For any Manchester United fan watching David Moyes’ uninspiring team against Chelsea yesterday, it was obvious that there was something seriously lacking. However, it wasn’t commitment from Wayne Rooney as some United fans had feared beforehand; the want-away Scouse striker toiled without possession but crucially also appeared inventive with the ball. Something which United could seriously have done with in centre-midfield as well; against a typically defensive, hard pressing Mourinho team, the Red Devils lacked any sort of incisive pass, let alone a final ball to cut open Gary Cahill and John Terry. The latter was seemingly inspired by the return of Mourinho to roll back the years in what was, I hate to admit it, a brilliant performance.
Carrick and Cleverly’s inability to penetrate the Chelsea back third wasn’t only worrying, it was embarrassing. At times, as they passed the ball sideways to each other, back and forth like an under 10s tennis match, I longed for Paul Scholes to lay down his pipe and slippers and have one last crack at delaying retirement. However, Scholesy isn’t the answer. Nor is his feted successor, the reliably unspectacular Tom Cleverly. Carrick has grown into his role at United gradually and did have an outstanding season last year but, at 32, will only get slower in possession. Considering he makes Teddy Sheringham look like Usain Bolt, this doesn’t augur well.
We need two midfielders. One, a playmaker: someone with great vision to provide assists and goals too. Secondly, a box to box Yaya Toure esque monster, strong and industrious but also with more technicality than an Owen Hargreaves type toiler.
Why on Earth Ed Woodward and David Moyes aren’t busting a gut to get Juan Mata in a player plus cash deal involving Wayne Rooney is beyond me; despite reports to the contrary, the fact that Chelsea’s player of the season last year remained an unused substitute for the game illustrates that for whatever reason Mourinho doesn’t rate him. Mata is a superb player; he played an incredible 64 games last season, so fatigue isn’t a problem. With 35 assists and 20 goals as well, Mata would provide a vital threat in a United side that relied too heavily on the immense Robin van Persie last year. Cleverly and Carrick got a grand total of six goals between them last season – less than a third of Mata’s impressive return – and the pair got ten assists between them; LESS THAN A THIRD of Mata’s total. The diminutive Spaniard’s brilliance is undeniable and he is just the sort of player to thrive at United. With Wayne Rooney currently Mourinho’s favourite toy to gawp at in the shop window, why not ask not only for Mata, currently unwanted in a team overrun with creative talent, but also £10m in stone cold cash. If Chelsea (foolishly) value Rooney at £40m, that’s a fair deal. In truth, I’d take Mata in a straight swap for Rooney. United have the ever reliable Chicharito and an improving Danny Welbeck; do we really need Rooney? Besides, with the indifferent form of the shaky Shinji Kagawa since his arrival, United’s need for Mata is made all the more acute.
As for the box to box midfielder, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Claudio Marchisio should be United’s top two targets. Marchisio is the younger option at 27 and, although it’s notoriously difficult for foreign teams to lure Italian internationals away from Serie A, United should test Juventus’ resolve with a bid close to £30m. Marchisio himself has refused to rule out a move to United which is encouraging; he is comfortable shielding the back four as a tough-tackling midfielder but also likes to get forward, chipping in with the odd goal and assist. At the right age, the experienced Italian should fit seamlessly into United’s midfield.
Schweinsteiger may also want to reassess his options at Bayern Munich; after a decade or so of consistent success, the arrival of Pep Guardiola may threaten the German’s game time. Schweinsteiger’s usefulness is predicated around lung-bursting energy and efficiency; will these qualities be appreciated by Guardiola as much as they were by Jupp Heynckes? Guardiola has new arrivals Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara to accommodate and, with a bid in excess of £25m, United could test Munich’s resolve to keep their talismanic midfielder.
One thing’s for certain after last night’s at best lacklustre, at worst torrid midfield performance by Carrick and Cleverly: United need two top class midfielders. If I had to pick the two players who I’d love to see turning up at Carrington for a medical before the close of the window on September 2nd, then Mata and Marchisio would be at the top of my list.