Manchester United: Who Should Play in United's First Choice Midfield?

Max TowleAnalyst IAugust 14, 2012

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 21: Toriq Lopser of Ajax Cape Town and Shinji Kagawa of Manchester United during the MTN Football Invitational match between Ajax Cape Town and Manchester United from Cape Town Stadium on July 21, 2012 in Cape Town, South Africa.  (Photo by Peter Heeger/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Gallo Images/Getty Images

Watching Manchester United's preseason games, I've been interested to see what combinations Sir Alex Ferguson has tried out in his team's midfield.

One could argue that it was in this area of the pitch that vital battles against Manchester City, Liverpool and Basel were lost.

Granted, a level of composure was reintroduced with the return of club legend Paul Scholes, but the 37-year-old is no longer capable of matching the brutal nine month schedule stride-for-stride.

But in a one-off game, it is still debatable whether or not he should be picked.

With Scholes sitting back in the midfield, the speed of the game is slowed, even if United control the flow of possession.

The games in which the Red Devils played their best football last season was in early-season encounters with Arsenal (8-2) and Bolton (5-0), in which the speed of the passing and movement, on and off the ball, was exemplary.

In those games Anderson and Tom Cleverley ran the central midfield and did not disappoint.

However, an injury Cleverley picked up at the hands of Kevin Davies quickly put paid to that promising partnership.

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United fans will never know how their team would have progressed over the season if the two had stayed healthy, but with both now fit and raring to go, is it worth putting them together for the first few games of this season to see if they can continue their terrific partnership?

This of course would rule out Michael Carrick, who perhaps does not deserve to sit on the bench after his excellent form at the tail end of last season.

However, the Englishman usually starts of a new season at a snail's pace, and would miss out in my team to face Everton on August 20.

This is not to say that Carrick will not be vital down the stretch, just that Anderson and Cleverley need to be given the opportunity sooner rather than later.

Phil Jones may also prove a viable option in defensive midfield later in the season, but United coaches will need to focus all of his development in that position, before he runs the risk of becoming a jack-of-all-trades who doesn't excel at one.

Shinji Kagawa is a guaranteed starter in the trequartista role behind the striker—a role in which he has performed admirably in preseason.

His inclusion makes it necessary to play a five-man midfield, unless Sir Alex deploys a diamond-shaped formation with Kagawa at the top, and either Anderson or Carrick at the base.

Because, if the recent friendly at Hannover revealed anything, it's that playing just Kagawa and Cleverley in the middle does not provide nearly enough protection for the defence.

Taking Ryan Giggs out of the equation for one moment, United will have three top wingers to pick from to play on either flank.

Nani is an automatic choice when he's in form, but as fans know, this isn't always the case.

Despite him being naturally right-footed, Ashley Young is the only one of the three whose genuine position is on the left side, and so gets the nod because of it.

Antonio Valencia's best attributes are wasted at right-back, and so he starts ahead of Nani on the right.

This is not to say that the Portuguese enigma wont play an important part in United's season, just that he may have to be patient for his opportunities, and make the most of them when they come.

Youngsters Ryan Tunnicliffe and Jesse Lingaard may get chances if they stay at the club, but I tend to believe that both will be sent out on loan in search of regular football this season.

Nick Powell is more likely to stay at the club, and be groomed into a more of a natural central midfielder, similar to how Cleverley's development has progressed.

But whatever Sir Alex decides best for his team, United fans are sure to keep the faith.

What do you think? Who should get the nod in United's first choice midfield?


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