In the third instalment of our five-part assessment of just how prepared the Manchester United squad is for the upcoming season, we take a look at the strength in depth of the Red Devils’ midfield options.
Having broken down the squad into five sections — goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, attacking midfielders and strikers — we covered the goalkeepers and defenders over the past two days, and will cover the final two tomorrow and Friday, ahead of the Premier League season kicking off this weekend.
With the presence of several versatile players within the squad, there will be several names listed in multiple sections, and perhaps none more so than with the midfielders.
Midfielders: Paul Pogba, Michael Carrick, Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Marouane Fellaini, Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Andreas Pereira
Obviously, there was some pretty big news regarding the United midfield this week, as Paul Pogba completed his world-record-breaking £89 million move from Juventus. The addition of a truly world-class box-to-box midfielder is something that has been needed pretty much since Roy Keane’s legs went in about 2002.
Pogba’s addition is a monumental boost to the entire quad, a statement of intent from the club and manager José Mourinho, and will greatly improve the grade that the midfield would have otherwise received here.
Pogba topped the Serie A assists chart last season (level with Miralem Pjanic on 12) and had the highest WhoScored.com rating of any player in Italy — just as fellow new boys Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan did in Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga respectively.
The 23-year-old’s physicality, drive and creativity will transform United’s midfield from the pedestrian sideways-passing merchants of last season, into a far more dynamic proposition.
There is some debate over whether Mourinho will stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation he favoured in his last spell at Chelsea and has utilised thus far at United, or whether, in order to better accomodate Pogba, he will switch to a 4-3-3.
Changing to 4-3-3 would better suit not only Pogba (who played his best football on the left of Juventus’ midfield three in their 3-5-2 formation) but would also benefit Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Anthony Martial — basically everyone but Wayne Rooney.
The 4-2-3-1 is the only system that can be used in order to accomodate both Ibrahimovic and Rooney. A switch to 4-3-3, with Mourinho already having insisted that the England captain will not play in midfield next season, would mean choosing between Rooney and Ibrahimovic for the No.9 role. It seems like an obvious choice to just about everyone with a semi-working set of eyeballs, but it appears to be a decision that Mourinho isn’t ready to make yet. But perhaps Pogba’s arrival will change that, we’ll see.
Beyond Pogba, there are a few question marks among United’s midfield options. Bastian Schweinsteiger has been frozen out of the first-team squad and will be sold before the transfer deadline. Morgan Schneiderlin failed to truly impress during his maiden season at Old Trafford and he, alongside Herrera whose form has fallen off a cliff in the past 12 months, has a lot to prove.
Michael Carrick is 35 now and, while he is still the finest passer at the club, he has physical limitations and will need to be surrounded by mobility. Pogba will add legs to the midfield, but do you really want your record signing doing the dirty work for an ageing Carrick? This is yet another reason why Mourinho should plump for a three-man midfield, with either Schneiderlin or Herrera, or even Fellaini on occasions, offering some athleticism and energy.
It would be great to see Timothy Fosu-Mensah given some game time in one of the midfield positions, though it seems he will more likely find minutes in defence, deputising for the full-backs. Similarly, many would love to see Andreas Pereira make the first-team breakthrough, but the Brazilian youngster is more likely to be farmed out on loan to gain top-level experience.
So question marks remain over how exactly Mourinho will set up his midfield this season, and there are some players who need to find their best form, but there can be no doubt that United have midfield quality in abundance.
Position grade: A