By now even the most bleary-eyed post-pub Match of the Day viewer is vaguely aware that Morgan Schneiderlin has been an important cog in the midfield of one of the Premier League's most impressive teams over the last three years. Quite what the Frenchman actually did at Southampton, however, may well still remain a fuzzy mystery. Yep, Schneiderlin's probably quite good, but good at what? And where will Manchester United's new signing slot in at Old Trafford?
Well, the hope is that Schneiderlin will bring some steel to United's soggy centre, with Schneiderlin likely to take his place at the base of Louis van Gaal's midfield as a younger, superior, handsomer, Frenchier version of Michael Carrick. Now, without wanting to start another squabble over United's long-serving midfield maestro/Alex Ferguson's mediocre stopgap (delete as applicable), there are some areas in which Schneiderlin should be an obvious improvement: namely, in just about all defensive aspects of the game.
Our dear American readers and other assorted numbers nerds will be delighted to note that Schneiderlin has made more tackles and interceptions than anyone else in the top flight over the last three seasons; those for whom statistics are rather less exciting need only note Carrick's chronic aversion to tackling to realise that the protection Schneiderlin will afford the centre of United's defence represents an important improvement. Not only is he an excellent tackler, but he's tall and strong enough to be competitive in the air.
Of course, Carrick is an exceptionally good passer, which is the one aspect of the game that United could lose by leaving him out of the team. Whether playing a long, raking ball to trigger a counter-attack, or quickly zipping the ball around the defence to avoid the opponent's pressing, Carrick has been an important feature of United's play for the last decade. Last season was no different.
So far, Schneiderlin hasn't shown such vision. But he has performed well in the job that he's expected to do at Old Trafford; namely offering a short option for the centre-backs, and staying calm under pressure to spread play to more imaginative teammates. He probably does lack Carrick's eye for a defence-splitting pass, but Bastian Schweinsteiger sure doesn't. Providing van Gaal's pre-season coaching manages to oil United's midfield cogs, it's a combination that should work.
That, ultimately, is what matters. Schneiderlin isn't a world class midfielder in the traditional, rounded sense, at least as far as we know. But that doesn't matter. He's not being brought in to create chances, nor to score goals. At United, his purpose is a simple one: serving the needs of the players in front of him; allowing Schweinsteiger and Ander Herrera the freedom to unlock defences without having to worry about an imminent counter-attack. It's a role in which Carrick did his best, but one for which he was only partly designed.
In contrast, Schneiderlin's three years in the Premier League have shown that he's become extremely proficient as an anchorman, with his defensive skill backed up by strength and confidence in the heart of midfield. His passing isn't great but is more than good enough for the requirements, and at 25 years old, he should prove to be pretty good value for money. Hopefully United's age-old midfield problem has finally been resolved.