How important is Darren Fletcher to Manchester United?

Darren Fletcher made his return for Manchester United against Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup so will his return help the club win trophies this season.

Obviously he has only played one game so it is too early to see whether he will be able to play on a regular basis but it is a good sign that he was back on the pitch. Fletcher has been a vital part of the United side for a number of years now and has almost always been an automatic choice for the big games in Europe and Premier League. But why is he so important? I am going to compare the Scotland international with some of the other options Alex Ferguson has.

His rivals for the central midfielder spot are Shinji Kagawa, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Anderson and Tom Cleverley. Nick Powell, could also be considered in the central role but he won’t be starting many games and will be utilised a lot from the bench if he does get the chance to shine. So, let’s start with the summer signing, Kagawa. This is a tough one to call because Kagawa has already proved that he can be very creative and make things happen but if they only play two central midfielders then he may be a liability if he doesn’t stick to his defensive responsibilities. So, in the bigger games I believe Fletcher will start over Kagawa if he is fit unless either Wayne Rooney or Robin Van Persie are dropped and they switch to three in the centre of midfield. But, in other games, particularly at home when they are expected to have a lot of possession, this could be the perfect combination as we all know Fletcher will work himself into the ground and let Kagawa dictate play.

In the big games I could see Fletcher starting alongside Michael Carrick as both are decent passers and like to keep the ball ticking over, so they will be vital in keeping possession, especially away from home in Europe. But, if these two lined up against a bottom half Premier League team it would be a shock as neither have got that many goals over the years, however, at times Fletcher has proved he can grab vital goals so this tactic could work. Paul Scholes shocked us all when he returned from his retirement part way through last season and I think out of the options his preferred partner would actually be Fletcher because of his work rate and determination, allowing him to play his natural game and control the tempo of the game while also being safe in the knowledge that Fletcher will cover enough ground for the both of them.

Onto the two players that I believe will once again find themselves far down the pecking order, Tom Cleverley and Anderson. The Brazilian has flattered to deceive at Old Trafford and nobody is really sure at what he is all about, even though he has been at the club for a while now. This because he isn’t disciplined enough to play the holding role and leaves big gaps in front of the back four and when he is played in the advanced role he doesn’t influence games enough, so if Fletcher can regain form and fitness then this could be the last season Anderson is at the club in my opinion. As for Cleverely, I am still not convinced by him for exactly the same reasons but he is definitely improving and if he played next to someone like Fletcher he would get even better because he would have to exert as much energy in defending when playing with someone like Anderson, Kagawa or even Scholes. In my opinion, he has also struggled slightly playing alongside Carrick because all of the creative responsibility is on him, and that is a lot of pressure for someone his age.

So, the good thing about Fletcher is that he can compliment any of his fellow midfielders and a lot of his good work goes unnoticed but the management team and his teammates will understand what he does and it is clear to see that they are all very happy to see him on the road to recovery.

 

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Who will win the League 2 playoffs?

The League 2 playoffs will be contested by Southend United, Torquay United, Cheltenham Town and Crew Alexandra with all four teams hoping to end the season on a high.

Southend and Torquay narrowly missed out on the automatic promotion spots and this could have damaged morale within the squad as Crawley Town took the final spot but I am sure they would have already put that behind them and will be hoping for a chance to play in League 1 next season. Cheltenham Town were out of the automatic promotion race and were safely in the playoffs so they have had a lot of time to prepare for these games coming up and Crewe had to secure their place on the final day.

Southend under Paul Sturrock have been magnificent this season and their form towards the end of the season has been sensational with the amount of clean sheets they are keeping, which could be vital in these playoffs. If they keep three clean sheets they are guaranteed promotion in my eyes because they do have goals and enough experience to get them through. The key player for me has got to be Freddy Eastwood who has recently rejoined the club and has the ability to play at a higher level. Although it didn’t quite work out for him at Wolves or Coventry City, I think he has enough to cause teams problems in the playoffs and could just snatch a very important goal.

Torquay lost their last game of the season against Hereford United to end any hopes of finishing in the top three. But, they shouldn’t let this result affect them as they have had a good season under Martin Ling and he will have them well organised for the playoffs, with each individual player knowing exactly what they need to do. Their form going into the playoffs has not been great and there has been worries of fatigue in the squad but there is a big prize at the end of it so I am sure the players will be up for the challenge. Eunan O’Kane is a key player for me as the 21 year old has been playing magnificently all season and looks like a seasoned pro rather than just a youngster. He has remarkably already played 120 games for the club, adding another 49 to that tally this season and has been linked with a move away.

Cheltenham Town have surprised me this season as I did not expect them to be this high up the table but fair play to them as they deserve it and manager Mark Yates also deserves a lot of praise for what he has done at the club. Their win in the final league game of the season against Plymouth Argyle will have given the fans a little bit of optimism going into the playoffs as they had to work hard for their victory and it won’t be easy to get through to the final. Marlon Pack is someone who I think could be very influential in the possible three games as he is very good on the ball and for someone so young he looks like he could play at a much higher level than League 2. He has scored six times in his 50 games this season and could easily be the one that makes the difference.

Crewe just secured their place in the playoffs on the final day and will be hoping that their players will take confidence from that and use it to their advantage. They have a lot of young talent in their side and this could work out well for them as they will go out onto the pitch with no fear, however, they may not be used to playing in games that are so important and may freeze under the pressure. I don’t think manager Steve Davis will allow that to happen and will make sure they are focused on their football rather than the occasion. It is difficult to choose a key player for Crewe because they have so much talent in their squad but it will be a tough test for them and their inexperience may work against them but Nick Powell is a sensational footballer and will one day I am sure play in the Premier League and if he progresses the way he has so far, then he will surely be an international footballer too.

I think this is the hardest of the playoffs to call as each team has a good chance of winning it but I think Crewe will beat Southend just because Southend may not have got over the disappointment of not getting automatic promotion and if they concede the first goal their heads may drop. The other semi final I just think that Cheltenham will win as Torquay have had problems with fatigue and it seems like the stress will get to them the most. The final will be very interesting but I think Crewe may just take it although I do imagine all the games to be very close and only won by the odd goal.