Manchester United supporters have voiced concern over the quality in midfield for a few seasons now, many believing a creative talent is needed. However, what is really missing is the grit of a hard-hitting midfield enforcer.
Athletic Bilbao exploited this weakness in the Manchester United midfield last night as they dominated the game at Old Trafford, winning 3-2 in the Round of 16 first leg, a scoreline which arguably flattered United.
Granted, United did not have Paul Scholes or Tom Cleverley involved, while Michael Carrick and Anderson were only substitutes. However, even in games where those four have played, United have been overrun in midfield and lacked an enforcer in the midfield to shield the defense.
United have conceded a shocking amount of opportunities this season because the midfield is not offering enough protection. The squad is lacking a genuine ball-winning defensive midfielder.
For many years, Roy Keane filled the role. He was the general in midfield, dominating the opposition with a commanding performance of tireless running, unrivaled determination and bone-crunching tackles. That role was never filled with his departure.
Make no mistake, Keane is irreplaceable. No player that United pursue would ever replace him and all that he offered to the squad, but there are certainly options that could perform the same role at a similar level.
This is a role the club need to fill, and it is particularly important in European competition. No player in the current squad intimidates the opposition the way Keane did.
Opponents knew Keane would do everything in his power to win the ball back and he would make his presence known with his aggressive tackling. Most were beaten before the game even started, knowing Keane would win the battle.
These five players would be excellent options to offer a defensive presence in the United midfield and add some grit that the squad as long lacked.