Wouldn’t it be ironic if Manchester United’s midfield solution had been right in front of them all along?
For years, it has been obvious that United lacked in the middle of the park. Despite their good moments and performances individually, Scott McTominay and Fred have never consistently formed a dominant partnership, but the alternatives haven’t been any better (or so it was thought).
Nemanja Matic still has much to contribute, but he is sluggish and can only play well once a week. Donny van de Beek has struggled to find his feet and was sent away in January, while Paul Pogba has never had the defensive discipline to play a holding role.
As a result, United has been forced to rely heavily on the ‘McFred’ duo. While they both have a lot of energy and can have moments of genuine quality – which Fred does on a much more regular basis – they lack the midfield traits that a club with United’s ambitions requires.
They don’t have the best passing range or standard, are unable to dictate the tempo of games, aren’t the most confident in possession, are frequently pulled out of position, and aren’t very strong defensively.
They are both all-action midfielders who can put in a lot of hard work in the middle of the pitch, which is a great service to provide and is undoubtedly needed on occasion, but they simply aren’t up to par with the best in Manchester, let alone the Premier League. Never mind Europe.
Thankfully, the club appears to have acknowledged that purchasing a midfielder is finally necessary after years of ignoring the matter in favor of lavishly spending on unnecessary forwards. A new defensive midfielder is expected to be a priority this summer, with Declan Rice being the top target.
In the centre of the park, the West Ham stalwart is exactly the type of player who would solve all of United’s problems. He is capable of completing any task. Tackle. Intercept. Pass the ball quickly. Hit it hard and long. Carry the ball around. Score. Lead. He’s the player United has been looking for for at least half a decade, and if they can land him, he’ll be the best acquisition they’ve made in twice that time.
However, this will not be a simple task. Rice, if he hasn’t already, is on the edge of becoming an exceptional midfielder, which comes with elite competition. As summer approaches, it would not be shocking if clubs with considerably greater ranking than United begin to form links. Even if their priorities are elsewhere, Manchester City and Liverpool could do a lot worse than sign Rice, and who’s to say a club from mainland Europe wouldn’t be interested?
Chelsea are United’s main opponents at the moment, but the club’s future is uncertain following sanctions against owner Roman Abramovich, putting their ability to spend huge money – or any money – in jeopardy. Other teams are expected to express interest in Rice, and with United’s current form, they may not be the most appealing option.
There is a strong probability that United may miss out on Rice, which would be a huge disappointment. However, they already have James Garner, so it may not be a disaster.
That isn’t to claim that Garner is on Rice’s level, but he has exhibited many of the same characteristics. The United academy graduate made his senior squad debut three years ago, and even in his brief cameos, he looked sharp, with one particularly impressive turn against Norwich City coming to mind.
At the age of 21, he has been maturing at Nottingham Forest, where he is on his second loan spell. He dazzled in the second half of last season at the City Ground, prompting calls for his return, and he has been a near-constant presence throughout the campaign. He’s been particularly impressive since the end of January, with two goals and five assists in 11 games as he continues to develop and exert his effect on games.
Garner has been particularly important for Forest in their FA Cup journey to the quarter-finals. On their path to face Liverpool on Sunday, they defeated Arsenal and Leicester. Despite the fact that the streak came to an end, it was a passionate cup match that resulted in a close 1-0 loss.
The United loanee was outstanding, and he didn’t look out of place playing with Fabinho, Naby Keita, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He sliced the Liverpool defense in half with a through ball that could have resulted in a goal if the opposing striker hadn’t dived for a penalty.
Garner has been one of the standouts on a promising young Forest team, and his continuous development should be thrilling for all United fans. Rice should continue to be the top focus this summer, but Garner has proven that he deserves a chance to play in United’s midfield.