"You can never say never in football because you don’t know who might become available but, speaking generally, I am not looking to do any serious transfer business in January.”
Sir Alex Ferguson loves to tease. Last summer he ruled out signing Robin Van Persie before swooping like a hawk to steal him from the clutches of neighbours Manchester City and this January, Ferguson has already denied that Manchester United will be doing any “serious transfer business” this time round.
Manchester United arrived into 2013 seven points clear atop the Premier League and on a run of five wins in six games including a win at noisy neighbours and reigning champions Manchester City. They have qualified for the Champions League knockout phase after dismantling their group yet the jigsaw still seems incomplete.
Missing piece? A complete midfielder.
The United faithful pointed to Shinji Kagawa as the answer but after injury hampered opening to his United career and a struggle to adapt to the Premier League game, Ferguson finds himself without the correct piece. There is certainly no lack of creativity in the squad with 54 goals in 21 games and averaging 2.6 a game yet there is no ‘midfield general’ patrolling United’s heart.
When United played Swansea just before Christmas, Ferguson opted for Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs as his central midfield partnership. Despite the wealth of experience behind them, there was little dynamic creativity and thrust when attaching through the middle and this is the Reds major criticism offensively. So where can United find this midfield drive?
So Kevin Strootman. Unfamiliar with Dutch football? Fear not. Strootman is PSV’s midfield maestro – the metronome. The arrival of Mark Van Bommel allowed 22 year old Strootman to push further up field and begin to dictate play more than his previous withdrawn playmaker role. Blessed with a clinical left peg, Strootman offers a goal threat as well as precise passing; he has chipped in with seven goals in 42 PSV outings since his arrival in 2011.
Despite Holland’s poor showing during Euro 2012, Strootman continued to impress, attracting the likes of AC Milan and Arsenal but a move to Old Trafford for the midfielder may not be on the cards with his current club flying high at the top of the Eredivisie.
A slightly more realistic yet probably less popular option comes in the rather formidable shape of Celtic’s Victor Wanyama. Adept at either central midfield or centre half, the robust Kenyan would offer versatility as well as some steel to an otherwise brittle United midfield. With Ferguson’s illustrious career coming to an end it seems in the coming months, the Scotsman is looking to draft in star of tomorrow and Wanyama will certainly be one of them after he was selected by influential football website IBWM in their list of the 100 most exciting players in world football for 2013.
In 72 games for the Bhoys, Wanyama has found the net eleven times but goals isn’t something to expect from him. Wanyama asserts an air of composure when on the ball, coupled with burly tackling and excellent hold up play. With 18 months under his belt in the SPL, the 21 year old could feel the time is right to move on and Manchester United could and possibly should, be one of the clubs sniffing around for his signature. The acquisition of Wanyama would also been as a less risky proposition having already proved himself in a league that differs little in style from its southern counterparts.
However, Manchester United may not have to look far for sufficient alternate options to plug the midfield’s gaps. The best and most suitable options are already in the Premier League. Everton’s Marouane Fellaini and Newcastle United pair Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote have all been linked with moves to United in the past and all would come with their benefits and drawbacks.
It would cost a lot to pry Fellaini from Everton. Tiote is rather too ‘enthusiastic’ at times which leave Cabaye being the most sensible answer – but is he good enough?
Put simply, stats aside, Newcastle win more games with the Frenchman than without – maybe the cause for their underwhelming performances this season. Cabaye and Tiote were the glue that held Newcastle’s European charge last season and when that partnership breaks, the wall seems to crumble. Cabaye’s control with Tiote’s tenacity was the foundations that Newcastle built on to attack – and something which at the minute, United lack. Yes, Michael Carrick is doing a complimentary job but there will come a time where United’s midfield will have to move onto the next level and with Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs fast approaching retirement, whose going to step in?
Yohan Cabaye’s injury blighted season so far hasn’t prevented his influence when he has played. The 26 year old has created 19 goal scoring chances with an 82% pass success rate despite just 10 appearances. Tiote edges out Cabaye with an 83% pass completion rate but has only carved out nine goal scoring opportunities. The Ivorian’s strengths lie elsewhere; 73% of his tackles have been successful (27/37) however, he has committed 54 fouls compared to being on the wrong end of 21.
While the ambitions of Cabaye and Tiote may surpass that of which Newcastle are capable of, it would be quite a wrestle to take them both to Old Trafford. Cabaye’s classy ilk will probably take precedence over Tiote’s doggedness but both are needed in equal capacity to fill United’s midfield.
And this is where the irrefutable Marouane Fellaini steps up: the answer. The Belgian was been depicted as ‘unplayable’ and at times he is. Excellent technique, especially with his upper body yields to great strength while on the ball – whether he is utilised in a defensive or offensive role, both of which he is equally proficient.
Fellaini would offer United more of an aerial presence, which goes without being said really. According to stats site, squawka.com, just eleven of United’s 54 league goals have been headers while nine of the 28 goals conceded have come from opposition heads. Fellaini has created 12.4% of Everton’s chances this season (21/260) and has a pass success rate of 78%, including 18 successful key passes, in 16 appearances.
So, with it clear that he needs to strengthen the core of his team, Ferguson has a big call to make. If I was him, I’d be a lot richer and wiser but I’d have my eye on Marouane Fellaini, as peculiar as it sounds.
All stats from http://www.squawka.com/