The quality of Manchester United’s win over Wigan has certainly stopped the critics for a while and shown that even without without Cristiano Ronaldo they are still able to score goals, and plenty of them. Dimitar Berbatov, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen all played well and took many of the plaudits against the Latics, with Nani and Antonio Valencia both getting plenty of attention on their wing play (the verdict that they are not quite as good as Ronaldo is far from surprising). One area that was not mentioned greatly, however, was the centre of midfield, and this could be the area with the most significance over the next week or so.
Both Michael Carrick and Anderson were not only absent from the first-team, they were not even on the bench. Darron Gibson, Danny Welbeck and Ryan Giggs were chosen as the possible replacements for starters Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher – who have both had stuttering starts to the season. Carrick played in the Community Shield but was then left out of the squad for the Birmingham game, and when asked the reasons for his absence, Ferguson allegedly said “There is no injury to Carrick. You will have to ask him why he is out.” He played in the next game against Burnley, but was guilty of missing a penalty, which may well have allowed United to win the game. Considering Rooney and Owen were on the pitch at the same time, it seems strange that the midfielder stepped up. You would have to think it was Ferguson who made the decision as it could not have been easy for either of the strikers to watch Carrick put the ball down on the spot, only to see the penalty saved.
After missing the Wigan game it is not surprising that there are some rumours regarding his future. The papers seem to think that a £10m plus Carrick deal for Tottenham’s Luka Modric is on the cards, although Harry Redknapp has already refuted this. Another possibility could be a move to Liverpool, although the chance of Ferguson allowing one of his biggest rivals to take such an important midfielder from his grasp seems highly unlikely.
The rumours regarding Anderson started even earlier than this. After being left out of the Community Shield squad, behind youngsters like Gibson, he apparently had a massive falling out with Ferguson, in which he stated that he would leave if this continued. Ferguson, being the eternal harbinger of peace, suggested that if he wanted to leave he should just do it. Since then, Anderson has played ineffectively for 60 minutes against Burnley before being substituted and there have been some minor rumours – including mention of a swoop by Barcelona – but little more.
Anderson would seem the most likely to leave Old Trafford. He has yet to cement a place in the team and has put in some poor performances, such as in the Champions League Final when a lot more was expected from him. He has been there for two years now and some question marks could be placed over his progress during that time. After showing huge promise for Porto and even Brazil’s Gremio, he has failed to ignite during his time in Manchester. In Portugal and Brazil he had previously played as an attacking midfielder or winger and has had to adapt his game a lot to take on a more holding role for United. But the fact that he has failed to score even one goal since his arrival must be seen as a massive disappointment, especially considering how much weight Ferguson places on scoring goals from every area of the pitch.
Carrick on the other hand would be a massive loss. He has matured into one of the top midfielders in England over the last two years, becoming a midfield lynchpin for United and seriously contending with Barry, Lampard and Gerrard for an England central midfield berth. His loss could be felt even more than Ronaldo’s. It would leave the ageing Scholes and Giggs, a maturing, solid performer in Fletcher, the relative youth of Gibson and Welbeck, and an injury-plagued Owen Hargreaves (supposedly returning in September but, after one setback after another, this could be any length of time) as the only other midfield options. This writer has omitted Anderson from these options as if it is true that he has upset Ferguson then getting many second chances will be extremely difficult and it will take a complete change in attitude to find himself back in the manager’s good books.
All in all, it would seem strange for United to sell two of their top midfielders with so little time to find a replacement, but not knowing exactly what has happened behind the scenes – and knowing that Ferguson has a track record for shipping out players as soon as they become a problem (Beckham, Stam and Van Nistelrooy all left at their peak) – it would not be a complete shock to see some major changes take place. In whichever case, their rivals must be licking their lips at the possibility of the Red Devils going into the campaign lacking even more of their midfield talent.