’s tallest midfield generals, capable of breaking the lines of any opposing teams seeking to break forward. In two of his three Premier League triumphs at Stamford Bridge, the Portuguese manager used Claude Makelele, Michael Essien, and later on Matic to play the role of a midfield destroyer.

While at Chelsea for his second stint that led to his third Premier League triumph, Mourinho brought in Matic to play alongside Cesc Fabregas. The Serbian’s job was patrolling every inch of the turf, not giving any would-be attackers the space to launch an attack. Matic exuded a lot of confidence playing in that role that he earned comparisons to Makelele. The former French international in his days was an embodiment of modern-day midfield destroyer. He did it so effectively that he had it named after him.

The 29-year-old can play at the base of a midfield triumvirate, while the Brazilian and Pogba whose creative instincts were too often stifled by defensive responsibilities in the past two seasons, conjure the attacks. Staying deep to do the excellent tidying-up job in front of the back four, his presence will provide the midfield with more drive, impact and better balance. His passing is often taken for granted but other than his role as a midfield enforcer, Matic combines his amazing stamina with both effective and accurate distribution of the ball.

There are no doubts about his contribution to this side; whether he is breaking up play, supplying an incisive pass or as with his injury time thunderous volley at Selhurst Park, he can provide attacking options when called upon. Chelsea fans must rue seeing him impress at the heart of United’s midfield last season, and at the expense of the North London club missing on a UEFA Champions League spot.

With Pogba and Fred pulling the strings and using their proper vision and range of passing to dictate things, the Serbian will be the bedrock upon which the metronomes of United’s midfield will tick. The six-foot-three-inch tall midfielder may not hog the headlines next season for his unfashionable role of breaking up opposition attacks but the manager will certainly be comfortable knowing Matic’s composed presence and tactical discipline in front of the back four will give his attackers the freedom to play their game.

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Fred is not the combative midfielder that Matic is, he certainly doesn’t have the same steel his Brazilian compatriot and cross-city rival Fernandinho has. However, his reliability in possession and capacity to spot a killer pass – allied to his defensive qualities make him an ideal foil for Matic and Pogba. If he can transfer the form he had in Ukraine to England, he can establish himself as one of Premier League’s powerhouse midfielders, and ultimately an important cog in the United’s engine room.

Last season Pogba was left to shoulder most of the responsibility of building attacks from the middle of the pack; something that made United look predictable and easier to close down. Fred’s adventurous presence coming from the channels into the box from the right side can offer Mourinho’s United something it has lacked for a while now, the balance in the midfield. He is precisely the sort of player who could help Pogba unlock the kind of explosive form he displayed while at Juventus

For now, however, It’s a wait-and-see scenario on how the Special One intends to deploy him, but playing alongside Pogba in a midfield three, it’s logical to assume they can be the linchpin of Mourinho’s new United. If they can hit the ground running, coupled with the attacking options of Alexis Sanchez, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku up front, this United engine room can take the league by a storm.

Whereas Ander Herrera and Scott McTominay game time will be limited by Fred’s arrival no doubt, they too could prove vital for Mourinho. Herrera already found first-team opportunities somewhat limited last season, however, there are all the indications that he intends to stay and fight for his place as he has the trust of his manager.

Written by George Oduor

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