By: Drew Pilewski
Manchester United is currently sitting in third place after a devastating loss to Arsenal 3-0 at the Emirates. Arsenal jumped out to an early lead this past week and scored all three of their goals in the first 20 minutes of the game. This put Manchester in an unsurmountable hole that they could never find the inspiration to climb out of.
What went wrong in London this week? Was it the best complete performance of Theo Walcott’s career? Was it the fault of Darmian, who was ripped apart by Alexis Sanchez on the wing? No, the deeper lying issue for Manchester United was the holding midfielders. This week, Louis Van Gaal selected Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger to lock down the midfield for Manchester United. This left Morgan Schneiderlin and Marouane Fellaini, two other established holding midfielders, on the bench.
The Gunners were strong this past weekend because of their pace on the break and their ability to keep meaningful possession in the final third. The primary jobs of a holding midfielder in today’s game are to prevent a team from playing quickly after losing possession and breaking up long periods of possession by the opposition. Needless to say, Carrick and Schweinsteiger did not accomplish their two main objectives this week. Louis Van Gaal realized this, and at halftime he introduced Fellaini. Many thought he was going to put the Belgian at striker, but he took Carrick off and slid Fellaini in at the defensive midfield role.
Subbing Fellaini on at half admits that the manager has no clue who is the proper fit at that center holding mid position. If he knew Fellaini was better, he would have started him. If he knew Carrick was better, he would have kept him on the whole game.
So it is clear that Van Gaal is struggling with selecting his team. Never fear Van Gaal, I have the solution for you. The best way to set up your holding midfield is having Morgan Schneiderlin and Fellaini start, with Schweinsteiger coming off the bench. Morgan Schneiderlin is the key to all of this. He was a star, and a player of the year at center mid for Southampton last season. He was transferred to Manchester United for 35 million euros this summer. Schneiderlin has played well this season and was looking to be the best transfer this summer in the EPL, but Van Gaal did not play him in this crucial fixture for Man U. He is a younger, better solution to this team’s ailments than the ageing Schweinsteiger and Carrick. If Van Gaal continues to not play him, then Manchester United will continue to be beat on the break, and lose possession for long periods. Especially against Arsenal, a team that is completely impotent if a physical and young center defensive mid plays physically (see West Ham’s Reece Oxford in the first week of the season), using Schneiderlin could have completely changed the game. Hopefully for Manchester United fans, Van Gaal was just giving Schneiderlin a break after a midweek game against Wolfsburg. If Van Gaal wants to buck this trend, he needs to play Schneiderlin.