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Thread: Season Review 18-19 - Midfield

  1. #1
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    Season Review 18-19 - Midfield

    Midfielders

    Oliver Norwood Norwood was a player who I always liked when I saw him play for other clubs. A good passer, busy and combative. I was not sure he was the sort who would be the hub of a midfield and always saw him as a role player. This was shown in promotions in Brighton and Fulham when there were probably several other ‘star’ men. He did well for both clubs but then was deemed not good enough then these sides went up. It is surprising for two sides who have both not exactly convinced at top level that he was not given a chance to play a single minute in the Premier League. Fulham really struggled this year and not sure all the big money signing has done any better than players like Norwood and McDonald who barely/did not play at all.

    After United’s poor start and Evans/Lundstram not convincing and Coutts still some way off; United opted to make a change early on moving Evans out and bringing in Norwood. Both were loans to a view to a permanent. It was surprising only us and Hull were after him and the fee was reported as less than 1.5 million. We realised later what a bargain this was. Norwood came in and instantly looked the part against Hull with a cultured performance spraying the ball around showing great touch and range. He was the quarter back role we had not seen since Coutts but his passing range was even better. He continued his excellent start with another man of the match performance in a game against Norwich. He continued his fine form at Bolton and then a superb performance against Villa, scoring a free kick and assisting on another goal. He played every game after this apart from a cup game against Barnet. He somehow staved off a suspension despite some daft bookings – his tackling is a weakness and sometimes he dives in.

    Overall, his performances were a very high level. In most games he showed his superb range of passing and controlled the midfield superbly. He averages over 68 passes per game – the most in the league. He took a great free kick and corner and was a threat all season in this area. Some of his passes were sublime – the cross-field ball in the game versus Wednesday was something else. He often took the ball over the centre backs and played that pinged ball across the field with a penchant for using the outside of his foot. Most games he had more touches than any other player. He scored a tremendous goal at Brentford and was involved in so many attacking moves/goals in other games. His ‘ping’ type pass became a real feature of our performances. He would do ok defensively too, shielding the back four and picking up loose balls and setting us going the other way.

    As we slowly moved up the league his performances rightly drew rave reviews and neutrals sensed he was suddenly a key man in our form. He even became captain and started to become a leader in our side (the times when Sharp was not playing). He had the odd rotten game (Birmingham) but his form remained consistently good for most of the season.

    He has so many positives. His control, skill and passing are consistently good. He never hides. He always wants to get the ball and make us tick. If given time he can really hurt teams. He led the team in assists with 13. The only knocks are that he does not shoot that great for someone with such great technique or score enough goals, he maybe does not carry it enough and lacks mobility (so if players press him, he struggles sometimes) and his tackling is poor. It is interesting players have not kept him at the top level maybe they see this lack of pace/movement and defensive deficiencies could be a problem. I have seen quick and mobile midfielders run past him at times. Some also felt Fleck maybe did not always work alongside him but think this improved as the season went on. However, his poise, control and overall passing means he will get a chance to prove himself at United in a higher level. He is a class act on the ball and never panics and always takes his time to find the right pass.

    Be interesting to see how he copes with the higher level. Everyone is better and faster but also, he may get more time on the ball than maybe this level also. I think he will be fine as long as he had legs around him and people running off; his talent with the ball means he can always be effective really as he just moves it short and long with such unerring accuracy. He is a lovely footballer to watch and keeps United so fluid. He was a big part of the success and the fact he had been through it before (twice) will surely have helped. Still only 28 and his best years maybe are coming around about this time.

    Grade A- (Last season NA)

    John Fleck Overall, I am not sure he had quite as good a season as last year or the year before. He had some good spells but some indifferent spells before finishing the season really well. He often starts well or struggles when he has had time off/injuries. This proved the case as he was slow to start the season and off the pace. He came to life in the game at Bolton and scored and then started to slowly improve. His overall performances were more like the Fleck of old for a period with driving runs, snapping at players and linking all over the field. He did have some oddly poor games and not sure he was that consistent even as United hit the top 6. He frustrated me at times with his inconsistency. He would have great games but then would have another really poor game where he was anonymous. Like Norwood he was a regular in the side as those two were mainstays with Duffy, McGoldrick and Dowell rotated in front of him with the odd game from Bash in the middle too.

    He was strangely off form when West Ham allegedly made a big 8-million-pound bid that was turned down and even with his off-colour form at times; clubs were still interested in him as he is clearly quite a unique player. Maybe Norwood did not suit him as much as there was a big gap between them both as Norwood often picked it up deep and passed rather than move it on and then find him so he could run with the ball.

    He finally got a call up from Scotland but travelled all over the World and never played a minute. He came back and he seemed off the pace again and it seemed whenever we had breaks, he struggled to get going again. Some even spoke about him having some time out of the team but we have no one quite like him. Slowly, he started to pick his form up and I felt after the Villa game he went on a really good run of form. He started to drive at defences, go on those mazy dribbles and overall was a real attacking threat. He picked off other teams’ attacks and was more aggressive generally. As we went on a long unbeaten run (he was poor when we finally lost at home to Bristol City) he started to really get back to that linking play with Duffy, O’Connell, Stevens, McGoldrick etc. He was buzzing around again and the games over Easter he was excellent.

    At times I still feel he does not quite assert himself enough. He has lots of ability, can run with the ball and is a fierce tackler too. He is a busy player who can get box to box and when on form, he as everything you want in a midfielder. He needs to be way more consistent though and the way he finished the season, he needs to start next season the same and carry it on and not have drop offs. H can cross the ball well and commits defenders with his penetration. He should score more goals (2 is a bit pathetic really) and really needs to ensure he is on it every game but is a player that has a chance to do well in the Premier League.

    He needs to come back super fit after the summer and be at it from the start. We cannot afford to have those lacklustre not quite at its games. He needs to be firing – with tackles, chase backs, interceptions and then be able to run with it, commit men and push teams back. He undoubtedly been a big part of our three-year run. He is a regular week in, week out and another that symbolises the driving, passionate and under rated (skill) aspect of this group.

    Grade B (Last season B+)

  2. #2
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    Mark Duffy We keep thinking we will have a player that might push him out of the team but after a number of options and signings were tried in this area; we all keep coming back to Duff. He is a huge part of what we do. When he plays in that number 10 and he is on song; we were tough to stop. We started with an odd workmanlike, methodical midfield but he was put back in at QPR and then after this was near enough a regular when fit. Woodburn did not really push him at all so he continued to be the key man in this area. Having McGoldrick helped as he had another great ball player that would also come deep and allow him to move into different areas. He has played 32 games for us this season and despite a few injuries or a bit of loss of form at times; he has continued to be a key man. He scored six goals which may not seem great but is double the three he got last year. He scored a few crackers too. The ones v Villa and Forest were great finishes from range but he also scored some one on one goals with deft footwork in one on one situations at Rotherham and Wigan.

    He was not always on his game but even when he had poor games (Rotherham at home) he would still give you that moment of piece of magic. It showed the drop off when he did not play and even Dowell who did ok was a drop off. There is not really a player quite like him and when we look for that player that can rival him and maybe replace him; it will not be easy. He lacks pace but has never been that quick so not sure it will make that much difference at a higher level. He never seemed to play a long stretch and Wilder maybe managed his minutes and when we went on the run winning at Leeds and WBA he did not play. However, after a few so-so games in late March, we were desperate to get him back and after he came back in, we never looked back.

    Still lovely on the ball, he moves out of tight openings, probes and finds little pockets of space as he moves us forward. Sometimes his passing was sloppy and it did not work but he never hid at all. He always wants to get on it and find those little moves and runners who advance and he just find gaps when there does not seem to be any. Another player I love watching and even when you think he maybe is getting on and won’t be such an important player, he keeps coming back and showing what a big part of what we do. Without him we do look a different team and there is a drop off. The story Wilder tells of him coming from Prescott Cables is one that has been repeated but what a moment for him if he can play at Anfield against his boyhood club next season.

    Grade B+ (Last season B+)



    Paul Coutts His injury played a huge part in the previous season slipping away. He had been superb to start the season and was our best player up to when he got injured. He battled back but must have looked at the likes of Evans, Leonard and Lundstram and felt he could definitely improve us if he got back fit. Norwood came in and two of the above moved on and the new signing did fantastically. A player that like Coutts, was a quarterback, player maker type, if meant Coutts could take his time coming back. He had a surprise appearance against Villa on the bench and this buoyed the crowd. He then played at Sheffield FC on the Monday night and did ok. He was mostly on the bench and made his bow at Blackburn as we helped see things out and his ball retention, passing was shown to the fore. He did seem to lack mobility and was quite slow at times in the limited action we saw. A few times players burst away from him and when he had it, could not quite accelerate away from people (I know he was never fast but was doing that previously just over a few yards and using good upper body strength to get away but this seemed to have gone). When he did play off the bench you would hope he would start to get to the pace but it never really happened. He played at Forest, with Norwood, but it did not work and he was off the pace. He then had a few other sub games and did against Blackburn in the win but was awful in the game against Barnet. He came on in the game against Millwall and really struggled again with the pace and seemed to completely lack mobility. Wilder then preferred Lundstram in the run in as cover or a late sub to give some defensive play/physicality to see things out.

    I watched him play a full game for the u23’s against Wednesday and I worried after this if we would ever be the same player after watching him carefully even at this level. The injury maybe has taken more out of him than we thought. Even against kids at this level, he struggled and whilst he could still pass, he could not get up and down the pitch and was hassled out of it a lot. He lacked the mobility, strength and stamina that means unless the stands in a small area of the pitch then his skills are rendered mostly useless. In the sub games that is all he has done, stayed in a 10-15-yard circumference and just played wall passed. Norwood is not the most mobile but runs around a lot and cover a lot of ground compared to what we have seen of Coutts. May be harsh as he has not started games but then you wonder why – the team were doing well but have had drop off and he still was not turned to.

    He maybe needs a proper preseason and needs more games but he is not going to get it here. Norwood and Fleck are clearly better players at the current time. Many want him back in the team but he had to earn it and who are you leaving out? It is sad to see him move on but Wilder will have seen him train, play and make that decision (contract up). I think after everything he went through and what a key player, he was for us, that makes it so sad but there is no room for sentiment in this game and as I have alluded to with the likes of Moore, Wright, Freeman, Stearman, Clarke, we have to keep progressing. Are we really in a position to wait another 6 to 12 months for a player the wrong side of 30 and one that has had lots of injures before especially at a higher level? If Wilder felt he was going to be an asset for us he would have played him a lot more but only seemed to trust him for the odd 5-10 minute cameo to see games out. He did not use him to try and change games or give him a start alongside the other midfielder; even preferring Bash (Leeds) and sometimes Lundstram (Brentford) rather than Coutts. I kind of felt that he knew he was leaving when I saw him celebrate with the team. He was part of it and right at the front and up there with Stearman for amount he was drinking but maybe he knew that he may not be here longer term and wanted one last hurrah! We have to remember for a season and a half he was a big part of this three-season progression. He was one of our top 3 players in League One and then maybe our best player for the first 4 months of the 17/18 season.

    Grade C- (Last season A-)


    Lee Evans I have to say I was never convinced by Evans. He played regularly the previous season and after a few decent early games; I felt he showed more deficiencies than strengths. He was decent on the ball at times and could take a good free kick/corner but all too often he gave it away and lacked consistency. He was also very one paced and quite weak physically for a big guy. Many games he was quite anonymous with the two goals v Boro his big highlights. As the season started, I felt he carried on this form and was not influential in the first two league games as we did not control this key area of the field. He was just very average and could see why Wolves had moved him on.

    Wilder received a bid and with the chance to get Norwood in; he made the decision to let him go. It was interesting that he asked to go apparently too. Since he joined Wigan, I read that their fans have also seen the same lack of aggression, consistency or real stand out skill that I saw. Wigan have plummeted and whilst he had played most of the games, I think we did really well to get our money back (and some) for a player that is League One at best in my opinion. He did at least assist in a goal in a big game at Elland Road which of course helped us.

    Grade D (Last season C+)

  3. #3
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    John Lundstram was seen as a player that was a bit of a scapegoat last season as we did rarely seem to win when he played. He came in when Coutts got injured and although a different type of player completely; there was a drop off and that is why we signed Leonard and Evans. None of the three really allowed us to have the same control of midfield that we had enjoyed and Fleck often had to play out of his skin to compensate for very ordinary performances from this trio. With Coutts not fit still; Lundstram started the season but was poor in two opening day defeats. He still lacked mobility, pace and ball retention to be part of a two (with one in front). Norwood came in and he was mostly sub after this and even some games he was not in the 18 with Coutts coming back. He did well when he came on against Villa, with a few crunching tackles on Grealish and then actually was solid in a win at Brentford. He did then play at Reading but was taken off at half time and never started again after this only having the occasional cameo from the bench right at the end of games.

    He played in the cup game against Barnet and like many of the others, did not impose himself. We saw the odd elements of him in brief sub games after this and then actually some said he may have been a better option than Coutts but that says more about his lack of impact than Lundstram. However, to be fair to Lunny he did actually help us see out a few of the games as the season finished and was back involved again. He actually played well in the game at Stoke offering a physical presence to break up the opponents play.

    Still has another year on his deal but he has shown he is not good enough consistently for the top end of the Championship to play regularly so not sure how he would cope with an even bigger jump. When he plays the drop off is noticeable in this area. People may saw I am scapegoating him but I can only go on what I see. I am still after 2 seasons not sure what his strengths are. He gives it away quite a lot, is quite weak for a big lad and cannot get up and down the pitch. I would be looking to see if we can move him on this summer but lower Champ / League One is about his level and be hard to shift being on decent wages I would think and with Coutts leaving may stay around for a bit until reinforcements are brought in.

    Grade C- (Last season C)


    Ryan Leonard Wilder had chased him forever and finally got his man in January the previous season but he was never a regular and indeed played his best few games at right centre back. When in midfield he looked a bit lost and technically he struggled with the higher standard of play. He seemed a bit of a ratter type but another like Evans that lacked the sheer physicality, mobility or athleticism needed for a midfielder at the top end of the Championship. He began this season on the bench, which is where he spent much of it last season when he joined United. He did come on at QPR and helped see out the win and had one good run also in that game. He also came on and did well against Norwich and gave us some bite. I felt he was starting to make a bit of an impact after a poor start to his United career but with Norwood moving in and Coutts coming back.

    I would have preferred him to stay to Lundstram actually as we do/did not have a player of his type but Millwall offered United over a million and United decided as with the Evans deal, to bank the money and move on. He seemed to do ok at Millwall and assisted on a goal against us and scored a few others. Their fans liked him and he was captain for some games as they did well in the cup. However, the league form for Millwall was wretched and they were embroiled in a relegation scrap but did stay up. He did play quite well in the final period of the game at the Lane but got away with a late foul which led to the leveller.

    Leonard maybe was more suited to Millwall’s scrappy and direct approach and he lacked the technique to quite fit in with United’s more measured approach. Another like Evans, Holmes, Wilson etc of the January window of 2018 that did not quite come off despite Wilder being a huge fan. Maybe United moved on in ability and progress quicker than imagined and thus we needed a better calibre of player.

    Grade C- (Last season C)

    Ben Woodburn When we signed him, we allegedly beat off interest from Aston Villa and others to get him. Seen as a real talent and shown flashes of potential mainly for Wales, most fans were delighted with this signing. A Brooks type player and his replacement in many ways. He actually only started one game for us against Norwich and was replaced at half time I believe. He had another start against Hull in the League Cup but was ineffective in both games. He had a number of other sub appearances also. He actually did well at Boro when he came on and looked promising as he ran with the ball and showed some good skill. However, I felt in most other games, he looked physically weak, lacked awareness and was miles off the pace of competitive football. He looked a player that had been playing u23/reserve level for the last few seasons. He was brushed off the ball too easily, his first touch was poor and he did not seem to know where to go positionally. He often lost it in key areas and we saw none of the dribbling, shooting and attacking prowess we had seen in his showings for Wales.

    In short, he looked a bit lost and not ready for professional football at this level. Some Liverpool players asked why he was not being used but when given chances he did not do it at all. Wilder will have seen him in training also and as the season went on, he was used less and less and then was not even on the bench. He had a few injuries but I was not surprised when he went back. It is telling that no one else has come in for him although strangely he ended up back on the bench in the epic Champions League win for Liverpool over Barcelona due to a number of injuries. Could not make our bench but made Liverpool’s! I saw him play for Wales the other week and he showed flashes again and scored but he had a long way to go if he wants to make it. Like James Wilson we had the year before, his reputation at a big club means nothing if you do not put the work in and prove you deserve game time even at a lower level. He is still young and maybe the experience at the Lane may help him moving forward as if/when he goes on loan again or even moves on from Liverpool for good, he has to do the basics (hard work, pressing, ball retention) before he can show some of the skill he may have.

    Grade E- (Last season NA)

    Kieran Dowell was a player we chased last summer but went for Woodburn in the end. Eventually we signed him in January. He had experienced a mixed time at Forest doing well to start the season but then when Karanka came in, he ended up out of the team. Forest fans said he had some ability but would also drift out of games and was quite weak. Their opinions ended up being spot on. He came in and did ok in a few games (Norwich, Villa and West Brom) and made a few goals and scored a crucial one at the Hawthorns and another in the final game.

    Could run with the ball a bit and quite mobile. However, the shooting and dribbling that people had cited, we never really saw. He got hooked at half time in quite a few games and recall him freezing a bit in the big game at Hillsborough. He played left wing back a few times and did better against Reading than at Preston where a quick winger caused him some problems. He was then more of a peripheral player after this but still did a job when he was called on and scored a goal at Stoke; although we ended up just noticing more when Duff was out as there was quite a drop off. Still, he was there as competition in bits and pieces. We also got a song out of having him too with ‘Dowell, D….D….D….Dowell’ (Paul Johnson song – Get Get Down) booming out in pubs and even himself singing it at the end of season celebrations. Unless Everton let him move on and he may be a decent lad to have around as cover, not sure he is quite Premier League standard; he was not quite top end Championship really. We only can have two loans so expect he will go back to Everton and then probably end up on loan again back in the Championship.

    Important signing though and offered far more than Woodburn and provided some competition and cover. Also scored a ***** goal and a few assists and came in and played a few roles. Seemed to love being here and probably be quite sad not to be back.

    Grade B- (Last season NA)

  4. #4
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    The rest

    Samir Carruthers did start the first season back in Championship but fell out of favour and another who seemed the step up was too much. Karl Robinson had him at MK Dons and signed him for Oxford but he got injured and barely played at all. When he did Oxford fans were not that impressed. He has another year on his contract but as with a few others (Holmes etc), finding a taker for him will be tough in terms of his contract situation. Certainly, I do not expect him to ever play for SUFC again. At 25 he still has time to turn things around but this signing has not worked out after some promise in the title winning campaign. Expect United to try and buy him out of his final year if no one comes in as he has been listed.


    Nathan Thomas another that was a bit of a gamble. We supposedly beat off interest from Boro to sign him but although he played a few cup games and scored a cracker at Ipswich he was never close to a first team place really and barely was on the bench. He went to Notts County and played 25 games but the fact they were bottom of the whole 92 and they terminated his loan said it all about his success. He went on loan again to Carlisle who were higher up the league. Another that has a year left. I expect he will be on one of the smaller wages and United will cancel his contract to allow him to move on I would think if no one takes him on.

    Ricky Holmes was a player Wilder had chased like Ryan Leonard. Holmes chose Charlton instead but after financial issues at the Valley; he came to United eventually. He only played 5 times and another that came to the club in the January transfer window but never really established himself. When he did play, he lacked pace and consistency to earn a regular spot. Preseason with Brooks moving on and before Woodburn signed, he was around the first team and recall watching him play in a poor game at Mansfield. When Woodburn signed, Wilder allowed him to move on and he too went to Oxford. He played a bit more than Carruthers and the U’s fans eulogised about his skills as he scored some long-range beauties but he too got injured. His persistent back problems stopped him playing much at all and in the end his loan was terminated. Strangely Gillingham took him on loan despite him being injured in a gamble he could get fit. He never did and came back. Still contracted to United, he has little future at the Lane. He needs to get himself fit and earn himself another loan or permanent back to League One. Another signing that did not work but also the success of United meant we were simply looking for better quality.

    Regan Slater had impressed many when he made a few appearances at Preston and then Ipswich in the cup and seen as a real prospect. He was allowed to go on loan to Carlisle but his time here has been mixed. He had some decent performances and scored a few goals but was in and out of a side that changed managers. He found men’s pro football even at League Two level quite tough. He probably has not quite had the impact Wilder would have wanted and now either will be loaned out again or back in the u23’s. He has another year but will need to kick on and realise the potential he showed 12-15 months ago but not sure with United’s rise it will be here now unless he makes a bigger impression than he did at Carlisle.

    Jordan Doherty went on loan to American side Tampa Bay Rowdies, managed by former Blade Neil Collins but barely featured and seemed a nice place to be to play only a few minutes of action! He is still 18 but I am not sure on his contract situation. I believe he may have one more year. He played in the benefit game at Sheffield FC earlier in the season and did ok. He has switched between defence and midfield.

    Harvey Gilmour actually had more an impact than Slater as he did really well at Tranmere, scoring a number of goals and putting in several man of the match performances. A bit like with Semple, it was a bit of a surprise when he was allowed to move on permanently but once again the jump from League Two to the tope end of the Championship is huge and at 20 needs to play games. Tranmere had a decent season and he was a regular before he signed but then he was out of the team and has only played briefly from the start since Xmas.

    Reece York came in from Fulham and looks neat and tidy and competitive in games I have seen. Both will play more for the u23’s next season.

    George Broadbent is a big lad who has played for the u18’s and recently started to feature for the u23’s. Harrison Neal also played for the u23’s during the season.


    Next season
    A position we had lots od bodies in but with Coutts moving on and a number of others listed, Holmes, Carruthers, Thomas etc we are left with the starting three of Fleck, Norwood and Duffy and Lundstram so we need major investment here. We need to really get that Duffy type player in – whether it be we go back for Freeman at QPR or look elsewhere. James at Swansea and Lolley at Forest been mentioned but we do not really play with wide men and not sure they would work in the ten role. It is ***** we get this player right. Behind him, we need probably two players for both Fleck and Norwood’s position. Seen some reports linking both Joe Allen and Ryan Woods at Stoke and either of them would be very good to provide proper competition. At the moment we have nothing under them, no disrespect to Lundstram or even Bash who could play there. We need some athleticism and power in this area and some more athletic players. We were susceptible to quick, runners from midfield and this will be an even greater issue at a higher level so key we can get some players in to compliment what we have. I think Fleck and Norwood will start but think Duff might be in and out and that signing might be the big one. That and another striker (more later) will be where most of the budget may go I sense.

    Player / Position Years remaining (contract expires)

    Midfielders

    Paul Coutts Out of contract (2019) - released
    Jordan Doherty 1 year (2020)
    Regan Slater 1 year (2020)
    Nathan Thomas 1 year (2020) – transfer listed
    Samir Carruthers 1 year (2020) – transfer listed
    Ricky Holmes 1 year (2020) – transfer listed
    John Lundstram 1 year (2020)
    Mark Duffy 1 year (2020)
    John Fleck 2 years (2021)
    Oliver Norwood 2 years (2021)


    Return to loan club:

    Kieran Dowell back to Everton

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