What would a more balanced Manchester United midfield look like?

Jose Mourinho is still searching for his best team

BY Raf Diallo 16:41 Monday 19 September 2016, 16:41 19 Sep 2016

Picture by: Manchester United/ Twitter

Five matches into the new Premier League season and it is becoming increasingly clear that Jose Mourinho has yet to settle upon his strongest side.

Of course, this is the beginning of what the former Chelsea manager hopes is a lengthy era in charge.

But thus far, midfield has been an issue, especially when it comes to getting the best out of record signing Paul Pogba.

Midfield balance has been a subject raised with many rightly pointing out that the best Mourinho sides have a mix of everything in midfield.

His first Chelsea team had holder Claude Makalele in the eponymous 'Makalele role' alongside the goalscoring threat of Frank Lampard and the forcefulness of Michael Essien. 

His Real Madrid side of 2011-12 which won La Liga had Xabi Alonso as the deep-lying playmaker alongside the box-to-box presence of Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil in the No 10 role. Thus, there is always a mix of discipline and creativity in the ideal Mourinho midfield.

Take his Chelsea side from 2014-15 which featured Cesc Fabregas as the playmaker in a midfield with the defensive and physically robust Nemanja Matic and one of box-to-box Ramires or the more attacking but disciplined Oscar.

At Man United, Mourinho's challenge is now to construct a midfield that brings the best out of Pogba, who is a box-to-box player with an attacking edge rather than a player capable of dictating a match.

As John Giles pointed out after the 1-0 Europa League defeat to Feyenoord last Thursday, Pogba is not a playmaker in the Paul Scholes mould and noted that the France international took up positions that are not conducive to running the game by keeping himself ahead of the play.

Michael Carrick

"I've never seen a real top class player take up the positions that he did in the Manchester derby," he also added.

Pogba's best period of success came in a top class Juventus midfield where his talents shone. But you have to got to take into account who he had around him.

First off Juve often played with a virtually impenetrable back-three with wing-backs on either side to provide width.

But directly around him, he had one of the greatest deep-lying playmakers of all-time in the shape of Andrea Pirlo. But he also had the versatile and hard-running Arturo Vidal in that engine room. And sometimes, the midfield excellence of Claudio Marchisio played a part.

In short, Pogba was not the one responsible for running a game because Pirlo could do that. 

The midfield that Mourinho started in the 3-1 loss to Watford on Sunday lacked that quality because Marouane Fellaini and Wayne Rooney were closest to him.

Fellaini is no playmaker needless to say and appears better suited as a impact sub target man at set-pieces, while Rooney has yet to prove he is anywhere near a playmaker of renown. His individual highlights at Vicarage Road say as much.

Given that the ageing and fading Bastian Schweinsteiger is frozen out, the nearest Man United have to a deep-plying plamaker who can make use of a range of passing is Michael Carrick.

He is no spring chicken either but has experience and can take passes from the centre-backs and get the ball-rolling. Another option is Daley Blind as a holding player who can move the ball intelligently in the centre of the park and take some responsibility of dictating play off Pogba's shoulders.

And given that Pogba is more about moments than intense involvement, Ander Herrera is more likely to provide the former quality in comparison to the under-par Rooney.

But as ex-Ireland full-back Paddy Mulligan queried, Mourinho will have to deeply ponder the merits of starting Rooney regardless of form.


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