Europe – The Next Frontier

At United, there have always been squad upheavals – none more so than after the breakthrough double winning team of 2008-09 was split up into a rather mediocre one. Ronaldo and Tevez leaving, Hargreaves out with injuries and the Golden Quadrilateral of van der Sar, Neville, Scholes, Giggs nearing their expiry dates.

All these have facilitated a shift to a more European, counter-attacking team reminiscent of the United of Old – The 1999 Treble Winning Team to be precise.

Picture Rooney and Welbeck leading the line (read Yorke and Cole) with the quicksilver Valencia, Nani (read Beckham, Giggs) providing the wing wizardry and Hernandez bringing in the rear with the role of silent Assassin (read Solskjaer) – the United attacking contingent looks scary heading into the 2012-13 season. And we haven’t even mentioned Young, Kagawa, Powell and Cleverley.

These are genuinely talented attacking players we are talking about, fit to match the Aguero’s, Silva’s, Mata’s, Torres’ and what not’s of the English game.

And therein lays the catch.

There is a stark lack of quality in the middle of the park when you compare the central midfield with the side of 1999. Keane and Scholes were the perfect pass and move combo. Deadly in attack, calm in possession and unbeatable in the mind. Brows knit, fists clenched with menacing grins and a “I’ll see you out there” attitude, the United of Old possessed an unknown X factor missing in today’s squad: Intimidation

Carrick is a master of reading the game and passing the ball but he is no fiery eyed Irishman from Cork. His is not the game where you see sliding tackles packed with so much venom that a King Cobra would turn green with envy. Scholes is an old warhorse, the past-master of ball retention but he is quiet lad. He won’t come up to you, give a shove to your shoulder and say “I’ve got my eye on you” to send a chill down the spine of some lazy Brazilian 24 year old with dreadlocks and a pound too much of weight on him.

The killer look is missing in all perhaps one of the current United crop. We see that tense, 1000 yard stare on the face of Wayne Rooney. The same deep gaze that was on Roy Keane’s face at Highbury in 2003.

We all know how in the period of United’s domination, people would say “United won this game before it kicked off.. In the Tunnel…”

To be dominant in home and especially in Europe, that sense of impending doom that a team creates upon the opponent is paramount.

With no disrespect, FC Basel beat us last season. They scored 3 goals at Old Trafford. In 2003, we used to flick Basel off the wayside with a jab of Ruud van Nistelrooy’s boot.

And the age-old myth of “United don’t lose after they go ahead at Old Trafford” is in serious danger of being ridiculed.

Flash back to Everton 4-4 United, 2012. All this points to one thing: Fix the midfield.

No matter how much United adorn the top of the triangle with Kagawa, Powell or Modric, the only thing – THE ONLY THING – that separates a good United from a great United is the CDM

A pitbull with bite in the tackle. A tireless enforcer patrolling the back four waiting for a chance to spring forth and intercept.

A rare exponent of the Makelele trade.

How careless of United to not sign Pirlo on a free.

Think Schweinsteiger (Dream on)…

Think Diarra (There are 3 and all 3 fit the bill – Lassana, Alou and Mahmadou with the latter eager to make a return to top tier football)..

Think Javi Martinez.. Javi Fuego.. Radja Nainggolan.. Tiote.. Sandro.. Rodwell

People think of missing out on Sneijder, Robben, Ronaldinho or Hazard but the most killing transfer target United didn’t snare in must be Michael Essien who on his day can demolish attacks single handedly even before they begin.
Darren Fletcher ? Will he ever play again ?

Michael Carrick alone will not do

Look at Newcastle. They bagged Morgan Amalfitano this season – a quality central midfield option to add to the already excellent pairing of Cabaye and Tiote.

Just think of the possibilities when United link together a tireless CDM with Carrick or Cleverley alongside and Kagawa roaming free just in behind Rooney, Welbeck or Hernandez. Not to mention Valencia, Nani or Young tucked in and tearing apart the wingbacks, Scholes ready to dicate tempo, Phil Jones ready to play Big Duncan and a former Railwayman wonderkid waiting to score the next screamer from outside the penalty area. The only missing link is the CDM. The Holy Grail of all European Champions..

The last time United had one, they won the Champions League..

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