Bolstering a midfield lacking in reliable depth will be a priority for Sir Alex Ferguson
Manchester United may have cruised to a 12 point lead in the table and won the title tonight, but there is work to do if the “noisy neighbours” are to be kept quiet. Roberto Mancini made it clear that City’s lackluster activity in the transfer market last year is partly to blame for his side’s struggles and come the end of the season the two superpowers of the Premiership will be engaging in an arms race.
At the top of Ferguson’s to-do list will be the midfield. The resurgence of Michael Carrick, who has missed only one league game this season, has provided United with some stability but around him the picture is less clear.
Prior to this season Carrick’s undoubted technical talent was belied by a tendency to force passes. This season United would have struggled without him. Carrick, though, is arguably the only name guaranteed to be a fixture of United’s central midfield. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes will be used sparingly and it remains to be seen if Scholes will call it a career for the second time. Shinji Kagawa remains unproven though Ferguson has insisted he will be better in his second season. Tom Cleverley’s energy marks him down as a candidate but would not yet be considered to face the likes Real Madrid and Anderson may well have sauntered through his last game at Old Trafford.
Antonio Valencia has failed to replicate the efficient physicality he showed last season. His crossing has been erratic, producing only 4 assists and earning him less playing time than last season while Nani remains as maddeningly inconsistent as ever and may follow Anderson out of the door for first-team football. Ashley Young, finding himself being discussed more for his skills in simulation than his football, has been plagued by injuries and will largely want to forget such an stop-start season.
When it comes to recruitment, Ferguson’s priority will be to find a player to compliment Carrick’s passing abilities. Wayne Rooney’s excellent performaces from midfield against Stoke and Newcastle may mark him down as a candidate if United are looking promote from within but reinforcements may be needed. Yaya Toure will not be available but Ferguson may feel a similar player with Keane-like box-to-box qualities might needed to provide some defensive muscle. Javier Mascherano may be a possibility but his poor disciplinary reputation may be a sticking point.
Luka Modric, who Ferguson pursued last summer before the Croation opted for Madrid, could potentially be prised from Real, though in the event of Jose Mourinho’s departure the 27 year-old may opt to stay and push for a regular first team spot. Frank Lampard is also a viable option and Ferguson has a record of bringing in old hands like Henrik Larsson and Michael Owen. World class these players most certainly are, but they are also very different types of player and the first task for Ferguson will be identifying what style of midfielder will compliment his holy trinity of Carrick, Rooney and Robin Van Persie.
The midfield is the priority, but there are other issues to address. There is no guarantee that Rio Ferdinand will be in Manchester next season and Rafael’s occasional lapses may see someone brought in for a little solidarity. But it will be new midfielders that Ferguson puts at the top of an extremely expensive shopping list.