You get the feeling that much of the heat on Manchester United has been created by Jose Mourinho’s inability to find the right chemistry in his engine room, yet a midweek experimental XI holds the key to solving the problem.
In its shortest possible form, the answer is Michael Carrick. The former Tottenham midfielder may be growing slightly long in the tooth at 35, but he still has the wherewithal and in particular the positional expertise to operate as a bona fide defensive midfielder.
The current Premier League axis of Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba in the centre of the park is clearly not working, with the recent loss against Watford demonstrating its flaws perfectly.
Natural marauder Pogba needs more freedom to influence the game, but to do so must feel the security offered by a pure defensive-screening type behind him who won’t leave his post in the event of an attack breaking down.
Fellaini is unfairly criticised for his contribution – as his overall top rating for United players in who.scored.com’s myriad of statistics early in 2016/17 attests – and in fairness to the Belgian he is the victim of successive United manager’s failing to define a clear role for him.
In recent seasons he has been viewed as a more effective attacking force, a switcheroo that David Moyes personally orchestrated before bringing the one-time Everton defensive-mid to Old Trafford at the 11th hour three summers ago.
Mourinho is now unnecessarily asking the former Liege man to recalibrate again, when he has far better natural defensive midfielders to choose from at United, namely Carrick.
A midweek win over a League Two side in the EFL Cup has to be seen in context, yet Carrick’s calming influence, brought about by a wealth of experience, was one of the more pleasing sights (alongside a rare goal) as the Red Devils defeated Northampton 3-1.
Sir Alex Ferguson was always a huge admirer of the man so unfairly overlooked by England given his range of passing playing as the midfield pivot, and with the chips down there can’t be many more reliable United servants for Mourinho to call upon as Leicester arrive at Old Trafford.
If things aren’t panning out splendidly heading into the latter stages, then Fellaini is a great feather-ruffling option to stick up top from off the bench.
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