Man Utd don’t need another midfielder to regain title
Assessing Manchester United’s chances of success this season, it depends on whether their money is real, or the usual magic beans the Glazers rely on. If it is fully legit, and not merely a pile of legumes, then by refusing to buy a central midfielder Alex Ferguson has placed a deliberate act of provocation at the heart of his transfer policy. Incredibly, he might just get away with it.
Of all the possible targets, suggested either because of genuine interest or the need to talk up an initial public offering (IPO), none of them are reasonable replacements for any of Owen Hargreaves, Michael Carrick or Darren Fletcher, and definitely not the elegantly creaking Paul Scholes.
The purchase of Shinji Kagawa should rectify the lack of penetration in an attack which last season was uncharacteristically bereft of ideas and at times appeared leaden-footed. Played ahead of one or both of Carrick and Scholes, Kagawa should provide a crucial link to Wayne Rooney, now little more than a traditional striker. For all their qualities, United’s attacking players were unable to bring Rooney out of his creative funk. Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández simply don’t look capable of inspiring him just yet.
Robin van Persie, who was subject to a bid from Man Utd, is no natural complement to Rooney either. The positions they both occupy, and their usual roles in a team – if not their particular styles – suggest that playing them together is sheer indulgence. However, thanks to Hernández’s struggles last season, and the need to give Rooney a boot to his increasingly static behind, another striker is needed.
Further back on the pitch, two more players who have been linked with moves to Old Trafford, Lucas Moura and Moussa Dembélé, do not seem like obvious picks. They do, however, make a miserable kind of sense, a bit like investing in a pension.
Moura is only affordable if Nani, along with his desire to earn a salary commensurate with his own perception of his talents, is sent packing. Given Moura’s inexperience – he plays on the edge of a game as much as the edge of the pitch – he offers a significant saving on wages.
Dembélé offers both less risk and less potential than Moura. He was mildly impressive last year, but offered no indication he’d be revelatory in a title challenge. Undeniably, though, there is time for renewal on the wings. Antonio Valencia offers consistency but not genius, while Nani is the opposite. Ashley Young contributes to a match more out of a sense of egotism than a will to win, and disappears when needed most. Moura and Dembélé may not be the big names United fans want, but both would have their uses.
Continuing the retreat down the pitch, Leighton Baines appears to be the kind of transfer that satisfies nobody – too good for Everton, too plain for Manchester United. If Baines is the failing Patrice Evra’s replacement, then this is no straightforward replacement of natural talent. He doesn’t offer the same attacking outlet on the wing and he doesn’t have the same pace or combative approach. But compared to Evra’s current state he’s an improvement, promising fewer alarming positional errors. Reliability is essential in a defender, but it’s not enough to be anything but a stop-gap.
The comparison with other midfields in the Premier League remains stark. Arsenal have Mikel Arteta, Alex Song and Jack Wilshere – all would be able to freshen up the United midfield with the ability to keep possession. They also have Aaron Ramsey. Chelsea seem incapable of not buying midfielders. To Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel, Oriol Romeu, Michael Essien and Raul Meireles, they have added Oscar. Above all, Manchester City have the peerless Yaya Touré, supported by the able David Silva and Samir Nasri, and the definitely less able James Milner and Gareth Barry. Manchester United have the weakest central midfield of the top four, but that might not stop them winning the league.
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