FA Cup exit underlines Manchester United’s need for midfield change

As Manchester United’s treble dreams went up in smoke this weekend, fans were left cursing their midfield after a promising start in the FA Cup semi-final was halted and Manchester City’s imposing, workmanlike trio of Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong began to take control. Long perceived as a weak point by many, Saturday only reinforced their belief that change is needed.

In an event that called for composure, it was two experienced campaigners who seemingly lost theirs in the two match-defining incidents. Match winner Toure gleefully accepted Michael Carrick’s gift of a pass, while Paul Scholes’s hack at Pablo Zabaleta’s thigh earned him a red card. Some may point the finger at Dimitar Berbatov’s two first half misses, however with 11 men it was still conceivable that United would create more chances before the end of the match. With 10, City had little trouble stifling United.

Scholes began promisingly on Saturday but faded as the game wore on. He had spoken fondly in the pre match build up of his past derby exploits, his winner at Eastlands last season named as a particular career highlight. Tellingly he also described his increasing difficulty in accepting a role on the fringes of the action: “It is very difficult to accept [not playing every game] but the time comes when you know that you can’t.” Given his recent lack of playing time and Saturday’s events, it is a quote that could be interpreted as a hint that he may well decide to retire at the end of the season.

Michael Carrick, so imperious against Chelsea in both legs of the Champions League quarter-final, also looked set to reproduce those displays early on before his costly error. His subsequent failure to impose himself is again not a new criticism, but with his obvious virtues and a recently signed new contract, his place in United’s midfield looks secure. However with Owen Hargreaves’ continued absence and likely departure, Darren Fletcher remains United’s only combative midfielder. While the jury is still out on Anderson and particularly Darron Gibson, Fletcher is a huge and understated miss for them in games such as these. His all action style may well have enabled Carrick and Scholes to have more impact on proceedings.

Many eyes will already be firmly fixed on Sir Alex Ferguson as the summer approaches. With his insistence that money is available if he needs it, his favourite recent line of “no value in the market” may not hold water with many and it looks probable that he will bring in new blood. However the Scot will be well aware that he may already have the aces up his sleeve. The extravagantly gifted Ravel Morrison has long been raved about in United circles, while tall and skilful Paul Pogba and the dynamic Ryan Tunnicliffe are both showing great promise in the youth teams. All possess attributes seemingly missing from the current midfield and are widely tipped to receive first team playing time next season. Young, raw talent may not be the short-term answer, but whatever happens this summer it is hard to envisage the same United midfield lining up come August.

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