While everyone has focused on how Carlos Tevez’s absence has affected their rivals, United's loss of their midfield enforcer through illness has hardly been mentionedANALYSIS
By Alex Fisher
Big teams missing big players always gets attention - Carlos Tevez at Manchester City for example - and those absences are often blamed for a side's dip in form.
But while City are now able to call on Tevez at this crucial stage of the season, across Manchester, Sir Alex Ferguson has been missing one of his star players since December, although very little has been made of it.
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When Darren Fletcher announced that he was taking an extended break from football to deal with the ulcerative colitis that has dogged him all season, United lost one of their most influential midfielders in the Scotland captain.
Some may say it hasn’t affected the reigning champions because they are top of the league and are close to securing their 20th league title. All of that is true, but many United fans will admit that this squad is far from the strongest they have seen at Old Trafford, and before Paul Scholes came out of retirement there was real concern about the United midfield.
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Of course Fletcher is not a flair player like Tevez that can win the game with a moment of skill or a priceless hat-trick, but that is not the type of player United have been missing.
They have flair players like Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney, Nani, Ryan Giggs, Chicharito and Danny Welbeck to name just a few at their disposal.
However, what United are lacking is a midfield general. Someone who makes big tackles, who chases opponents all over the pitch, who wins the ball back and gives it to any of the previously mentioned players to win games for United.
Michael Carrick is not that midfielderand neither is Scholes nor Anderson. Paul Pogba may be that player one day but not right now. The man the Red Devils have needed is a fully-fit Fletcher - the man who helped drive them to their 19th league title last season, who took criticism from Roy Keane early in his career and proved the Irishman wrong by establishing himself in the centre of the United midfield.
Last season, Fletcher made 26 appearances in the Premier League but this season has been something of a non-event for the midfielder as he has been restricted to just eight appearances in the league. However such is Fletcher’s influence on the United they won five of those eight games, drawing two and losing just one, picking up 17 out of a potential 24 points with a 71% win rate.
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The return of Scholes to midfield, coupled with his partnership with Carrick may have some people thinking that United don’t need Fletcher.
But Scholes is 37-years-old and cannot play every week. Plus, when he doesn’t play, the United midfield still looks like the lightweight one we saw before Christmas - something that was evident at the DW Stadium earlier this week when Carrick, Giggs and later Tom Cleverley were overrun by Wigan.
Manchester United don’t drop points to the Latics, it has never happened in their history… until now. United also saw their midfield overrun against Athletic Bilbao and Ajax in the Europa League – games Scholes was only a substitute in.
As the season comes to an end, many midfielders will be linked with big money moves to Old Trafford but they could possibly have the perfect solution to their midfield problems in their squad already.
If Fletcher can recover from his debilitating illness, he could be the piece of the jigsaw Sir Alex Ferguson has been missing all season.