Club Focus – Manchester United – Struggle in Marseille highlights midfield problems

The midweek Champions League action was a fairly bad experience for Manchester United. Not only did they fail to overcome a lacklustre Marseille side, but title rivals Chelsea recorded a very comfortable away win in Copenhagen to regain some form ahead of their clash next week. Furthermore, while United have a weekend game against Wigan Athletic to negotiate, Carlo Ancelotti’s men have an entire week free before welcoming the league leaders.

With injuries still plaguing the United squad Sir Alex Ferguson is left with limited options to rotate and rest players. The Scot seemed to be wary of the physicality of Marseille; dropping Paul Scholes and Rafael da Silva to the bench, who made way for Darron Gibson and John O’Shea respectively. However, both should be in contention to play against the Latics on Saturday.

The wider concern to emerge from the game in France is the lack of pace and creativity in the midfield. None of United’s available midfielders possess great pace and, when Scholes is not playing, there is a distinct lack of imagination going forward. Ji-Sung Park and Anderson would offer different options but it would be optimistic to suggest that either would have provided the necessary spark for victory. However, although this is not a vintage United side, it only needs minor adjustments rather than wholesale changes. Prospects such as Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley all look promising and offer cheap alternatives to buying in new players. Also the fact that they will count as home-grown is even more important due to the 25 man limit on squad size.

Apart from the obvious need to replace Edwin van der Sar at the end of the season, the priority should be a new creative midfielder with a range of passing and the ability to bomb forward and make up the numbers in attack. One notable feature of United’s play this season has been how rarely (when Ferguson has fielded 4-5-1) any midfielder has been able to effectively get beyond or even alongside the striker. Possible names in the frame include Palermo’s Javier Pastore or Eden Hazard of French club Lille. Of course fans will be hoping for a big name arrival to assuage constant fears that the Glazer family has not made the funds from the Cristiano Ronaldo transfer available. Ferguson has refuted these claims for some time, stating that there is “no value” in the transfer market.

Regardless of whether or not there is value in the market, the fact that United are top of the league should not disguise the fact that there are areas in this squad which need improvement. The defence is very solid, especially when the first choice back line is available and players like Dimitar Berbatov, Wayne Rooney and Luis Nani are certainly capable of producing magic to win games. But the calming influence provided by Scholes and Ryan Giggs needs to be addressed as the two veterans are phased out over the next few years.

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