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Arturo and our midfield woe

Vidal; a tale of desperation and despair.

Vidal; a tale of desperation and despair.

The Oxford dictionary defines despair as ‘the complete loss or absence of hope’. Most United fans may have different definitions. Watching Ashley Young receive the ball 30 yards inside the opposition half, turn, and play the ball back 60 yards to the keeper. Eagerly awaiting the team sheet only to see Anderson and Tom Cleverley are the starting midfield pair.

Most recently seen during the previous campaign, Antonio Valencia bursting forward with devastating pace then sending a cross straight into the ankles of whoever the opposition fullback is over and over again until people begin questioning whether he might be a little unstable.

Or potentially have some sort of irrational fear of shin-pads, again leading people to question whether he might be a little unstable. Currently, despair amongst United fans has taken the form of waking up every morning to see that Ed Woodward is yet to sign Arturo Vidal and that we may not sign another midfielder this summer.

With this in mind it is worth looking at what life with our current midfield options might be like. It has been talked about endlessly that Louis Van Gaal over achieved at the World Cup with the squad he had, if things remain he may need to do it again at Old Trafford. United’s midfield isn’t the worst in the league by any stretch of the imagination, not while David Meyler and Leandro Bacuna have a place in football’s top flight.

It is, however, a long way off top four quality, simply as it lacks a player who can unlock defences through individual brilliance. If there are no further additions to the squad it is likely that Van Gaal will continue with a three in midfield, supported by two wingbacks. From pre-season it seems that his first choice would be Ander Hererra and Juan Mata, and then whoever gets on the bus quickest.

Realistically all our midfielders have a lot to prove this season, there is plenty of talent, but it’s been a while since any of them showed it. The problem is not that these players lack talent; it is that for the entirety of last season they lacked direction, leading to a collapse in confidence and self-belief. Under the new system  we could see a rejuvenated midfield.

To cover for any midfield inadequacy Van Gaal has introduced the following tactics. The team recycles the ball with quick incisive passes that allow the players to move the ball from back to front in four or five passes, something that has been seen for years in Holland. Fantastic news for Tom Cleverley who for so long has been riddled for his sideways and backward passing, but actually within this system it could be a great strength.

These passes drag opposition defenders out of position, making room for the attackers to float into dangerous spaces left in behind. If the back line continues to push up high and the midfield pair are able to stay defensively disciplined, keeping their passing quick and simple the importance of difficult and incisive attacking passes from midfield is negated.

Energy, discipline and top level man management could potentially paper over any cracks that may have appeared because of the lack of a world-class, complete midfielder. This is not the best solution, it might not work and it doesn’t win league titles. The midfield remains alarmingly thin and it is unlikely to contribute many goals.

These tactics do make United’s midfield less defensively fragile and the attacking threat has visibly improved, but it is far from the finished article. Ideally United will bring in a world class midfielder that will seamlessly fit into the first team, if anything to give us strength in depth, but if that fails to happen it may not be as damning as it could have been.

All of this of course remains entirely hypothetical, as there is still a month for the club to bring in that mouth watering, shiny, box-to-box midfielder we fantasise about during intimate moments with our respective partners. I personally do believe there will be an addition to the midfield, but part of me is filled with a sick curiosity to see how Van Gaal would compete with his current options.

William Dawson