Pitchside

Can’t pass, can’t tackle – proof United’s midfield is a mess…

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Manchester United had a problem in midfield before Michael Carrick was injured and now that he's absent for several weeks, it is not getting any better. The draw - and performance - against Cardiff City on Sunday evening was another sign that David Moyes needs to freshen his midfield up. Marouane Fellaini was signed from Everton in the summer, somewhat shambolically, but Moyes needs more midfield recruitment.

Moyes paired Fellaini with Tom Cleverley, another poor performer, in the 2-2 draw with Cardiff. For years, United would dominate midfields around the country, home and away. It's what led them to so many triumphs.

But the current United midfield is a mess. Fellaini was a strange purchase considering Moyes already had Carrick at his disposal; someone to win the ball back and play it from deep. He needed an engine next to Carrick someone with the stamina and energy to compliment Carrick's cool passing.

In truth, his only attacking options in central midfield are Cleverley and Anderson which, quite frankly, is awful state of affairs.

It showed against Cardiff, too.

Cleverley failed to make a single tackle or headed duel. He also didn't attempt a take-on and committed six fouls. Hardly someone who dominates the central area of the pitch. He won a total of 29 per cent of his duels, the third-worst at United. Those figures are worrying considering United were up against a newly-promoted side. What would happen if Cleverley was put up against Bayern Munich in the Champions League? For Man Utd fans, it doesn't bear thinking about.

Fellaini fared slightly better in the duels department, winning 50 per cent of his. The Belgian, like Cleverley, also committed a lot of fouls - five in total - which is a worrying aspect of the United midfield and it cost them dearly.

The £28m man won half of his tackles and 67 per cent of his headed duels (6/9) but his overall performance wasn't good enough.

Passing is such an important aspect of the modern game and both Fellaini and Cleverley, as the midfield pairing, needed to dominate the ball and retain possession throughout in order for United to control the game. The Belgian completed 82 per cent his passes, marginally better than Cleverley's 79 per cent, and neither player contributed in attack as both failed to make any sort of key pass.

As you can see from Cleverley's Heat Map in Cardiff, he spent most the game in his own half. Considering he's seen as an attack-minded midfielder, one would assume he'd spend more time in Cardiff's half rather than his own where he's unlikely to affect United's attack.

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Cleverley's heat map does not show an attacking display

Equally, Fellaini's Heat Map is unimpressive. You could forgive him for playing in a deeper role, though, as that's his favoured position and how Moyes used him in Cardiff.

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Fellaini's heat map vs. Cardiff

Touching on their passing again, it is clear to see that neither player completed any penetrative passes which contributed to United's lack of attacking impetus. Firstly, we have Cleverley's passing (30/38) - nothing notable. Just simple passes from the Englishman. He completed just 10 passes in Cardiff's half.

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And secondly, Fellaini's passing (41/50). The Belgian's job was just to retain possession and keep it simple, which he did.

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The problem Moyes has is the attacking impetus in midfield, or to put it simply: the lack of attacking impetus. With a pairing of Fellaini and Cleverley, you'd expect the latter to take the attacking responsibility between the pair but it was all left to Wayne Rooney, who was hugely important for United.

The sooner Carrick returns, the better for United and for Moyes. But January really needs to be used properly to recruit a top class central midfielder or the Premier League champions will give up their title with a whimper.

From Squawka.com - team and player football stats

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