It appears that Manchester United has some money to throw around this summer, with revenues from Anderson, Luis Nani and Wayne Rooney potentially bolstering a healthy transfer fund. While Rooney is still likely to be sold, for a sizeable fee too, the loss of United’s number 10 is not as disastrous as some media outlets and fans make it out to be. However, the case of Anderson and Nani is a bit more complex.
Nani has often disappointed, but the Reds’ first team is so thin with wingers that Nani must be kept if only to allow David Moyes to rotate his wide men. Wilfried Zaha has excelled in pre-season games but he remains untested in the top division and Champions League. Nani is the one player in the squad who has the skills and agility to consistently beat a man and should stay unless United can capture someone who offers the same qualities before the window closes.
While Rooney’s physical deterioration greatly hampers the former Everton player’s influence on the field, the same criticism applies to Anderson. The Brazilian’s rather unprofessional approach to life must be condemned but, again, there so few central midfielders in the first team picture that Anderson should be retained at the club.
Sir Alex Ferguson often spoke about the dangers of bringing in too many players at once. It is a lesson David Moyes might heed. Although the new man has not had the time to fully stamp his authority on the squad, having replaced much of the backroom staff, it would be rational to be careful about making additions to the playing staff too.
Moyes typically emphasises width and even though United’s wingers are limited at best, Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra are excellent attacking full-backs and will mask the shortcomings of the players ahead of them.
The real problem area for Moyes is central midfield – an area with little depth.
Acquiring a player or two will solve that problem but the fact that Michael Carrick, who is very important linking midfield with wingers and forwards, has no understudy is problematic. Rooney shouldered much of the ball-winning burden last season, and someone who can compete physically in central midfield should be considered if Rooney goes.
Phil Jones can be deployed in midfield, of course, but the youngster simply does not possess the game intelligence to play as a midfielder at the highest level.
The chase for Barcelona’s Thiago Alcântara and Cesc Fàbregas offers more insight into Moyes’ plan. Each clumsily handled at best and at worst plain unrealistic. The Spanish duo are excellent passers who can fulfill Carrick’s deep lying playmaker role if needed. Crucially, though, each can effectively carry the ball forward, make key passes while posing a goal threat.
Neither offers much physicality though – and with Carrick likely to cement his place as one of two in 4-2-3-1 it is rather unconventional to field two passers in central midfield and then deploy Shinji Kagawa, a very technical player, ahead of them.
However, Kagawa’s presence does allow Moyes to field three passers. Kagawa is a player who likes to come into possession facing forward and plays quick, incisive balls to the team’s strikers. Robin van Persie and Javier Hernández are excellent finishers and United’s opposition will be forced to keep an eye out for the Japanese’s creativity.
Should Moyes use the former Borussia Dortmund player as Jürgen Klopp did at the German club by fielding two very capable passers deep United’s opposition will face a dilemma as to how to stop the Reds’ midfield. Man-mark Kagawa and two central midfielders will run the game. Compete in midfield and Kagawa will roam free. Meanwhile, Fàbregas (or a player of his ilk) can storm forward and overload the hole between the midfield and defence.
The Moyes model, should it come to fruition, insists upon the team setting up deep and forcing opposition into choosing between letting United’s midfield run the game or risk succumbing to clinical counter-attacks launched through Kagawa.
It is, however, a complex and intricate plan that often fails.
Sound in theory, nobody yet knows whether Moyes’ plan will actually work. It seemingly revolves using Kagawa as a bluff to force the opposition into defending the hole. It is a reactive plan, based on a supposition that United’s opponents will attack – a strategy that fails when the opposition parks the bus, leaving the attacking side to retain meaningless possession.
Fàbregas is perhaps the only player who can make this plan work. The Spanish can score from distance and the Barcelona player, perhaps influenced by the English game, is so direct that more cultured teams such as the Catalan club and Spanish national team often use him as a forward.
Cesc has the attributes to break down teams that sit deep and is experienced in doing so as a former Arsenal player. There are few others who can pass incisively, carry the ball forward, shoot from distance and storm into the box if needed.
Moyes’ plan is bust of course with Fàbregas now committed to remaining in Barcelona, but the brazenly public wooing of the Spanish duo suggests that the new United manager will continue the counter-attacking approach adopted during his Everton days.
It is risky though. While Ferguson’s approach became increasingly defensive during the latter days of his tenure, Moyes does not possess the retired manager’s trophy haul. United’s fans might not take kindly to the reactive tactics.
Indeed, the new man’s desperation seeps through in the frantic quest to bring in the one player who could have very well been the difference between Moyes’ approach being described as boring or refined.