The solution to Manchester United’s midfield.

It has been obvious for a while now that Manchester United are in dire need of a midfielder. I’m still astonished at how they managed to win the league with out of form wingers and only one consistently, reliable central midfielder.  I suppose it speaks volumes about the quality of Sir Alex Ferguson and Michael Carrick.

United’s current options in midfield do not provide a balance between defence and attack. Tom Cleverley is a player whom I rate, but don’t see as anything more than a squad player, playing now and then.  Much like Joe Allen’s role at Liverpool. Anderson is one who splits opinion.  He’s often the subject of light-hearted fat jokes and a comical suggestion for the solution to United’s problem.  It’s almost like people have put him in the same category of footballers as Emile Heskey, who just get mocked for being a poor player at a big club.  I actually think Anderson is another good squad player to have. Perhaps he hasn’t been value for money, and he might carry a bit of excess weight, but he is talented. I think, given the chance, he will be able to recreate some of the creativity he displayed in the 2007/08 season (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Z7VaZGEkVs).   Again, though, he is not an adequate partner to Carrick.  Phil Jones is excellent cover for defensive midfield which he proved in matches against Real Madrid and Everton, keeping Fellaini and Ronaldo (relatively) quiet.  My worry is that Phil Jones could become a victim of his own versatility in the way that he will never get a string of games in the same position and therefore never nail down a position in the England or Manchester United team.  Centre back is his ideal position, for me.

Thiago  Alcântara’s transfer to Bayern Munich was understandably heartbreaking for United fans, after being linked with the Spaniard for such a small fee.  Thiago would have slotted in alongside Carrick beautifully and excelled in a deep-lying, creative role in which he would play week in, week out.  Unfortunately for Reds, however, he decided to join former coach Pep Guardiola at the European champions.  In the Telekom Cup, in which Bayern, Dortmund, Hamburg and Mönchengladbach play their pre-season matches, Thiago has looked comfortable and dangerously efficient alongside Toni Kroos.  He may have jumped ahead of Kroos and Gustavo in the pecking order to start alongside Schweinsteiger and Martínez, which could signal a potential exit for the Brazilian, Luiz Gustavo.

This brings me onto my next point, that Luiz Gustavo is United’s best option.  He ticks all the right boxes; young enough at 25, retains possession well with a completion rate of 93% of his passes [Sqwawka], offers a great balance between defence and attack, has developed under one of the best managers around, Jupp Heynckes and last but not least, he would be relatively inexpensive.  Furthermore, with Sandro returning to fitness and Hernanes being a starter at Lazio, there will be competition for the final central midfield slot next to Paulinho, behind Oscar, in the Brazilian national team. This is another reason for Gustavo to join United, it would benefit four parties; United (new starter), Brazil (more players getting regular club games), Bayern (money), and Luiz himself (game time).

Many newspapers have been running stories claiming Manchester United have submitted a second bid for Cesc Fàbregas.  I don’t see this happening.  Firstly, from Cesc’s point of view, there is no reason to leave. Winning the Premiership with United would be no easier than winning La Liga with Barcelona next season, he’s situated in the beautiful city in which he grew up and he starts the vast majority of matches contrary to popular misconception.  He also plays in a much more advanced, attacking position, a ‘false winger’, if you will, at Barcelona. The more disciplined role at United would not appeal, I imagine. Secondly, why on earth would Barcelona sell such a brilliant player after having just lost Thiago, leaving one back up to Xavi/Iniesta; the inexperienced Sergi Roberto? They would reinvest the money, but who, of the same quality, is available?

For these reasons, I see Luiz Gustavo as the solution to United’s midfield problems.

By Reuben Pinder, @ReubenPinder.

Preview: Npower Championship Play-off Final. Crystal Palace vs Watford.

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After staging Europe’s biggest club match on Saturday (congratulations to Bayern Munich and Jupp Heynckes), Wembley stages the Football League’s biggest domestic match of the season; the Championship Play-off Final.

Memorable semi-finals to say the least make this match all the more exciting for neutrals as well as fans.  Watford’s last minute winner against Leicester, a mere 30 seconds after Knockaert’s heartbreaking saved penalty at the other end, will have injected a tonne of confidence into the fans.  Having been lurking around the automatic promotion positions for most of the season, Zola’s team will be determined not to let the fans and the club down.  Palace have also dropped from automatic spots due to dry patches, goal-wise, in parts of the season.  Without prolific striker Glenn Murray to lead the attack due to a ligament injury suffered in the home leg to Brighton, the Eagles will be putting their faith in former Norwich striker Aaron ‘Wilbrahimović’ Wilbraham to put the goals away.  Their away victory to bitter rivals Brighton in the second leg of the semi-finals will have boosted spirits massively after an unnerving goalless draw in the first leg.

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Star men, Matěj Vydra and Wilfried Zaha will attract all the media eyes and will be expected to produce some magic if their respective teams are to come out victorious.  Udinese loanee, Vydra showcased his talent and proved why he merited the Player of the Season award with a spectacular volley to open the scoring against Leicester.  Palace’s centre backs will certainly have their hands full if Vydra shows up.  Wilfried Zaha bagged a brace against Brighton in his penultimate match in red and blue, so will be bursting to make history in his last. “I just want to get Palace to the Premiership really”, he said after knocking Brighton out of the way.

A great day out for the fans, whether it be elation or heartbreak and a gripping match for neutrals are in expectation for this final day of the Football League season. COME ON YOU EAGLES! (@ReubenPinder, Palace fan).