In 2008, Manchester United had one of their greatest ever years, winning the Premier League and the Champions League. The star quality of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez is often given a substantial amount of credit for the historic season. Alternatively, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are often lauded for their impenetrable partnership, and rightly so. However, United’s Premier League and Champions League double would arguably not be possible without an unsung hero, Michael Carrick. The importance of a top-class defensive midfielder cannot be understated. Four years on from his departure, United are yet to replace Carrick with an elite level holding midfielder.
In a fanbase that is often split on various issues, the notion of signing a defensive midfielder has brought a rare unity. The partnership of Scott McTominay and Fred in Manchester United’s midfield last season was unpopular with many. However, the so called ‘McFred’ partnership could be superb at times. This was shown in the 2-0 win at the Ethiad, and the 6-2 wins against Leeds and Roma. While ‘McFred’ have been impeccable at times, in order to win a title, United must sign a player who in simple terms, can do the job of the Scotsman and the Brazilian.
At times last season, Manchester United were simply outclassed in midfield. A prime example of this was the 3-1 loss against Leicester in the 6th round of the FA Cup. This game saw Nemanja Matic and Fred being outplayed by Leicester’s partnership of Wilfried Ndidi and Youri Tielemans. The shortcomings of United’s midfielders in the defeat, was the starkest evidence of the need to invest in a top class defensive midfielder.
The signing a defensive midfielder would also allow the creative genius of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba to flourish. In the second half of last season, Paul Pogba was deployed in a faux left wing role. This was to accommodate for the defensive protection of McTominay and Fred. While Pogba has had some superb performances on the left, ultimately, he thrives in central areas.
Furthermore, the vast majority of Premier League winners in the modern era have one common denominator: a top class holding midfielder. Manchester City have won three Premier League titles in the last four years, with Fernandinho as the centre piece in all of them. Both Leicester City in 2015-16 and Chelsea in 2016-17, won the title largely due to the brilliance of Ngolo Kante. The first Liverpool side to win the league for thirty years, had the world class Fabinho in their ranks. The evidence shows that in order for United to win that long awaited twenty first league title, a defensive midfielder is essential.
While Declan Rice would be an exquisite signing, the likelihood of United forking out another £80m seems unlikely. Moreover, the initial links to Ruben Neves are now virtually non-existent. Eduardo Camavinga has been strongly linked with United, but he’s not a holding midfielder. There is a strong possibility that Manchester United will acquire Raphael Varane, Kieran Trippier and Jadon Sancho. But without a defensive midfielder, United will still be one step away from a certain return to the glory days.