A season in which Manchester United didn't make it beyond the group stages in the Champions League, beaten by Crystal Palace at Old Trafford, losing to Liverpool at Anfield in the FA cup, losing to Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League and now, losing the Premier League to Manchester City—questions will be raised.
Were it any other club, they'd be hiding behind excuses.
If Manchester City lost Vincent Kompany or Chelsea losing John Terry, they'd have a disastrous streak of games afterwards. It's quite evident when you see how both these sides had a similar run of games without their respective captains. Manchester United lost their captain to a season-ending injury and Darren Fletcher to a health problem.
How important is Darren Fletcher to Manchester United?
Central midfield is place which always needs a hard-working player who is never afraid to put in the tackle, charge down an opponent, break up opposing play and play the simple pass.
Michael Carrick, despite his under-noticed virtues, is not the kind of player who can do the above things easily. He relies more on reading the tempo of the game and likes to step in and make a timely intervention.
Tactically, during the 2007-08 season, when Manchester United played a midfield four of Ronaldo, Carrick, Giggs and Scholes, they were successful in repelling any kind of attack because of Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney occasionally tracking back to help the full-back.
With Tevez making his way to the Blue side of Manchester and Wayne Rooney playing the role of a No. 10, dictating play in the final third, there was always the onus placed on the midfield pairing who would dictate tempo and spread out play.
Giggs and Carrick were good in their on regard. The only thing they missed was someone who'd do the dirty work—which was where Darren Fletcher was missed.
What does Darren Fletcher do you ask?
His job is quite simple: to track the opposing creative midfielder, make interceptions on either side of the pitch, look to play it to his more talented teammates and break up counterattacks.
Fletcher is no Roy Keane, but he remembers what Keano had told him and he always cites his name in order to play more for the team and less for himself.
This was what Manchester United needed. Had Darren Fletcher been around, United would never have gone on to lose all those vital points in the Premier League race as they did against Everton, Wigan Athletic and Manchester City.
There's nothing very special about Fletcher. Just that he's very good at doing what he does, which is shield the back four. He missed two Champions League finals, and were he around, a lot of players say that both finals would have had a different outcome.
There are players who are gifted, there are those who are at the right place at the right time and then there is Darren Fletcher, a dying breed of box-to-box midfielders in the modern game. To add to that, he's a wonderful example to a lot of young players who don't get enough game time.
Birmingham City had wanted him for the 2006-07 season, but Sir Alex Ferguson had taken him aside and told him that he had a role to play.
He decided to stay with the side, and slowly became a regular, especially in the big matches. Heck, he even scored a brace in the exciting 4-3 Manchester derby at Old Trafford. Arsene Wenger even labelled him "anti-football." He's been shunted to right-back, right midfield, he's even played behind the striker for Manchester United and he has taken more than a hit for the team—so much so, even Sir Alex defended him when Arsene Wenger took a shot at him.
Even former Liverpool hard-man Graeme Souness had a word of praise for him.
He was infamously called "Fergie's son" because of being the sole Scottish player in the club for quite some time, but United's semi-disasters which came as a result of lost points in the league and exits from other competitions boils down to one single factor. No hard-man in midfield. No Darren Fletcher.
Fergie will have to take call on this regard.
He would either have to bring in a holding-midfielder from another club (Javi Martinez or Kevin Strootman), promote an academy lad (Ryan Tunnicliffe) or wait for Fletcher's recovery. If Fletcher is healthy enough, that position would be taken care of.
Fletcher's the kind of player who wouldn't think twice about squaring against Yaya Toure or Ryan Shawcross. He would have no problem tacking Steven Gerrard in front of the Kop and clearing the ball out of danger.
This is what he does best, and how much he's been missed this season. United's margins would have been more comfortable and they would have coasted to safety in many of the competitions.
Get well soon Fletch!
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