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3 Key Power Shifts in Van Gaal's Army Series #3 of 3

#3 Unleashing Basti the Beast

Carrick has always kept things ticking along in the United midfield, that’s his shtick, a calling card he could pull out blindfolded. Once upon a time the former Spurs man operated in a high central midfield role, these days he takes up deeper positions, orchestrating and pulling the strings beyond the wall, cleverly intercepting balls sent in to cause frenzy to the United backline with the most efficient and economical movement, not to be interpreted as languid or lazy, mostly refined positional intelligence which comes with maturity.

Maturity in Carrick’s case is both a gift and a curse as the years have started to stack up against him. Carrick represents one of the very few survivors of Louis Van Gaal’s insurgency. The United boss has overseen an incredulous exodus of players since taking the reins from David Moyes. The most quoted statistic by pundits concerning United’s Michael Carrick is the red devils positive win percentage when Carrick starts in the first eleven. Sometimes stats can lead to wrong conclusions or convoluted reasoning, in this case except you been marooned on a distant island for several years, the influence Carrick has on the pulse rate of Manchester United football is unquestionable.

Carrick still an important squad member but the ageing midfielder has seen his time on the pitch reduced.

This does not mean Carrick is infallible or does not possess glaring physical weaknesses that could be exposed with certain strategy deployed. The long-time United servant is readily susceptible to ferocious high pressing teams and markers with pace. Both of these reared their head like a perfect storm of inquest quite notably during the away game at St. Mary’s, where the ghost tactics of Southampton’s ex-manager Mauricio Pochettino still lingers on. In particular, the speedy Senegalese and potential Van Gaal target, Sadio Mané, held sway as he tormented Carrick with rugged intensity with relentless pressing and tight marking. Whenever Mané got the ball he fleeted past Carrick like a hare would nonchalantly bypass a snail.

Manchester United is in the process of giving their resident metronome Carrick, known for his elegant ball movement and sagacious passing, a German upgrade – Bastian Schweinsteiger. The German World Cup winner has similar passing range to his English counterpart. However, Bastian is more mobile, even if not gifted with pace, as he tends to move around the pitch more and does not shun playing at the edges which is not that surprising since he was a winger and so comfortable playing from wide positions. He also gets up north-wise, higher up the pitch than Carrick likes to do so his passing influence registers from all segments of the field.

Bastian Schweinsteiger seems fully fit as he mixes it up with Southhampton's Victor Wanyama.

Carrick tends to play in the ‘pocket’ like a NFL quarterback, and so he is easier to mark off because he remains relatively static. Apart from physically overwhelming him with pace or press, when a team opts to sit back and counter the tendency for Carrick to play outside the wall has led to a lack of creativity for United in the final third, as opponents who park the bus and have the ball in front of them can outwait Carrick’s pass ping-pong. Van Gaal has systematically built up Schweinsteiger’s fitness by time-sharing that midfield role between the both men. At some point he actually started both of them, and unlike the natural perception that the two fairly pedestrian pass masters should not be paired together due to the speed of the EPL, the tandem gave a very good account of themselves.

LVG does now have multiple options and combinations in midfield to tinker with, especially considering the delightfully destructive impact of Schneiderlin, Ander Herrera can slot in there but I would argue it is not a role conducive to hugely talented Spaniard. His attributes are better put to use in a more advanced midfield position. The same applies to another fan favorite Marouane Fellaini. Bastian’s role in that amazing 45-pass build up to United’s third goal against a feisty Southampton side highlights the Germans suitability to the style and philosophy Van Gaal is establishing at Manchester United.

The main point here is that this should not turn into a zero sum game between Carrick and Schweinsteiger. Bastian is the younger of the two, but they would both benefit supremely from purposeful game time management. As it stands Louis Van Gaal seems to be doing just that, and his rotation scheme seems to be working well. The rise in Schweinsteiger’s fitness level has been telling as his influence on the squad is taking hold game after game. If the old demons of injury can be kept at bay, it will be interesting to watch the heights at which the ex-Bayern sage lifts his new club to this season.

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