With rumours abounding that Manchester United are preparing a £20m bid for Portuguese playmaker Joao Moutinho, according to Metro, let us take stock and assess where the midfield maestro could fit into a starting eleven.
Moutinho, capped 48 times by Portugal, is a prototypical creative midfielder. This is a position that, on first glance, may not strike home as a position of need for the Red Devils. But scratch beyond the surface and the warning signs soon become apparent.
An aging duo of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, recently reborn as a central force, head the current crop of midfielders who compete for roles in the middle of the park. How Sir Alex Ferguson assimilates them into the side is largely dependant on his decision whether to play with two forwards, creating for a halcyon 4-4-2 formation. United however, have the capacity to play both the 4-4-2, as well as the more en vogue 4-3-3.
So, the question arises: Where would Moutinho fit into a midfield triumvirate, or would he be more suited in a traditional 4 across the middle?
The majority of United’s assists last season came from wide positions, with Antonio Valencia notching 13 and Moutinho’s compatriot Nani contributing 10. This possibly hints towards a need for a central spark.
Paul Scholes—for so long the creative hub for United—may be in his final year of an illustrious career. An heir is required. Moutinho fits this mould nicely, combining the crisp incisive passing range of Scholes with similar tenacity and industry of the fiery-haired Mancunian.
Scholes and Moutinho together would undoubtedly provide the necessary creative synergy from central areas, and it would be the premier duo of central midfield options available to United. However, despite both players’ energy and industrious natures, an authoritative presence would be required to release the pair to press forward and orchestrate attacks.
Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher are the prime candidates for this duty. Fletcher has been an admirable workhorse for the 12-time Premier League winners, but his injury problems have limited his role over the last few years. He cannot be expected to be the consistent enforcer demanded here.
Carrick, on the other hand, seems to have banished his injury woes of yore and possesses the frame and poise of a midfield general. He has the class and natural inclination to push forward, but in a more limited role, Carrick could become a pivotal figure for any lineup containing both Scholes and Moutinho.
Whilst not a tough tackler like a Gennaro Gattuso, or a midfield hard-man like United legend Roy Keane, Carrick has the ability to become one of the most quietly efficient defensive midfielders in the league.
Last season, he won 66 percent of his ground-ball 50-50s and 67 percent of his aerial duals. This is higher than most other Premier League defensive midfielders. Alongside a 90 percent pass completion rate, as well as extremely efficient minutes-per-tackle (29) and interception (32) ratios, Carrick can perform a role a la Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets, allowing Manchester United’s Xavi and Iniesta alternatives to express themselves to a similar extent.
Further forward from this midfield trio, United would look to keep Valencia and Nani in wide positions, rotating the likes of Ashley Young, along with electric new signing Shinji Kagawa into the front line. Wayne Rooney or Danny Welbeck would be the focal point of attack dependant on the game situation.
Starting midfield/attack in 4-3-3 formation:
United could also utilise Moutinho in a 4-4-2 formation. If Feguson opted for two forwards, likely to be Rooney and Welbeck, the trio of Scholes, Carrick and Moutinho could form part of a midfield diamond alongside Young as the most advanced tip. Young would provide the necessary injection of pace and incision into the side, whilst playing just behind the front two.
Starting midfield/attack in 4-4-2 (diamond) formation:
Either way, signing Joao Moutinho would be a masterstroke by the venerable Sir Alex. It would provide an heir apparent to Scholes and would also allow the Portuguese a year or so to truly integrate into the cut and thrust of the Premier League alongside the former England international before the cultured midfielder surely and finally departs. Moutinho would then become the fulcrum of United’s attacking play.
Expect Tom Cleverley to provide cover for the aging legs of Scholes throughout the season—another player with the requisite talent to slot seamlessly into whichever formation United elect to favour and the potential to become a regular starter as the season progresses.
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