After Louis van Gaal’s first season at Old Trafford, lots of criticism was made of the Dutchman’s management, one of the most resonating being the lack of a truly imposing midfielder capable of retrieving the ball a la Roy Keane or even Owen Hargreaves.
So, when Morgan Schneiderlin, one of the Premier League’s hottest properties at the time because of his great performances with Southampton, was signed prior to van Gaal’s second season, most of us were pretty excited to see the Frenchman in action. But like most things at United in recent years, it hasn’t gone according to the plan.
Schneiderlin didn’t feature regularly during van Gaal’s tenure and now with José Mourinho in charge, his playing time has diminished even more. Sometimes, management and their staff can see things in training that we fans cannot, so perhaps there’s a reasonable explanation for his constant exclusion. But the former Southampton man could yet be an important figure to determine this season’s success or failure.
During the course of the Mourinho’s tenure, the debate regarding the team’s midfield has been never-ending because of the lack of balance in that particular area. The inclusion of Ander Herrera to the starting XI has helped to add balance. But Michael Carrick is now 35 and it’s not advisable for a big club to depend on the legs of a player of such age, regardless of how consistent he can be. Marouane Fellaini is too dangerous to protect the back four. The less said about Paul Pogba defensively, the better.
So considering the options at Mourinho’s disposal, the Frenchman can provide the steel, mobility and energy to protect the defence like he did in some of United’s best matches last season when he had the chance to play. If a comparison is necessary, he could play a similar role to Real Madrid’s Casemiro as a defensive midfielder behind the two most offensive and creative footballers.
There has been skepticism over his passing and while it’s pretty clear he doesn’t have Carrick’s sturdy distribution, he is no slouch on the ball either. And supported by the likes of Herrera, Pogba, Juan Mata and even Henrikh Mkhitaryan, distribution and moving the ball forward doesn’t need to be a task for Schneiderlin. He is there to offer safety for the defence, cover space with his movement and athleticism and retrieve the ball to start building the play.
Manchester United don’t currently have anyone who can do that as a defensive midfielder, as we speak. And taking into account Eric Bailly’s injury, the back four is going to need some protection; Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo gave encouraging performances against City and deserve the praise after many matches of criticism, but consistency is not something they are known for.
United moved beat Arsenal and Tottenham to his signature a year ago, but it is hard to argue against the notion that Schneiderlin has regressed since moving to Old Trafford; it was not so long ago that he was considered arguably the Premier League’s finest defensive midfielder. So United must maximise his assets and make use of a player who could still make huge difference in this season.