Into the middle of the team we go, dear friends, with a look at how United's midfielders have been getting on this season. We haven't included Daley Blind, because apart from a few panicked minutes at the end of the Wolfsburg game, he's been spending his time hanging around at the back. And if you missed our look at goalkeepers, it's here.
All the great footballers are eventually overtaken by age, and so too are all the really divisive ones. For many seasons now, Carrick has been perhaps the Premier League's greatest ongoing argument, a pitched battle between those who consider him to be the Premier League's answer to Xavi, in a good way, and those who consider him to the reincarnation of Ray Wilkins, in a bad way. Now, though, he's starting to show his age, and niggling injuries are dogging his season. His fans will maintain that his passing and footballing brain remain unaffected. The cynics will sniff that he never had any pace to lose anyway.
In some ways, Memphis is playing this all wrong. The sensible way to go about establishing oneself at a new club is to approach things carefully and in controlled fashion, unrolling a series of six-to-seven-out-of-ten performances and generally taking things slowly. Not to do what Memphis has done, which is to sprinkle moments of genuinely thrilling class all over some hugely frustrating games. Such is the folly of youth.
Though he's mostly been deployed as an attacking redwood this season, Fellaini's occasional dalliances with his preferred midfield role haven't been particularly notable, in either a good or a bad way. Which means, thinking about it, that he hasn't elbowed anybody in the face and been sent off, and hasn't elbowed anybody in the face and got away with it. Still can't believe that he came on against Arsenal rather than Schneiderlin, mind. That was just weird.
Ah, lovely Ander Herrera. The face of the perfect son-in-law, and the footballing talents of the perfect midfielder ... assuming, of course, that his team are playing the right formation. He more than anybody else will be hoping that Van Gaal's return to a 4-3-3 against Arsenal — a game he missed through well-timed injury — was more than just a useless gesture in an already-lost game, since his manager doesn't trust him to sit as part of a two and he's not at his best playing at No. 10*. He's also the only United player who seems to be aware that shooting from distance is a thing that footballers are occasionally allowed to do.
* He is still a better option there than the bloke who actually wears No. 10, of course, but more on that later.
Okay, so he plays for Borussia Dortmund. But he did have a little run of games behind the striker before being exiled to North Rhine-Westphalia, and while his performances were mixed, it was an appealing idea of which we'd have liked to see more.
Mata is not a right winger. Nor is he really a right midfielder: sure, he starts out there, but he has licence (or takes liberties) to drift inside more or less as he pleases, looking for the ball and then the pass, or the space and then the shot. Which seems to work: Rooney may wear the armband, but Mata is both Manchester United's most important and most productive outfield player. He's so crucial, in fact, that even a deeply paranoid manager like Van Gaal just has to accept the slight vulnerability his presence on the right brings.
Minimal senior action, but he scored a nice goal when given his first start against Ipswich in the League Cup. His middle name is Hoelgebaum, which we may have mentioned before but we certainly haven't mentioned enough.
Right. We'll level you. We're are bored with writing about this. Those of you that agree are presumably bored of agreeing; those that don't, bored of disputing. But nevertheless, once more unto the breach with feeling, dear readers: the great Wayne Rooney second striker/shadow striker/playmaker/No. 10/jobbing midfielder/he who must not be dropped/captain-without-portfolio experiment is not working.
The reasons might be complicated but the evidence is simple. Thus far, this season, Rooney has almost entirely failed to demonstrate the following attributes which are, as a bare minimum, required to play as a midfielder for Manchester United: a reliable first touch, and competent, constructive passing. That's more or less it. Wayne Rooney has not been good enough at the two fundamental skills of being a midfielder, to be a midfielder.
Has he ever been? Will he ever be again? We don't know. The former might be arguable — at his best he was certainly never just a striker — but the latter, well, we suspect not. Regardless, we're getting frankly tired of watching him flail about in the middle, slowing everything down and getting in everybody's way.
United's secondhand Deutscher Fußball-Meister has been acceptably meisterly so far, slipping with ease into both United's midfield and the role of the senior professional. However. If the disaster at Arsenal has taught us anything, it's that pairing him with Carrick and expecting him to do most of the pressing leads to horrible things. He's never been that quick, and he's not that young, and so he needs legs and energy alongside him. Which leads us nicely to ...
... the other half of the notional schmidfield, and the man who came out of the Arsenal debacle looking the best. Though Schneiderlin's start to this Old Trafford career has been solid rather than spectacular, he deserves a place in United's first choice midfield for two simple reasons. One, given what happens in his absence, he might be one of those magical midfielders whose presence is unremarkable, but serves to make everything just a little bit better. And two, even if that isn't true, he can at least run around.
Has done more fullbacking than rightwingering this season, and if that's not a word, then it should be. But whenever he's been in a more advanced role he's been much as you'd expect: diligent, hard-working, and not much trouble to the defence. It's not entirely his fault, of course, and nobody's ever accused him of not putting the effort in, but he's emblematic of this United squad and the lack of quality attacking alternatives from the bench.
Given his improvement last season, it can't have been too pleasant for Young to find himself out of the first team at the beginning of this campaign, supplanted by the newly-arrived Memphis Depay. But he's continued his usefulness when called upon, whether in defence or on the wing, and could well replace the Dutch youngster if Van Gaal's decides to favour consistency over promise. Also, he's arguably United's best crosser of the ball. At the moment. Not ever. Obviously.
If this season ends without United having at least tried a midfield three of Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger and Herrera, then ... well. We'll be quite sad.