After a flurry of reports suggesting Manchester United were going to make one final move for Arturo Vidal, including this from ESPN's Miguel Delaney, it now appears as if Louis van Gaal is targeting Portuguese holding midfielder William Carvalho, with the Telegraph's Mark Ogden suggesting the 22-year-old is the subject of renewed United interest.
Van Gaal had made it a priority to bolster his midfield options during the final days of the transfer window. But with the Dutch coach and senior figures at United still unconvinced by the fitness of the Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal following pre-World Cup knee surgery, Carvalho has re-emerged as a target after being watched on a regular basis by the club's scouting team last season. ... With Sporting now prepared to lower their asking price after seeing Real Madrid drop their initial interest in Carvalho earlier this summer, United believe a deal can be done for the Angola-born defensive midfielder.
With many Manchester United supporters having set their hearts on Vidal this summer, it may well come as a somewhat less exciting signing if the club was to bring Carvalho to Old Trafford.
But make no mistake, the Portuguese international would be perfect for the club, and particularly for Louis van Gaal.
It has long been my belief that the Dutchman would switch to a 4-3-3 system, the system he prefers, once he had the personnel to use it effectively. The decision to use the 3-5-2 system with the Netherlands at the World Cup was to compensate for the loss of Kevin Strootman in midfield, as well as the lack of top ability in defence.
This has also been the case at Manchester United this summer. However, with Angel Di Maria arriving at the club earlier this week with the potential to play either on the left-hand side, in the centre of midfield or as a winger, Louis van Gaal has more room to manoeuvre.
He alluded to this on Tuesday evening when talking to Sky Sports: "I can change the system with Di Maria as he can also play the wing and play in midfield."
In a 4-3-3 system you usually need an accomplished holding midfield player, although this position is often one which gets ignored due to its less than aesthetically pleasing nature.
Gilberto Silva is one of the most undervalued players in Premier League history merely because of his role as a holding midfielder. In Arsenal's great 2003-04 "Invincibles" team, Gilberto—aptly nicknamed "the invisible wall"—was absolutely crucial. Sitting just in front of the defensive four, the Brazilian World Cup winner would protect them, as well as covering for his marauding midfield partner Patrick Vieira.
This is something which Tony Adams still believes Arsenal lack as recently as last year as he stated in an interview on Talksport's Hawksbee and Jacobs show.
Gilberto's positioning and ability to hold ensured that Arsenal lost no midfield shape and solidity when Vieira pushed forward, and thus the team rarely were caught on the break.
Looking back to Manchester United in the 2013-14 campaign, Michael Carrick was asked to play in that role. Whilst it is difficult to fault Carrick, whose workload was multiplied courtesy of the lack of help he received from players around him, the former Tottenham midfielder just wasn't of the required physical stature to play as a holding midfielder.
To his credit, David Moyes saw this, and often United used a "double-pivot" in a 4-2-3-1 system, with Carrick paired with either Tom Cleverley or Darren Fletcher. The lack of flair in those respective midfield pairings limited United's creativity, and thus we saw many unbalanced and laboured performances, particularly at Old Trafford where teams were set up to counter-attack.
With a player like Carvalho in a 4-3-3 system, you would not see such performances on a regular basis. Carvalho has the perfect physique for the holding midfield role. Standing at over 6’1”, the 22-year-old is a domineering figure, which manifests itself in Carvalho's play.
At Sporting Lisbon in the 2013-14 campaign, Carvalho sat in front of what was, at times, a defensive three, but more regularly a back four. In his first campaign as a first-team regular at Sporting, Carvalho often stood out as the team's best player, and it came as little surprise that Arsenal registered their interest early, as reported by the Daily Telegraph (h/t Tom Sheen of the Independent).
Manchester United, despite the panic some supporters are currently in due to the nature of the club's activity in the market, have enjoyed their best transfer window in years. Unfortunately, it just so happens it was the transfer window within which United have needed to do the most reconstructive work in years.
Di Maria and Ander Herrera would be a perfect midfield pairing, provided there is a holding player sat just behind them. In the forms of United's two most expensive signings the summer, Van Gaal has energy, flair and a fantastic work ethic all at his disposal.
Di Maria, after being switched to the left-hand side of a central midfield three at the Bernabeu last season in order to accommodate Gareth Bale, enjoyed what was arguably his best season in the Spanish capital, with Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wilson detailing just how Di Maria was vital to Madrid's European Cup triumph.
United potentially have the perfectly balanced midfield pairing. Di Maria adds pace and incisiveness whilst Herrera is the creative playmaker, in a somewhat similar dynamic to the role Xabi Alonso played at Real Madrid last term alongside the Argentine.
Of course, Real Madrid themselves didn't have a naturally holding midfielder in that team either, with Luka Modric completing the midfield trio. Modric's all-round excellence and energy ensured that the team were good enough going forward to blow teams away, and Vidal would contribute to Manchester United in a similar way if he was to join the club before Monday's deadline.
It would perhaps be unfair to place such responsibility on Carvalho's shoulders if he was to sign, hence why it might be more prudent to push ahead on a deal for Vidal given the situation United are currently in, with the pressure significantly higher than normal.
However, a player of Carvalho's qualities would be a huge boost for United. Not only would it provide freedom to more creative midfielders in front of him, but it would also add a significant layer of protection to what has thus far this season looked a shaky defensive line bereft of self-confidence.
At only 22, Carvalho has his whole career ahead of him, and given the time he will develop into a high-quality holding midfielder. Manchester United are set for a busy few days as the transfer market draws ever nearer to its biannual close. With United's midfield still lacking a real tackling midfielder, a move for Carvalho may be exactly what the club needs, even if isn't necessarily what the supporters want.
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