As soon as French international Morgan Schneiderlin completed his £25 million move to Old Trafford from Southampton this summer, I thought he could turn out to be Louis van Gaal's most important signing.
He didn't play in the 3-0 defeat at Arsenal but United's poor first-half defensive display in that game showed in many ways just how essential Schneiderlin is and certainly suggested that he has to start in the big matches for Van Gaal's men.
Bastian Schweinsteiger was trying to press very high up the pitch, impose himself on the game early on and in particular keep tabs on Arsenal's deep-lying playmaker Santi Cazorla.
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This said, at times the German captain was United's furthest player forward and was caught extremely high up the pitch on multiple occasions.
The gaps that Schweinsteiger created for the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to run into were worryingly huge and it cost United in the early exchanges of the game.
SCHNEIDERLIN IS A REAL DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER
In big games especially it's vital that you don't allow the opposition's forwards to run freely at your defence and hence protection from midfield is key. Although both Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick have made stellar careers out of playing in front of the back four, neither of them are defensive midfielders.
They are wonderful technicians who are great passers of the ball and who can dictate a game and control possession all by themselves. Similar to Schweinsteiger and Carrick, Andrea Pirlo, Arsenal's Cazorla and Real Madrid's Toni Kroos all play as holding midfielders but none of them are defensive minded.
Schneiderlin is comfortably the best defensive midfielder within Man United's ranks and Nemanja Matic is probably the only player in the Premier League who performed better than him in that position last season.
Schneiderlin is six years younger than Schweinsteiger and nine years younger than Carrick, so he has a greater ability to get around the pitch, harass and close down his opponents for longer periods. He might not be as accomplished in possession as that duo, but the 25-year-old Frenchman keeps the game simple and rarely loses the ball.
He can tackle, read the game well and most important of all organise. When Schneiderlin is on the pitch he helps United massively to keep their shape and defend as a compact unit.
There's no doubt that Schneiderlin provides more steel and athleticism to United's midfield and his presence was greatly missed on Sunday.
Schneiderlin protects Van Gaal's defence better than anyone else so going forward, playing the Frenchman alongside either Carrick or Schweinsteiger could be the perfect central midfield combination for Manchester United.
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