After the tremendous impact Anderson had on Saturday as a substitute versus Queens Park Rangers, and after another stagnant performance from the midfield in that game, many are clamoring for the Brazilian to start on Wednesday night versus West Ham United. During the weekend, Twitter was abuzz with Manchester United fans claiming that Ando deserves to start and journalists were even asking manager Sir Alex Ferguson, after the QPR match, whether or not he would reward the midfielder with more playing time. Truth is though, Ando hasn't really done enough to 'deserve' anything but because he offers a dynamic that no other United midfielder does, it is plausible to argue that he should get a run of games.
Against QPR, United were out of ideas on how to break down a deep-defending and organized side that often had ten men behind the ball. A pattern evolved where United were simply playing square passes* and most of the attempts in the attacking third, where the attackers tried to quickly combine with one-two's and movement, were being swallowed up by a congested Rangers' defense. Often in this situation, Paul Scholes is tasked with switching the point of attack and drawing the defense out of their shape with long and arrowed diagonal balls out to the flanks. However, without Antonio Valencia or Nani available, Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young were the wingers but they failed to provide this wide outlet due to their continual desire to drift inside. United's attack became predictable and they didn't have enough width. However, when Anderson came on in the 59th minute, he provided instant drive and this became a way to penetrate the away side's defenses.
* Square passes, of course, are fine. It's better than a turnover and having the opposition break at you when your shape is poor to defend against it. At some point though, possession needs to have purpose.
What the Brazilian did was actually quite simple, but he's the only player on the squad that can provide this from the engine room: he collected the ball from the center-backs and he always looked to go forward -- whether it be driving forward with dribbles or by playing quick passes in combination with other United players as he moved up the pitch (pass forward, follow that pass, and then do it again). An obvious example of Anderson's effective vertical play occurred during United's third goal versus QPR: he picks up the ball in his own-half from Rio Ferdinand, he then surges past two Rangers' players (a forward and a central-midfielder) during a 35-yard run with the ball before a center-back engages him and from here, he beautifully slips a pass between two defenders (QPR's right-back and other center-back) into the box for Javier Hernandez's clinical finish**.
**Anyone else notice Robin van Persie's clever run in front of Chicharito to drag away the other center-back? RvP's movement always has such purpose to it.
Now, this isn't to say Anderson is some sort of midfield saviour because he probably isn't. His inconsistency and injury history has been maddening during his 5+ seasons at United and some have even questioned his dedication. He clearly can't be relied upon nor be depended on to build your midfield around at this moment in time. However, no other midfielder on United's squad can currently provide the vitality and forward drive that Ando can -- when he's in the mood that is. Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes are calm deep-lying passers and neither is particularly mobile. Tom Cleverley is mobile but he uses that ability to always make himself available so that he can circulate the ball. Darren Fletcher used to be an energetic and physical presence but his mobility has looked limited since his comeback from recent illness. As for Ryan Giggs, I'd just prefer to not see him in central-midfield anymore.
Anderson has put in some good shifts as of late but as previously mentioned, that doesn't necessarily mean he 'deserves' to start. But because he possesses drive that has sparked United at times, something no one else can provide right now, it makes good sense to give him a run of games and see what happens. Carrick and Fletcher might compliment him well right now in a two-man midfield due to their ability to provide stability with their positional awareness and calm passing. In a three-man midfield, Cleverley could possibly join as the player to circulate the ball higher up the pitch (in relation to the deeper-lying Carrick or Fletcher) while he could also join Ando in making late-arriving runs into the box. Last season, especially early in the campaign, the Cleverley and Ando axis was an enticing one going forward but they left too much space in behind them -- a problem exacerbated by Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic refusing (or being instructed not) to play higher up the pitch.
Perhaps Fergie is hesitant to give Anderson a run of games because when he's done so in the past, the Brazilian has often gotten injured. This is purely speculation though. However, fitness is certainly a concern and the gaffer may feel the midfielder can make a bigger impact as a substitute when the opposition tires. Ando was incredibly energetic in his 31+ minutes on the pitch versus QPR but it is highly unlikely he could have provided the same impact over 90 minutes. In fact, United fan @xbirchy hilariously tweeted recently during the Champions League match at Braga that Ando only went the full 90 minutes that night because the floodlights going out gave him another lengthy break akin to a half-time one!
United have a midfield problem and they clearly are struggling to find a proper attacking and defending balance. Mabye Ando can provide a spark. Maybe Ando can provide a needed vertical presence in midfield. Maybe Ando can find his confidence and build on that (he's still only 24-years-old and his contract doesn't expire until the summer of 2015). Maybe he won't provide any of these things. It certainly seems worth finding out though.