Monday, 13 October 2008

Progress Report - Part III: The Midfield

I have been taking advantage of the international break to review the performance of different elements of the season so far (see an overview and my assessment of the defence).

Today it's the midfield's turn. By midfield, I mean central midfield - the wingers are much more a part of the attacking line-up, and I will look at those next.


The midfield has performed passably in very difficult circumstances. The injuries that have beset our central midfielders have been well documented, but they can be summed up by saying that the only midfielder who has been available for selection for each of the first ten games has been Darren Fletcher. A combination of virus (Carrick), injury (Carrick, Hargreaves, Scholes, Possebon) and Olympics (Anderson) has ensured that our midfield has been a foundation of shifting sands as yet.

Thankfully, this seems about to change, as Carrick and Hargreaves return to fitness. This should allow the fatigued Anderson to finally get a rest, and Fletcher to have a breather after his early-season Atlas (take the world on my shoulders) act.

Player ratings

Scholes - 6.5 - a real mixed bag. At times, he has touched the heights of his latter day career, with all the intuitive passing and effortless ball-retention that we have come to expect. At times, though, his standards have slipped. Even playing his new reduced-energy game, he has struggled to remain an influence for more than 60 minutes of a match, and has only completed one match that he started. The sending off against Zenit was a low, too. Intriguingly, though, against Bolton we were given a glimpse of what his future could look like - Scholesy the 70th0min impact sub, complete with his (formerly trademark) late runs into the box, bursts forward and constant movement.

Fletcher - 8.5 - we needed someone to step up, and good god has Fletcher done that. Dismissed last season by many (including me) as no better than a squad player, he has been top class so far this season, earning the right to be one of the first names on the team sheet. His all-action style has found an extra dimension, that of linking in with attacks and making intelligent appearances in the box - runs which have netted him two vital goals. As a further reward, he was made captain of the Scottish national team last week. Interesting to see if he can retain his place under increased competition.

Hargreaves - 6 - has done what was expected of him - no more, no less - when he has been fit enough to play. However, it was clear from the period at the end of last season where he was playing regularly that he needs to bit match-fit for a decent stretch of games for us to get the best out of him. The tendinitis is worrying because it is recurring, and he is a bit young to be wrapped in cotton wool like Scholes and only brought out for certain games. If he can't manage that, he'll never rise above the level of squad player.

Carrick - n/a - rushed back into the team, then sold short by an EVDS throw and injured in the resultant challenge. We've badly missed his incisive forward passing, and I really think he will play as big a role as anyone in servicing and extracting the best of Berbatov. Looking forward to seeing him back in the colours.

Anderson - 6 - pressed into service almost immediately after his return from the Olympics, he is struggling to reproduce the dynamic form that shot him to recognition last year. My view is that he is badly in need of a break, since his style of play is very energy and strength intensive. His performances have been consequently patchy, with glimpses of his best mixed with periods of anonymity. Don't write him off, though.

Giggs - 7 - apparently now best suited to a central role, hence why he is included here. A low point was the error which led to Liverpool's winner, but he has been one of our better players in that second half going forward. A masterful display against Aalborg, followed by a lively one against Blackburn, suggests there's life in the old dog yet. As I said at the time, ten games a season at Aalborg levels will more than justify his place in the squad.

Possebon - n/a - a couple of tidy substitute appearances, and a decent showing in the Carling Cup before being clattered by a nasty, dangerous piece of thuggery from Pogatetz. Thankfully suffered limited damage from that challenge, and I look forward to seeing more of him soon so
I can make a proper assessment.

O'Shea - 5 - was quietly effective against Portsmouth in the second match of the season, but it's been pretty much all downhill since then, culminating in an embarrassingly inept performance against Aalborg. He used to be a genuine reserve option in this position, but I think those days are past. And with Rafael and Fabio to back up at either full-back slot, and Evans in the centre, are O'Shea's days past now too?

What do you make of my ratings? How do you think the midfield has performed to date?


Andrew, Esq. said...

Where is Ando?

I think your introductory comments say it best: our midfield has been anything but solid and consistent, due to any numbr of reasons. I think they've acquitted themselves well considering the constant shift, but I do look forward to getting Carrick and Scholes back, and seeing Ando and Hargreaves grow more comfortable and authoritative. I think Giggs will be a great addition to the midfield engine, but I hope he doesn't further disrupt the progress toward consistency.

Penguinissimo said...

Andrew - fair point, for some reason the Ando section didn't come up! Fixed now.

What we really need is a few games where the same two play together and build up some consistency, especially when so much of the rest of the team in in flux.

Gabriel said...

How did Hargreaves get a 6? Has he even played any consecutive games for us this season? I think Carrick and Possebon have actually played more games than him.

His tendinitis thing is becoming a real problem and it's limiting our options in midfield. Some games require a solid DMF, which was why we bought him. However, he can't be relied on due to his injuries and we're forced to either field O'shea or blunt our midfield by utilising two deep-lying CMF's.

He better shape-up else SAF might begin to look elsewhere...

Penguinissimo said...

Gabriel - agreed. It's odd to think that so soon after paying £18m for a DM that we should be in the market for another one, but if we can't get many consecutive games out of Hargo we'll have to start looking.

And asking questions about why we paid the same for him one year on from negotiations beginning, despite him missing nearly a whole season for Bayern with injury.

Sam said...

It is fair enough about Oh at the moment, though overall I think we are being stupid if we think that SAf will go looking for another player. When he has played, he has been an incredible player for us. I think his penalty in the final sums him up...class. I realise the problems he has with injuries, but I have a feeling that he will come good. I think we should give him the season to prove his worth over the long term. He is just so versatile, that if heaven helps us he does become a squad player (which I think is unlikely) what an asset to have. we then have Anderson or Fletcher(who as you touched on has grown into some sort of player) to add steel to our midfield as required.

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