Do Manchester United need to replace Bastian Schweinsteiger?

Jose Mourinho seems to have wielded the axe for the first time as Manchester United manager, with Bastian Schweinsteiger facing the chop. History will judge the World Cup winner’s time at Old Trafford as a symptom of a confused and chaotic time for Manchester United, as Ed Woodward made his way through the transfer window like a naïve tourist in a foreign marketplace.

Schweinsteiger was one of the finest all-action midfielders of his generation, and deserves to be recognised as such. His move to Manchester United never felt like a progressive move for a club of United’s stature though; with the scouting and resources at their disposal, their focus should have been on identifying the next Schweinsteiger, not engaging in a fantasy that they could revitalise the ageing warhorse himself.

 

Crippled by injuries and struggling to regain match sharpness when he did return to first team-action, Schweinsteiger made just two Premier League appearances post-January last term. At 32-years-old, it might appear that Schweinsteiger has a few years left in him, but it is worth considering that he has played top-level football from a young age. He made his Bayern Munich debut at 18 and earned his first senior cap for Germany at 18.

It is also worth considering, as we are in the midst of transfer fever, that the arrivals of Morgan Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger were lauded as a ‘signal of intent’ worthy of applause. Neither has proved very effective, evidence that it can be a dangerous business to dish out plaudits before a ball has been kicked.

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Mourinho has been insistent that he wants four signings before he can relax, one defender, one central midfielder, one creative player and one striker. Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and, it seems, Paul Pogba are set to fulfil that quota. Whether Mourinho’s desire for one more central midfielder accounted for the loss of Schweinsteiger is unclear.

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Could United get by without adding another midfielder? Much depends on where Mkhitaryan is to be deployed. A glance at their first-team squad reveals a problem – if indeed it is a problem and not a luxury – of a number of players who will want to play in a No 10 role.

Wayne Rooney has already been assured of playing as a striker or as a 10, Ibrahimovic operates in broadly the same zone, Mkhitaryan operated on the right quite often for Dortmund but can play through the middle while Pogba’s best form for Juventus was in an advanced role. It is a nice problem to have but those are established, heavyweight players (not to mention heavyweight egos) who could be struggling for mastery of the team.

There is a chance that Pogba is being brought into play in a deeper role alongside Michael Carrick. Jose Mourinho liked having Cesc Fabregas; who like Pogba is primarily an offensive player, in this role at Chelsea alongside Nemanja Matic. The idea being that Fabregas could help The Blues build possession from the back and pick out one of their triumvirate of attacking midfielders in good positions ‘between the lines’. Pogba is not this style of player; he wants to give license to run both with and without the ball.

It could be that Michael Carrick, a defensive midfielder who can intercept well but also bass incisively, can combine the Matic-Fabregas role and free up Pogba to venture forward.

 

Schweinsteiger was increasingly deployed as a deep-lying midfielder to compensate for his failing legs, and should he stay, it will surely be as an understudy to Carrick. Should he leave however, United might want to look at a back-up for Carrick or even a successor. Ander Herrera is better in a box-to-box role and is a composed finisher; it would be an utter waste to play him in a defensive role.

Many categorise Schneiderlin as a defensive midfielder and although he is a strong ball-winner, it is worth recalling that his best football at Southampton came alongside a more defensive partner, Victor Wanyama.

Relying on a 34-year-old Carrick to fill this role for an entire season seems fanciful, but the alternative will be shackling Pogba or Mkhitaryan in deeper roles. Mourinho’s teams are always built on a strong foundation in the defensive midfield zone; Costinha, Claude Makelele, Michael Essien, Esteban Cambiasso, Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Nemanja Matic.

Ironically, given the chatter about the compatibility of Mourinho’s style with the ‘Man United way’, his midfield looks distinctly top heavy at present.

Featured image: All rights reserved by Euro 2012

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