Date: 30th October 2009 at 8:51pm
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United have to face Blackburn Rovers without being able to call on any of their two ball-winning midfielders, Darren Fletcher and Owen Hargreaves. A combination of Carrick, Scholes and Anderson might be sufficient do to the job against Rovers who haven’t won away from home for ages but in the long term you just can’t do without these players.

It’s not exactly a heartwarming thing that football’s gone this direction. Every big team needs a ‘destroyer’ now, even such a technically accomplished and creative side like Barcelona. Look at the way Liverpool beat us. Look at the key of their defending: he’s called Javier Mascherano.

And the guy can hardly be called a footballer, for heaven’s sake. He can’t pass the ball, can’t shoot, can’t dribble. What he can do is closing down, harassing and tackling. Yet he’s the most crucial element of Liverpool’s defensive work.

Both Fletcher and Hargreaves have a wider range of skills than him but it’s their tenacity, stamina and tackling ability which make them so important. We wilted at Liverpool without their influence in midfield and we’ll certainly fold at Chelsea as well because Carrick, with all the good will in the world, will never be able to constantly press the opposition and hassle players off the ball, that’s not his style while Scholes… Scholes is 35.

Anderson is wayward a little even though he’s got the bodily strength and the stamina for the job but he’s too young, needs to mature and might be more useful in a more attacking role anyway. So there we are: in my opinion our reliance on Hargreaves and Fletcher is scary, especially considering Fergie’s preferred playing style of recent years.

What I mean is that the boss, especially in big away games, goes all continental on us: disciplined defending, few risks, patient approach. You need at least one good, tenacious defensive midfielder for this, otherwise it’s simply not gonna work. A Carrick-Scholes-Anderson midfield three is very unlikely to give you a disciplined defensive display. Fletcher-Carrick-Hargreaves – they will.

Of course there’s also the chance of reverting to nineties style when we don’t have them available: risk a lot, attack all the time, use the energy of Anderson and the brilliant passing of Carrick – and expose ourselves to lethal counter-attacks. Fergie doesn’t seem to prefer that, somehow. He’s grown out of it I guess.

Of course there’s also an argument that keeping the ball is a perfect way of defending as when you have the ball it’s very unlikely you’ll concede (unless you happen to employ Richard Dunne). And yes, on paper the Carrick-Scholes pairing should be able to keep the ball well. On the pitch they find it difficult now, in 2009, as both lack the necessary mobility to exploit space effectively when paired. Which takes us back to Fletcher and Hargreaves who certainly possess that quality.

And why is it scary that any argument leads us back to the overwhelming need to have them fit? Well, one of them is a skinny Scottish lad who’ll never be a Makelele even though he’s become a real quality player and the other hasn’t played for over a year now and it’s not certain he’ll ever be a proper footballer again. For the sake of our season we must hope he will be.