Manchester United – The pressing need for a Defensive Midfielder

Originally written/published for:

With Thiago’s move to United imminent, the defensive side of the midfield can finally be addressed. A defensive midfielder, who will happily roll his sleeves up, do his team’s dirty work and be the unsung hero.

David Moyes already has an array of talented playmakers at his disposal both deep-lying and attacking ones. Carrick, Cleverley, Thiago, Kagawa and Rooney, all capable of playing as a No.10 and also at the centre of the pitch maintaining possession and spraying passes with incredible vision. This could upshot in an opinion that we have enough midfielders to challenge for the top honors.

However to be successful, the general notion in modern football has been that there should be either a holding midfielder or a defensive midfielder in the team. United in recent years or may be after Keane’s departure has preferred to go with a holding midfielder rather than a defensive one. Hargreaves and Fletcher were considered to be the possible ones who could give us that defensive option in midfield but injuries and illness respectively hampered their progress and in turn left a gaping hole in our midfield. Fletcher was really dominating our midfield in those two years post Champions League glory, which could have made Fergie believe that there is no need for another central midfielder. But sadly Fletcher never turned out to be the way we all wanted and his illness became a constant worrying factor.


Michael Carrick was then called on to play as the one sitting in front of the defense. He played it to perfection last year, holding up the ball and acting as the ‘regista’, the Italian term for deep-lying playmaker, someone who holds his position in front of the back four and opportunistically makes crucial interceptions to cut out opposition threats and also has the luxury and willingness to stray a little farther up the pitch unlike a defensive midfielder. But that is not what we need in front of the defense. Carrick needs a player (volante) beside him who is physically strong, loves tackling and can cover for the full backs when they are caught out of position. The term ‘volante’ is Brazilian football terminology to describe the player who not only shields the defense but also acts as the team’s metronome. This is proved by the fact when Red Devils played most of the big matches with Jones as a midfielder. He was used to mark Bale and Ronaldo, and in another case, Welbeck was used to mark Alonso. These were matches where they played against some exceptional talents and in Champions League most teams are filled with this brand of players.

Manchester United are perhaps the only major team not to play with a recognized central defensive midfielder. Martinez (Bayern), Toure (City), Vidal (Juventus) and Matuidi (PSG) are fine examples of how influential this position is in football. It would be an understatement if you say Bayern would have struggled if Carrick played instead of Martinez. To have success in Europe, it is essential that United buy an apposite defensive midfielder. Moyes will be aware of the fact that signing a defensive midfielder will not only strengthen the team but will also get the gratitude of the fans.