A lack of quality in central midfield—for a number of seasons—combined with the team’s deficiencies in the current campaign means that Moyes has to act sooner rather than later.
There is no quick fix to this long-running saga, though.
However Moyes chooses to approach the situation, be it in January or next summer, he has to make some big decisions. While a marquee signing would be the obvious way to go, his ability to get the most out of the current crop of midfielders will prove equally telling.
Moyes Must Land a World-Class Central Midfielder
Spending big is not always the answer, but in this case it is.
Simply put, Moyes has to land a world-class central midfielder either in January or next summer. That player must be relatively young, technically adept and effective from box to box. There are a number of players who fit the bill, but one stands out.
Borussia Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan could go a long way to solving United’s current issues in the midfield area. Here’s why:
Gundogan passes well, tackles well and oozes class with the ball at his feet. He will be a target for some of the world’s biggest clubs—especially if Dortmund continue to struggle—and Moyes must lead the chase for his signature.
The Daily Mail’s Simon Jones is reporting that Moyes could make a move for Gundogan in January, with the likes of Marseille’s Florian Thauvin, Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s duo of Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song being viewed as viable alternatives.
Whomever Moyes moves for has to be world-class. United need an immediate injection of talent in the midfield area, and because of that, Gundogan would be the best option.
Moyes Must Get the Best Out of Tom Cleverley, Marouane Fellaini and Co.
While Moyes’ priority should be to sign at least one midfielder, it’s equally important that he utilises his current crop of midfielders more effectively.
His use of Cleverley in recent weeks has shown that he’s capable of doing just that.
Better when deployed in a three-man midfield, Cleverley has benefitted from Phil Jones’ defensive mindset and Wayne Rooney’s passing ability. His displays have hinted that he could have a long-term future at United. It’s therefore crucial that Moyes continues to empower Cleverley by rewarding him for his recent performances.
Against West Ham United, Cleverley failed to complete just one pass over the course of the game (per Squawka).
Tom Cleverley didn't misplace a pass in the second half, finishing the game with a 98% pass completion rate (54/55). pic.twitter.com/4zXJAVIrNf— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 21, 2013
What’s important to note with that image, however, is the variation and direction in his passes. For someone who has been regularly criticised for his tendency to play safe, Cleverley’s been more adventurous in recent weeks. Against West Ham, he took the initiative.
Moyes has to ensure that Cleverley builds upon his run of form.
Similarly, with Jones, Fellaini and even Ryan Giggs, Moyes has to squeeze the best out of his current midfielders. His use of Giggs in the Champions League this season suggests that he is well aware of that.
Moyes Must Make a Midfielder of Wayne Rooney
With Michael Carrick out injured, Moyes was able to drop Rooney into a deeper role, which worked wonders for United.
Moyes must look to make that a long-term solution. That’s certainly the view held among the footballing community.
The solution to our midfield problem is simple. Put Rooney there.— Conrad (@Cyiridoe11) December 21, 2013
When Rooney plays deeper, he dictates United’s play. In the victories over Aston Villa, West Ham and Hull, where Rooney played a midfield role for the most part, United looked a completely different team.
Dropping Rooney into midfield has had a transformational affect on our performance.— Paul Santacast (@UtdRantcast) December 21, 2013
Rooney could be the man to finally end United’s woes in midfield. Rooney, with a combination of Carrick, Cleverley and Jones, seems to be the best short-term fix. It remains to be seen whether Moyes views that as a long-term solution.
Moyes Must Make Bold Decisions
Moyes will have some big decisions to make in order to solve United’s midfield problems.
Does he concede that Fellaini is never likely to be part of his starting XI? Does he make Jones a full-time midfielder?
Moyes has hinted that instead of delving into the transfer market, he is prepared to recall some of United’s loanees. That would indeed be a bold move.
Speaking on his plans for the January transfer window, per The Telegraph, Moyes said:
We will try in January. I am quite actively looking at our own boys. The likes of Jesse Lingard, Nick Powell and Ryan Tunnicliffe. They are the future. They are part of the club. They have been in the system. We hope they might be able to come back and help if we need it in January.
At a time when United are still in contention to win four trophies, it doesn’t make sense to try and integrate three young players in the squad. Of that trio, Powell is perhaps the only one who could come in and emulate Adnan Januzaj’s impact. But even then, it makes more sense to wait until next season.
Rather, Moyes should look to sign players in January and think about his long-term prospects come the summer. That is how Moyes can solve United’s midfield troubles.
What’s the Best-Case Scenario for Moyes and United?
If Moyes was able to sign Gundogan—or another world-class central midfielder in January—then United’s season could be reinvigorated.
Whether Moyes is able to complete a signing of that magnitude in January is a different matter.
Regardless, he has to attempt to bring in at least one midfielder. With Carrick returning from injury and Cleverley improving, a classy midfielder could really strengthen United’s charge for silverware in the second half of the season.
It would be the best-case scenario for Moyes, who would also be able to call upon Jones, Fellaini and Giggs when needed.
The big question is whether Moyes decides to act in January or next summer. There is a temptation for Moyes—with United enjoying an upturn in fortunes—to wait until the season’s end before making his move.
Either way, it’s left to Moyes to come up with the goods.
How would you like Moyes to solve United’s midfield problems? Let us know in the comments.