How do you solve a problem like Manchester United’s central midfield? It’s a question that has troubled Sir Alex Ferguson all season, yet the Reds' boss is still to find an answer.
Ferguson has tried and tested several theories, most notably by fielding Shinji Kagawa ahead of two holding players before flirting with the diamond formation but neither have proved conclusion.
Of course, the Old Trafford legend should be commended for his willingness to experiment after 26 years in charge, an attribute and personality trait that helps define his tenure at the club.
Famously, the default setting in M16, as has been throughout history, is the 4-4-2 formation. This system has worked wonders, but in truth, has looked dated in football for several years.
As a result, Sir Alex has experimented in recent seasons, most commonly opting for the 4-4-1-1 and 4-5-1 styles but most recently has followed other top clubs by using the 4-2-3-1 shape.
The latter enjoyed some success earlier this campaign with Kagawa playing ahead of playmakers Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs or Michael Carrick, until the Japanese star’s form was destroyed by injury.
Frustratingly, the former Borussia Dortmund star, signed in the summer, was at first a sensation, injecting a sense of urgency and attacking intuition that the Reds’ have lacked for years.
In his absence, Ferguson turned to Tom Cleverley, a similarly diminutive player who has showed bags of promise since bursting onto the first-team scene at the beginning of last season.
Although criticised by some for an apparent lack of a goal threat, perhaps this observation is unfair given that he has netted twice this term, Cleverley is a great talent and will improve.
But at just 23 years old, the England star has struggled to take advantage of his early progress and is yet to cement himself a starting place at Old Trafford. In this case, patience is needed.
Of course, and quite brilliantly, Darren Fletcher’s recent return from illness has boosted United’s midfield options, offering a different quality of player built on tenacity and will.
However, the Reds' veteran needs plenty of time to rebuild his career following a prolonged break from football. Quite simply, and rightly, expectations should be minimal. His health comes first.
As a result, many fans have looked to Anderson for answers. The Brazilian has endured an inconsistent career thus far, but had impressed on several occasions this season.
With an eye for a pass, an enthusiasm for running with the ball and two capable feet, many felt the former Porto star was the answer to United’s prolonged central midfield problem.
Such a theory looked credible after Anderson recently provided three assists at Chelsea, inspired a late win against QPR and impressed from the start against West Ham at Old Trafford.
But just when the future looked bright for the samba star, disaster struck in the form of hamstring injury against Reading on Saturday, meaning Ferguson is back to square one and the drawing board.
With the January transfer window approaching, many fans and pundits have suggested delving into the market, with possible targets Victor Wanyama and Kevin Strootman both heavily linked.
This might be the solution, for a quick fix at least, but this writer would like patience to prevail. As well as the seven aforementioned players, there is also time for Nick Powell to feature and progress.
In total, that’s eight central midfield players all vying for contention, two of which are injured. Obviously, questions should be asked, but perhaps the answer is closer to home than you think?
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