By Greg Stobart
Whenever David Moyes considered his midfield options during a long and unproductive summer transfer window, the name of Yohan Cabaye would pop up in discussions with the Manchester United scouts and coaches.
For a long time, the Newcastle midfielder was considered a potential back-up option to join as the club’s new playmaker if they missed out on top targets Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas.
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Yet Moyes had his concerns. He felt Cabaye, at 27, would struggle to repay the £20 million-plus fee and United wanted a better dribbler who could release passes more quickly than the former Lille man.
The fact that Moyes was searching for the perfect midfielder is understandable at a club like United, especially in his first transfer window, but there is no doubt Cabaye would have improved the champions’ squad as they prepare to face Newcastle on Saturday at Old Trafford.
Wednesday night’s home defeat to Everton leaves United’s title challenge in tatters, sat in ninth in the Premier League and already 12 points behind leaders Arsenal.
Michael Carrick’s lay-off with an Achilles injury has left a giant whole in United’s midfield, their creative cog missing as Marouane Fellaini, Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones fumble through games. Ryan Giggs no longer has the legs to play regularly while Anderson’s fitness levels have been described as “a joke” by sources within the club.
On Saturday, the France international - who is still looking for a move - will have a chance to show why Moyes should be clambering to sign him in the January transfer window.
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For a start; Fellaini, Giggs, Jones, Cleverley and Anderson are yet to produce either an assist or a goal between them this season in the league.
Cabaye has scored twice and provided two assists, and that’s after a slow start to the campaign having gone on strike as he tried to force a move away from St James’ Park.
He also also produced 19 key passes, more than all of the aforementioned midfielders put together, the kind of player who can provide ammunition for the likes of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, rather than asking them to produce something out of nothing.
Cabaye would also provide the qualities needed to complement - and on current form compensate for - Fellaini, who has struggled to adjust at United and looks anything but a £27.5m player.
Cabaye, like Paul Scholes in his latter years, like to pick up the ball from deep positions and, with the game in front of him, drive the team forward.
His tackling could do with some work - and he's prone to making nasty looking challenges - but with 2.6 tackles a game he is not afraid to put his foot in, recover the ball and start counter-attacks.
With United getting outplayed and overrun frequently, even at home on that vast Old Trafford pitch, Cabaye will fancy his chances of showing Moyes what he missed this weekend, especially if he can release the pace of Loic Remy on the counter-attack.
The £20m asking price may seem a little steep, but the overall value of the transfer would be perfectly reasonable given Cabaye only earns around £35,000-a-week, plus mild bonuses.
Moyes wanted a statement signing over the summer, hence moves for Fabregas and even Gareth Bale, but a humbling start to his six-year contract at Old Trafford may have realigned expectations at the club.
If so, Cabaye should be right at the top of his shopping list. And there’s every chance he will show why on Saturday.
Stats via whoscored.com