Manchester City comfortably beat Manchester United 2-1 on Monday to reduce the deficit between them and the Red Devils to 12 points. Although the race for the title might be over, this loss against City was a continuation of United’s poor performances after their loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16. One major area of concern for the Red Devils is their midfield. In the past few seasons, the United midfield was constantly overrun and outplayed by quality opposition. One common factor in most of these games is the presence of Ryan Giggs in the center of midfield. Ryan Giggs is certainly one of the all time greats to have played the game. But to play him as a part of a 2-men center midfield against the likes of Yaya Toure, Xavi and Iniesta is suicidal.
Against City on last Monday, Giggs, strangely, completed the full 90 minutes and was easily the worst player on the pitch. He and Carrick were unable to deal with City’s guile and legs and left Ferdinand and Jones exposed. For City’s first goal, it was Giggs’s error as he was unable to deal with City’s movement. With Cleverley and Anderson on the bench, it was strange that Ferguson didn’t even try to bring off Giggs. Of course, Giggs still has his moments of magic and definitely has a better chance of putting in a telling ball more than either of the two mentioned. But United’s first aim should be to control the midfield, which they failed to do against City.
Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United – Champions League Final, 2011
Manchester United started with Carrick and Giggs in midfield up against Xavi,Iniesta and Busquets along with Messi dropping deep. Manchester United were completely overwhelmed as Barcelona ran riot. Of course, Ryan Giggs provided the assist for Wayne Rooney’s goal but Manchester United were never going to beat Barcelona with that midfield of theirs. Michael Carrick was exposed ruthlessly against Xavi and Iniesta and there was no one to check Messi when he dropped deep. One could also argue that this Barcelona team were at their peak under Pep and no matter who played for United that day, the result wouldn’t have been different.
Newcastle 3-0 Manchester United – English Premier League January 5, 2012
One of the most ineffective Manchester United performances against a team outside of the top four was against Newcastle United last season at St James’s Park. The game was highly energetic and scrappy, especially in the middle of the park. Tiote, Gutierrez and Cabaye were highly effective in closing down and hassling United’s midfield as well as retaining possession. United never took control of the game and never looked like they could even score. Also, in games such as these, where the battle in the middle of the park is so intense, United miss Darren Fletcher a great deal.
Manchester United 2-3 Athletic Bilbao and Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Manchester United, Europa League March 2012
Both the games were pretty similar as Athletic enthralled everyone with their football. They could have easily won by a higher margin with David De Gea performing well between the sticks for United. Marcelo Bielsa’s side gave it all over the two legs and their high and intense pressing meant that United never got a foothold. Again, Giggs started in midfield in both the legs and was pretty ineffective under such intense pressure from the Athletic players.
It is strange that Ferguson keeps selecting Giggs for games such as these. He’s better suited for slow tempo games where the opposition is willing to sit back. Also, as he showed against Real Madrid, he still has got it in him to play as a left winger. But partnering him with Michael Carrick is definitely not the solution to United’s midfield problems. They lost a gem of a player in Paul Pogba to Juventus, but they should seek to buy a strong and mobile player to partner Michael Carrick.