Manchester United: Brazilian Flair on Show as Anderson Tunes Up the Red Devils
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Two divergent performances in one week, then a stunning one to top it all. One which put him on a pedestal, the second resulting in an unjustifiable call for his head. The third, of course, suggests that the talent which United had seen three years ago is finally coming to the fore.
Anderson might still be inconsistent, yet the two performances which caused the fans to fall in love with the Brazilian were an example of what Anderson is capable of if he is played right, and that is the operative phrase: "If he is played right".
Given the freedom of the midfield after a rigorous fitness programme, the lean and mean Anderson was a delight as he pulled the strings for United in the final third of the pitch, causing never-ending problems for the Blackburn defense. It was like watching a younger version of Scholes, without the customary long-range strike at goal which used to happen at least once during his peak.
The Brazilian, who has often been accused, rather justifiably, of lacking the stamina to last the full 90 minutes, was an aggressive, consistently moving outlet for United's attacks during the entire game. A welcome change, and a massive one for Anderson.
The passes were precise, the movement purposeful, and the through-balls perfectly weighed. Arguably one of the best attacking midfield displays this season, not only for Manchester United, but in the Premier League as well.
Against Valencia, Anderson was again on top form, dictating play in the final third, and linking up superbly with Wayne Rooney, Ji-Sung Park and Nani as the three caused considerable problems to the La Liga side's defense. If not for some inept finishing and fantastic goal-keeping, United could've plundered a lot against Los Che.
How did all this come together against the Rovers? And then how did it all not click just three-four days later against a weaker team? The answer, unsurprisingly, was on the team-sheet each time.
Against Blackburn and, to a lesser extent, Valencia, the answer was an in-form Michael Carrick, sitting in front of the back four, stopping attacks, cutting out through balls and doing a superb job at holding midfield, while contributing to United's forward play at times. Yes, he did make a mistake which led to the Valencia goal, but he was faultless otherwise.
Against West Ham, Darren Fletcher was a question rather than an answer, clearly lacking his usual positional awareness and tackling tenacity to help the Brazilian cut through the West Ham back-line.
The result? An overworked Anderson, who could not contribute enough in attack for the Red Devils. A total possession loss in midfield which resulted in a full-back playing as an attacking midfielder (Jonathan Spector) playing better than the specialist in that position (Anderson).
Can Anderson be the answer to United's problems in Attacking Midfield ?
What is the conclusion from all this? Simple. Leave Anderson's role to be exclusively in the final third, as the attacking midfielder he is supposed to be. In the 4-4-2 formation, play a depressed diamond which allows a holding/defensive midfielder to be positioned in front of the back four, while Anderson marauds forward at the tip of the diamond, interlinking with the wingers and the strikers to cause damage.
Carrick, for all his detractors, still excels at that role when on-form, ahead of the fan favourite, Fletcher, who is on the move far too much to be a defensive shield. Ideally, as we saw three seasons ago, a fit Hargreaves is the best match for Anderson. However, in his absence and possible impending career end at Old Trafford, it is now of utmost importance that an experienced defensive midfielder be added to the ranks, if not in January, then certainly in the summer.
Paul Scholes may be the most creative midfielder United has, but Anderson and Tom Cleverley, along with Carrick (and perhaps Magnus Eikrem from the Reserves), can provide the necessary flair which the United midfield needs once the Ginger Maestro retires. But for all three to excel, and especially Anderson, a defensive midfielder is a necessity.
From the looks of it, Anderson, who seemed to be on the verge of a United exit, might end up being the one saving Carrick's career at Old Trafford. What a change of fortune for he who was supposed to be Scholes' replacement. Let's hope he carries on the good work, and let's pray that our first team coach does not end up getting any more bright ideas about the young Brazilian's role in the team.
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