Manchester United’s midfield needs a major overhaul in the summer, but the club might not have to shell out huge fees to find the answers to their current problems
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Manchester United are preparing themselves for a major overhaul right across the board at the end of the season and midfield is bound to be one of the areas which sees lots of movement.
The current focus is on finding a manager to oversee the team for many years to come. But whoever comes through the door at Old Trafford this summer is likely to want at least a few new midfielders to bolster his squad.
Paul Pogba is poised to leave the club when his contract expires on July 1. Jesse Lingard is in the same situation, while Juan Mata could retire from playing when his deal ends. Nemanja Matic turns 34 in August and is about to enter the final year of his deal. Donny van de Beek could leave after a spell out on loan with Everton and United are seeking a sale of Andreas Pereira, who is currently on loan with Flamengo.
When you consider the amount of criticism regularly aimed at United’s most frequent midfield pairing, Fred and Scott McTominay, you end up looking at a bleak picture. A reinforcement of the midfield has been a long time coming at United – and it finally looks likely to happen this summer.
While new arrivals are a must at Old Trafford, there is also the possibility of strengthening from within. One of those such avenues involves James Garner, who has been turning heads with his performances while on loan from United at Nottingham Forest.
Garner, who is still only 21 years old, has long been earmarked for first-team potential at United and it appears as though he could be about to make good on that promise. That is largely down to a real purple patch at Forest, where he has two goals and five assists in the club’s last 10 matches in all competitions.
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He has already made seven appearances for United in all competitions – but it is his wealth of experience in the Championship which stands him in good stead. Garner has made 77 appearances for Forest and Watford over the past two seasons. And he has plenty of people backing his ability of him to step up to the United first team.
“I really like training when he trains with us, or watching the under-23 games, because you can see that he understands the game. He makes the right decisions. He is a proper player and I really like him, ”Mata told The Athletic in 2019.
“Isco is another example of this type of player. He is this talented player and creative soul, if you want to call it that – he creates. I used to like playing with him (Isco) in Valencia and I watch him in Madrid now. These kinds of creative players, with control, with a move, with a pass – they make football. “
Mata – his biggest fan – added to the club website in 2020: “I always thought he is one of the players who, if he keeps going and keeps improving, in the way he was doing in the academy, he can be a very, very good midfielder. I really like him; the way he plays on the ball, his cleverness, his way of looking forward, looking for a pass and also his attitude off the ball. ”
Garner could easily have been sent on loan to a Premier League side for the 2021/22 season, but after attracting interest from Sheffield United, Stoke City and Derby County, he chose to return to Forest, where he spent the second half of last season . He has forged a close connection with the Championship club and its manager, Steve Cooper, who knew him from his previous work with England under-17s.
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According to The Athletic, Forest would love to sign him this summer, especially if they succeed in their push for promotion. But Garner is reportedly set on returning to United at the end of the season and fighting for a starting place under the new regime.
That determination could suit United perfectly. Garner has previously worked with Michael Carrick on his game and looks to have the kind of game United are crying out for in midfield: he is tenacious in winning the ball back and, crucially, has quality on it once his side are in possession. As Roy Keane said on ITV ‘s coverage of Liverpool’ s 1-0 win over Forest in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday, Garner is “very good technically and he likes to dictate the play”.
United fans will understandably be focused on who could arrive in the summer transfer window – but the answer to their dreams could already be on the club’s books.