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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Will Luka Modric stay in the Premier League?

Luka Modric is most likely going to be leaving Tottenham Hotspur this summer after an impressive Euro 2012 and some of the biggest clubs in Europe want the midfielder.

Modric has 17 goals and 26 assists in his 159 appearances for Spurs

Real Madrid are currently the clear favourites to sign him and I hope he doesn’t join the Spanish giants because he brings a lot to the Premier League. The Croatian joined Spurs in 2008 and has been a major reason why they have challenged for a place in the Champions league. He definitely doesn’t get the credit he deserves and is an example of players that are a lot better than there stats suggest, he hasn’t actually got that many goals and assists for the club but his performances have been sublime with his passing being accurate and usually the most important pass of an attack. He picks out his teammates time and time again which allows them to put in a cross or slide it through for someone else to shoot.

Although it is still unlikely at this stage he could still sign for a Premier League club and I think his style of football suits the English league rather than La Liga. So where could he go? Obviously, Manchester United would love to have him with their current midfield either ageing or not quite living up to their potential. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs have been fantastic servants but they cannot play every game and sometimes you need younger legs in there and with Park Ji Sung leaving for QPR there may be extra strain on Michael Carrick and new signing Shinji Kagawa. Anderson and Tom Cleverley can also play in the middle but I just feel Anderson has been a waste and underperformed massively while Cleverely doesn’t have the required experience yet to be first choice.

Chelsea were linked with Modric last summer but couldn’t get him and now maybe they have moved on so I don’t expect them to try and sign him, however, he would fit into their style of play now and could be just what they need, especially when defending their Champions League trophy. Michael Essien will be back to full fitness next season and Frank Lampard will probably not get dropped. The only reason they may want to bring him in is that their new signings don’t have that much Premier League experience between them so they may struggle to adapt to the league and he wouldn’t certainly do a job for the team.

Finally, Manchester City have been linked with a move, however you have to take everything you read about City with a pinch of salt because the papers will link the club with any player that has had a good season. They have enough cover in the midfield anyway and it looks like they are prioritising the signing of Robin Van Persie at the minute. I think if they do make a big signing this summer (either instead of or along with Van Persie) then it will be a centre back as that is where they are weakest.

Stuart Pearce’s first England squad

So Stuart Pearce has selected his first and possibly only England squad and the main surprises are the inclusion of Frazier Campbell and Tom Cleverley.

He knows both these players well from their time in the under 21s and will obviously feel they have the potential to step up and make a big impact on the international stage. However, both these players are just coming back from injury and although they have performed quite well, particularly, Campbell it does show a lack of experience and quality from Pearce. Surely they won’t be 100% at the minute so what is the point of taking them just to sit on the bench or not even be included in the squad. Pearce did comment saying that Campbell was a very good squad player and was a big character in the dressing room when he was in the under 21 squad. If the caretaker England manager believes that he will have the same effect in the full squad then he is sadly mistaken because no offence to the Sunderland striker but there are better players than him in the squad and I cannot imagine high profile players will have much time for him if he tries to take control of the group. The experienced players like Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney will take control and tell him what is expected and he will have to listen to them whereas in the under 21s there will not be as many big characters so he could control the group.

So maybe he has got a few selections wrong but at least he has brought Micah Richards back into the squad as he has been the best right back in the league and should have been our right back for years. I don’t think we have looked solid in that position since Gary Neville retired and Richards should have filled his boots but Capello obviously didn’t fancy him and preferred playing Glen Johnson who looks good going forward but is a very average defender. In the midfield he has basically done what all England managers have done and selected who he is expected to with him leaving out exciting players like Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and leaving the inconsistent Theo Walcott in his side. However, he has dropped Frank Lampard which to most England fans should be a fantastic thing because he has never really performed when it mattered and has been terrible at big tournaments. Add this to the fact that when he plays Steven Gerrard also underperforms, you have to wonder why he hasn’t been dropped sooner, maybe Andre Villas Boas has done England a favour by leaving him out of the Chelsea side.

In attack he has probably chose the right options with Rooney, Bent, Sturridge and Welbeck as they are the most in form and should probably be the four that go to the Euros. It will be interesting to see if he plays two up front because he will have to consider what he will do in the first two games of the Euros when Rooney is suspended.

The most worrying part about the England squad is the goalkeepers, if Joe Hart gets injured, England are struggling, Robert Green and Scott Carson are good enough for the bench but in a big tournament I would not trust them. All in all Pearce has not done what we expected, I was hoping he would bring in a lot of youth but no he has stuck with the players that have failed over and over again.

How serious are Manchester United and Manchester City going to take the Europa League?

It may have been easy for the two Manchester clubs to not take the Europa League seriously so the draw has actually helped the competition with two very exciting ties which wouldn’t have looked out of place the Champions League. Two tricky away ties were up first for the teams with United playing Ajax and City playing Porto so this was a great opportunity to see whether the managers believed this competition was worthwhile or not.

Let us first start with United, (because there game was first not because of preference) they picked quite a strong team but also took the opportunity to give a few players an opportunity to get minutes under their belt after recovering from injury. Tom Cleverley and Fabio started and these two were probably the only two that could have been replaced by better players but nevertheless they have enough experience to be put in the side in a big European game. When Patrice Evra was left in Manchester, I was a little worried Alex Ferguson was not taking it seriously but his reasoning was acceptable enough as it had been a tough week for the French left back with the whole Suarez saga. His pre match press conferences also confirmed that he wants to win this competition now he is in it as it is the only one he has not won as United manager and we all recognise Fergie does not accept defeat against any team in any competition. So, he started Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez up front and it worked well with Hernandez scoring the second goal and ultimately putting the tie to bed. As previous stated, it was an opportunity to give players with fitness doubts a game and Ashley Young was one of these and he played quite well and opened the scoring which will give him confidence for the remainder of the season.

Now, onto City and they probably had a more difficult tie against Porto as the Portuguese team have been in fantastic form and very rarely lose at home in any competition. When Varela opened the scoring for Porto, the City fans must have thought it may be difficult to get back into it but the players themselves showed that they are ready to compete and even though it’s not where they want to be, they still want to win as much silverware as they can this season. An own goal got them back in the game but in fairness they had deserved it as they had created quite a few opportunities. They went onto win the game with Sergio Aguero grabbing the winner from off the bench. This shows that Mancini wanted to rest him but had enough respect to have him on the bench to bring on if he was needed. A draw would have been a good result, but obviously the manager wanted more and this is why he brought on Aguero and this shows that he also wants to win the competitions.

I believe it is a good thing both Manchester clubs are in the Europa League because they will want to outdo each other and get further than the other. If only one of them had dropped into the tournament then I think they may have decided to focus on the Premier League more and forgot about Europe this season. Now, the Europa League will also gain more attention than it usually does which can only be a good thing for UEFA.