The nightmare at the theatre of dreams
2021 has been a topsy-turvy year for Manchester United. In the offseason, the red devils managed to sign world-class players like Jadon Sancho and Rafael Varane. Old Trafford also saw the homecoming of its prodigal son, Cristiano Ronaldo after 12 years. Their Premier League campaign also started with a bang, with an astounding 5-1 victory over rivals Leeds United. For a moment, it did look like the glory days were back.
But ever since then, the team has put up inconsistent performances with two draws and three losses across all tournaments. Currently, Manchester United is third in the Premier League with just two points off the top. But, the team’s position doesn’t tell the full story.
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still has to solve the club’s biggest problem. The club has been looking for a defensive midfielder or a number six player. Currently, Ole is using a double pivot in the mid-field of Scott McTominay and Fred which seems to be an immediate solution. But using two players for covering one position restricts Ole from experimenting.
Let us take a closer look at Manchester United's biggest problem going ahead.
Importance of the number six
The number six position is crucial for any team as it acts as the link between defence and offence. A defensive midfielder ensures the smooth transition of the ball while building from the back and relieves pressure from the back four. Historically, players like Claude Maekele, Sergio Busquets, Patrick Viera revolutionized the position.
For Manchester United, in the recent past, Micheal Carrick played this all-important role for Sir Alex Fergusson. He was dubbed as “El Magnifico Carrick” by the La Repubblica (Italian Newspaper) defensive repertoire. Ever since his retirement in 2018, the Red Devils are still searching for their ideal number six.
Under Ole, the Red Devils have garnered a reputation of being an attack-minded team. Manchester United have been consistently counter-attacking and were second last season in goals scored from a counter-attack. With attacking options like Bruno Fernandes, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba, etc; scoring isn’t a problem. But defensive mishaps have always haunted Ole’s men. Hence a steady number six is a must for Manchester United.
Looking at the current Manchester United squad, Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic are the only players who have been used at number six position. Out of which, only Matic is the only out and out defensive midfielder. But now at age 33, Matic isn’t the solution.
The Mctominay-Fred duo or ‘McFred’ has worked on some occasions but it shouldn’t be United’s only option going forward. Both Scott Mctominay and Fred are capable midfielders but using two players for one position isn’t the perfect fit for the team going forward.
So Ole could use some like Victor Lindelof, who is a central defender but he has previously played the defensive midfielder at Benfica for 22 games. Donny van de Beek could also be an option for this position. He has played at the number six position for his former team, AFC Ajax and has the defensive acumen to pull off the job.
The Manchester United front office has had a successful transfer window and one can be optimistic that sooner or later they will sign a number six. Now, if you look at the market, Manchester United have many options. Declan Rice from West Ham United was touted as the perfect player but with an 80 to 100 million price tag, the deal could be difficult. Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi or Brighton’s Yves Bissouma are other options from the Premier League.
United could look at some established names like Marco Veratti from Paris Sait-Germain, and Manuel Locatelli From Sassuolo or consider some slightly under the radar players like Denis Zakaria of Borussia Mönchengladbach, Mohamed Camara of Red Bull Salzburg or Joao Palhinha from Sporting CP.
In the end, Ole has taken a subpar Manchester United team to the top in his stint as the manager. He also has helped someone like Luke Shaw to resurrect his career after severe injuries.
So, can Ole figure out the ‘Number 6’ problem and possibly lift Manchester United’s 21st Premier League title? With eight months left for the season finale and a winter transfer window along the way, the Red Devils’ coach still has time to change the club’s fortunes.