Manchester United: Why United Must Further Improve Their Midfield

Manchester United suffered through a tough season. After a Premier League title in 2012/2013, United’s season was a sputtering affair. Following years of stability with Alex Ferguson, they moved on to David Moyes who was fired after just one year on the job. The main reason? A seventh place finish that saw the team miss out on not only the Champions League, but the Europa League as well. The strangest part is that all this happened with largely the same team that won it all the year before.

Maybe the reason they struggled was a failure to keep up with the Joneses. Maybe it was because Moyes wasn’t a good fit. But one reason for United’s struggles was their deficiency in the center of the pitch. Their midfield wasn’t the most creative bunch and couldn’t create many goals.

To look at United’s midfield, first you must discern what position Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck play. If you count them as attacking midfielders, and not strikers, then the goal output from United’s midfielders isn’t terrible. If you count them as strikers, then it starts to look bad.

In all reality both are somewhere between an attacking midfielder and a striker. Rooney is tied to a role closer to midfield thanks to Robin van Persie’s presence and Welbeck is tied to a similar role thanks to van Persie and Rooney’s presence.

Let’s, for all intents and purposes, say that both Rooney and Welbeck are forwards, or at the very least not classified as midfielders due to their tendency to play up top for stretches.

After that the midfield consists of the likes of Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia, Marouane Fellaini, Tom Cleverley, Shinji Kagawa, Ashley Young, Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata. With the exception of Januzaj and Mata, goals were almost non-existent from this group. And even for those two, the goals weren’t exactly flowing.

Mata, the mid-season addition, and Januzaj, the young sparkplug, contributed a combined 17 goals through scoring and assisting. A solid output considering they only had 29 starts between them.

After that you have misters Carrick, Fellaini, Cleverley, Kagawa, Valencia and Young. Between them they made a combined 103 starts. Between them they contributed 14 goals. That’s simply not good enough for a team with United’s aspirations, and it showed as the defending champs struggled.

The team has already brought in Spanish playmaker Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao. He contributed 10 goals in La Liga last season, and while he’ll bring energy and creativity to a team clearly lacking it, United will need more to get back to the summit of the Premier League.

New coach Louis van Gaal has already made a superb signing in Herrera. He’ll need to make more like it if he wants to win silverware in Manchester.

All stats courtesy of http://www.whoscored.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Six Things We Learned from Italy After the Netherlands Friendly

(Disclaimer: I don’t profess to know a ton about football. I just love the beautiful game.)

  1. Andrea Pirlo’s genius, pace and the fouls/free kicks he draws. Some people play on a whole other physical level, or a whole other level in terms of speed. The latter is Pirlo. (Also, isn’t it nice that in football/soccer, wherever you’re from, a players is simplified to just one name? Even if he hasn’t shortened his name to one name. Messi is called Messi when his full name is Lionel Messi, etc. Anyways, it lends itself to lazy typers like me, and the rest of the world for that matter.) Pirlo plays the game almost methodically. You know when basketball gurus say that the game has “slowed down” for some players? That’s Pirlo. He slows it down. While the tempo killing can sometimes be hard to watch, the Italian midfield maestro always makes the right pass, even if he has to slow down to do it. Expanding on that, especially in the match against the Dutch, everyone else was going 110 miles an hour (if you will) while Pirlo was cruising at a comfortable 85. The result of this is that a lot of hand checks and fouls that might go un-noticed were noticed as Pirlo drew multiple free kicks by simply playing at the speed he feels comfortable playing. I should also point out his genius. Which he is, by the way. Every game there are about three to four plays where he makes a pass that could open up the defense. If your defense gives Pirlo milk and curds he turns it into Swiss cheese. (Especially if he’s playing against the Swiss.)
  2. Buffon does it again. Where Pirlo makes three or four passes that unlock the defense, Gigi Buffon makes three or four saves that the average Joe keeper wouldn’t make every game. He did this again on multiple occasions against the Dutchmen.
  3. Sub Par? Not to say that the starters were lacking, but the substitutions of Pablo Osvaldo, Alessandro Diamanti, Alberto Gilardino and Marco Verratti certainly changed the game in a positive way.
  4. Slick Whats? The field was very slick in case you didn’t notice. At least half a dozen players hit the turf, one of which quelled a promising Italian attack.
  5. Friendly Strategy. (That faux headline didn’t work, but stick with me.)  Cesare Prandelli certainly isn’t using friendlies to get results. The Italy head-man consistently uses friendly games to test younger players and tinker with different pairings and lineups ahead of major tournaments. He’s using this strategy for the upcoming Confederations Cup as well as the Azzurri’s likely World Cup spot in Brazil in 2014.
  6. It’ll Work. Eventually. Italy’s spearheaded attack of Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaaraway seemed to be a bit stagnant in the first half. While the Osvaldo/Diamanti/Gilardino trident worked, the former group will likely be the long and short-term options up front. They’ll figure it out eventually, playing together that is. After all they both play for AC Milan. They’ll be tested and ready by Brazil.

If I missed anything from the game that you thought was mention-worthy, tell me in the comments section.