Manchester Uniteds carling cup final win over Wigan saw Sir Alex Ferguson celebrating almost as if he had won the European Cup. That’s the story of United’s season. A trophy in the bag, pride in tact but the team is not. Alan Smiths horrific injury leaves Fergie’s midfield looking more lightweight than it already had. Smith was slowly becoming the muscle in the middle after captain and chief motivator Roy Keane departed for Celtic.
Now Fergie is left with inexperience and a distinct lack of a midfield enforcer. This was demonstrated at its highest at Anfield in United’s defeat in the FA Cup. Mohamed Sissoko and Dietmar Hamann completely overpowered United’s midfield without so much of a whimper. Welshman, Ryan Giggs, was moved inside with the inconsistent Darren Fletcher. Ryan Giggs has been one of the greatest and most consistent wingers of his generation but he is no centre midfielder. The same can be said of Rio Ferdinand another player recently thrust into midfield, although he has a stronger case of being in the middle after playing there at West Ham United alongside Frank Lampard, he was in no way embarrassed but after moving to Leeds United he put in some outstanding performances at the back and established himself as a world class defender with phenomenal performances at the World Cup of 2002. Fergies case for taking Ferdinand out of the back four is therefore a fair one, he is over 6foot tall and can more than hold his own in a physical battle but the point is, taking one of the worlds best defenders out of defence will inevitably damage the back line, Ferdinand has become chief organiser in that area of the pitch. This was clearly evident at Anfield, Wes Brown and new signing Nemanja Vidic simply didn’t communicate. Liverpool had several free headers from set plays, something Ferdinand is particularly impressive at defending and organising. The absence of Roy Keane seems to have been brushed under the carpet in order to minimise the impact. But the effect can surely have only been monumental. Keane was after all the managers voice on the battlefield, dictating, arguing and putting in those trademark Keane tackles in the centre of what used to be a frightening midfield quartet of Beckham, Keane, Scholes and Giggs. It is now very difficult to name any world class midfielders in Uniteds starting line up with the ageing Scholes and Giggs.
Keane was infamous for his outbursts, normally slating the efforts of his fellow team-mates, not a very favoured approach amongst many pundits but it has to be said, United’s results after a Keane rallying cry have been more than decent.
The Carling cup win will pull the blanket over Uniteds midfield, or lack of it, for a while. If United want to be great again they need a midfield, the defence is there and so is the attack. Big name summer signings will be needed if United are to topple Chelsea and be a force again in the Champions League.