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Louis van Gaal finally solving Manchester United's midfield problem

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It's difficult to criticise Sir Alex Ferguson, a man who guided Manchester United through the most successful period in their history. The Scotsman won 49 trophies during his time at United. However if there can be one criticism of Ferguson, it's the state he left United in when he retired in 2013.

The Red Devils may have sealed their 20th league title, but the reality was that all was not well. The most successful manager in the clubs history departed with some of the teams most glaring weaknesses unresolved. The 2012/13 title triumph was effective at papering over the cracks, however it wouldn't last.

One of the most significant issues that Ferguson never solved was the centre of midfield. Many players tried and failed, meaning that when Ferguson retired the club was no closer to an answer to their midfield problems. Two years on and Louis van Gaal is finally starting to address the weaknesses in United's midfield.

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REPLACING KEANE

United's midfield problems really began when Roy Keane left the club back in 2005 due to a break down in his relationship with Ferguson. Since then United have searched high and low for a worthy replacement, to no avail.

Eric Djemba-Djemba was brought in 2003 and proceeded to go down in history as one of Ferguson's worst ever signings. The man brought to eventually fill Keane's boots left the club after a mere 20 league appearances. Juan Sebastian Veron was seen as another potential Keane replacement but the Argentine was gone even before Keane departed.

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Owen Hargreaves arrived in 2007, undoubtedly a talented player. However injury meant that he could never establish himself at Old Trafford, making just 27 Premier League appearances. Such was United's desperation that they even tried to groom natural striker Alan Smith for the role, but he was another who had an injury plagued time at United.

The signing of Michael Carrick in 2006 was the closest Ferguson came to replacing Keane. The Englishman has been a unsung hero for United in the last few years but it would be a stretch to say the former Tottenham man has truly replaced Keane. A talented player, but an inspirational leader he is not.

FERGIE'S FAILINGS

Quite a number of Ferguson's signings in his later years with United were questionable. None more so than the £17 million capture of Anderson. Hailed as the new Ronaldinho, Anderson was supposed to light up the Premier League. Needless to say, things didn't go according to plan. The Brazilians time at the club was frankly laughable. Amazingly he spent eight years at Old Trafford and was disgracefully out of shape for most of it.

United's midfield was so weak that the likes of Darron Gibson managed to get a look in. Possibly the biggest mistake of the Ferguson era is when the Scotsman let an unknown young Frenchman leave the club back in 2012. While no one could have predicted that Paul Pogba was going to develop into one of the world's best midfielders, it still goes down as an incredible error. The manager will have his reasons for moving him on but there will surely be a part of him kicking himself.

SCHOLES' RETIREMENT

Despite the departure of Keane, United could still take comfort in the fact that they had one of the finest midfielders of the generation in Paul Scholes. The Englishman adapted to a deeper role in the later years of his career.

However his United career could not last forever and in May 2011 he announced that he would be retiring from the game. It was another huge blow for United, as they lost a club legend and one of their most influential players. Thus having still to replace Keane, United were faced with the formidable task of replacing Scholes.

Surprisingly Ferguson didn't bolster the centre of United's midfield in the summer of 2011. Instead Tom Cleverley arrived back from loan and went straight into the first team. Based on Cleverley's competitive debut it looked as if United wouldn't need to delve into the market to replace Scholes. Cleverley bossed the Community Shield after coming on at half-time in the 3-2 comeback win against Manchester City.

Unfortunately Cleverley suffered an injury early in the Premier League season. When he returned he never managed to recapture his early form. His confidence seemed to disappear and the once promising midfielder became a symbol of all that was wrong with United's midfield.

Consequently United's midfield problems continued into another season, so much so that in January 2012 there came a shock announcement. Paul Scholes reversed his decision to retire ahead of a FA Cup fixture with City. He would go on to sign a contract with the club that kept him there until the end of the 2012/13 season when he retired for a second time. The club was no closer to replacing him as Scholes followed his manager into retirement.

REBUILDING

David Moyes was doomed from the start at Manchester United. His fellow Scotsman left him with one of the poorest squads in the clubs recent history and Moyes paid the price for Ferguson's failings. Two poor transfer windows saw United get no closer to repairing their damaged midfield. Fellaini arrived but proved incapable of playing the holding midfield role that Moyes tried to employ him in.

Thankfully there was finally some progress last summer. Ander Herrera arrived at the club and performed well in his debut season. He went down as the best signing van Gaal made in his first transfer window. At just 25 he looks as if he could feature in United's midfield for years to come.

The fact that United have become so reliant on 33-year-old Michael Carrick sums up the neglect shown to United's midfield. However van Gaal has finally moved to relieve the pressure on Carrick. Bastian Schweinsteiger could prove to be a real coup at £14 million. At 30 he's not going to be a 30 game a season man but he can be the kind of big game player United have sorely missed.

Morgan Schneiderlin looks to be an excellent signing. He has the required Premier League experience to succeed at United. While he won't set the world alight at United what he will be is the holding midfielder United have needed for a very long time. At 25 the best years of his career are still ahead of him. After a decade, United may finally have found a worthy replacement for Roy Keane.

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Topics:
Manchester United
Premier League
Morgan Schneiderlin
Football
Bastian Schweinsteiger

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