Can Manchester United's midfield provide better support to Solskjaer's defence?
Background image: Daniel CC BY-SA 2.0
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must have been wondering what all the fuss was about after being appointed Manchester United's interim manager. While the Norwegian, as an avid Red Devil himself, had no doubt witnessed the team's troubles in the season's first half, on arrival he seemed to have turned them into well-oiled machines. It was only after that miraculous comeback in Paris that his luck ran out.
Once the facade had disappeared, Solskjaer found a brittle side with a shaky mentality. Last campaign Man United shipped in 54 goals, the most any United team have conceded in the Premier League era. After they went behind, their resolve would break and soon thereafter a second, third would likely follow.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, nobody can say Man United have been the same. In particular, the tough, rigid midfield they once had seemed to vanish along with the Scot.
Much has been said of the defense's part in United's recent failure. Rightly so. It was far from perfect. The defenders, however, are not the only ones to blame. While the midfield has come under criticism for lacking creativity, its defensive contribution hasn't been analysed too much.
This season it was clear Nemanja Matic wasn't the player who arrived at Old Trafford from Chelsea. Sluggish performance and a constant lack of energy meant the Red Devils' midfield was easily overrun. Perhaps their top defensive midfielder all campaign long, not counting Ander Herrera who confirmed he will be leaving, was 22-year-old Scott McTominay. For a side of United's stature, this is telling.
This summer will likely see Man United try to sign a centre-back and an attacker. They should, though, prioritise bringing in a well-established defensive midfielder. With Matic aging, Herrera leaving and Pogba ever so fickle in his commitment, Solskjaer's outfit may soon be left short in the middle of the park.
Even though United have failed to secure Champions League football for next season, their financial might means that they won't be short of transfer options. One of which should be Lyon's Tanguy Ndombele.
The Frenchman is probably the most promising box-to-box midfielder in the market. Not only a physical specimen, Ndombele has a dribbling ability similar to Pogba's. His capacity in the air as well as with the ball at feet means the 23-year-old would adjust quickly to the fast-pace Premier League.
Ndombele has been linked to some of Europe's biggest giants. He certainly wouldn't come cheap for United. A less expensive option could be Abdoulaye Doucoure. The 26-year-old is an absolute powerhouse and has proven the commander in chief of Watford's midfield. His playing style is similar to that of N'Golo Kante, constantly breaking up moves and making interceptions.
Whoever Man United go for, it is clear they need a change in central midfield. Their current crop isn't up to the task. You cannot expect a Ferrari's performance if it's running on a Toyota's engine.