Manchester United needs a creative midfielder. Probably every football fan on earth is aware of that fact. However, after their failure to lure a top name last summer, they ended up with Marouane Fellaini for a whopping £27.5m on deadline day.
“He can play higher up, if we need it, behind the striker or as a defensive or holding midfielder. In any position in the middle of the field he's comfortable.
“Because of that I think it's definitely a position where people have said we've been short of numbers, with the likes of Paul Scholes [retiring] and Darren Fletcher not ready to come back just now. I felt we needed to strengthen there and I'm glad we got him,” said David Moyes of his former Everton player. To even state that with Scholes retiring, United bought the Belgian to strengthen their midfield would certainly be an embarrassment for the former England midfielder.
On Wednesday evening when United needed a top performance to overturn a 2-0 deficit against Olympiakos, Moyes turned to another one of 'Fergie's Fledglings' and also the sole survivor of that group - Ryan Giggs.
The 40 year old didn’t disappoint despite managing a passing accuracy of less than 80% on the night. In the third minute, he looked for Danny Welbeck’s run but instead hit it straight to the keeper. Two minutes later, he made amends as he played in Welbeck who was fouled by Manolas and won a free-kick just outside the box.
Thereafter, he pinged a ball for Patrice Evra who lost control of it and fired one for Wayne Rooney whose header came off the woodwork.
It was Giggs who sent the diagonal ball for Robin Van Persie who was eventually fouled to earn the penalty. It was Giggs who sent a sublime pass for Rooney who teed up Van Persie for the second.
It has been pointed out in the past that United are also in need of a player who can win the ball back and turn over possession. They are wholly reliant on Michael Carrick and often, the team is clueless as to how to stop opposition players running directly at them, as was witnessed in the first leg in Athens.
Giggs’s influence wasn’t just restricted to the creative department as he made as many as four interceptions, which was the joint-highest for the game alongside Rafael Da Silva.
Most importantly, United looked to attack, pass the ball quicker in midfield and that also saw their attacking players make runs into the opposition half. The likes of Tom Cleverley, Fellaini and even Carrick lately haven’t been passing the ball forward with enough urgency or ambition and that has allowed opposing defenses to deal with all United have to throw at them with ease.
This was precisely one of the complaints by Van Persie after the 2-0 humbling three weeks ago where none of the players could provide a through-ball, compared to three by Giggs alone at Old Trafford last evening.
"We played too slow and could therefore create little,” he mentioned.
Compare this to what Van Persie said after arriving at Old Trafford from Arsenal.
“The choices they (Scholes and Giggs) make in that box is just incredible…They know what choices to make at crucial times and that makes a big difference for me,” he had stated.
He had three shots in the first leg and failed to score even once. On Wednesday, he scored from each of his three attempts and you know who made him tick with those key passes.
Van Persie looking lively upfront, Valencia making a couple of good runs into the box and Welbeck’s pace being well utilized was all testament to Giggs’ presence in the middle of the park.
It must be noted that United’s best games this season has had Giggs playing in midfield. When they dominated Real Sociedad at home and registered a 1-0 victory, Giggs brought fluency to United’s midfield with his swiftness in thought and passing.
In the 5-0 away victory over Bayer Leverkusen, Giggs barely misplaced a pass all night and kept United’s midfield ticking throughout.
When Fellaini was introduced at the expense of the injured Van Persie, he played upfront and won two corners and a free-kick. He looked far more comfortable in that role as opposed to being tasked with the responsibility of passing the ball quickly in the midfield or tracking back in time to intercept. He can never switch play or find Rooney or Van Persie with an accurate pass over the opposition's defense like Scholes would.
The pace and creativity injected in United’s midfield by Giggs gave their fans some respite after several listless displays this term. The win against Olympiakos may not bring about a massive change in the club’s fortunes in the Premier League but it does hint at the potential in the squad. It needs a top midfielder gifted with an eye for passes to make them tick.
Of course there are other areas which need to be attended in the summer as well. But midfield is certainly a top priority. The fact that it was a 40-year old Giggs who made most of the difference for the home side is a testament to how desperately United need to find a player to replace the skills and vision of Scholes, as opposed to the different brand of services they acquired by buying Fellaini.
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