Saturday 21 October 2017

Evergreen Giggs shows up Reds lack of viable options in engine room

Ryan Giggs can still take charge of the United midfield
Ryan Giggs can still take charge of the United midfield

Mark Ogden

Not for the first time in his remarkable career, Ryan Giggs was Manchester United's best midfielder against Bayer Leverkusen last night.

His passing was laser-accurate, he snuffed out as many Leverkusen attacks as he started for United and his communication and cajoling of those around him highlighted every lesson learned since he replaced Denis Irwin as a skinny 17-year-old sub against Everton in March 1991.

He also made two goals as United cruised to their most impressive European away win since a similarly one-sided victory against Schalke in the 2011 semi-final first leg.

But, while the never-ending story of Ryan Giggs remains as compelling as ever, the fact he is still able to take charge of United's midfield against the elite of the Champions League just two days short of his 40th birthday should is a source of concern for David Moyes.

Privately, Moyes is probably acutely aware that United should not be relying on a man with more than 950 appearances under his belt when it comes to chasing crucial qualification points against a Leverkusen team currently second only to all-conquering Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.

When a 39-year-old player-coach is selected ahead of a 24-year-old England international in Tom Cleverley, and a Brazilian in Anderson, the decision shines a light on the paucity of options available to Moyes in the engine room of his team.

The last time United visited Leverkusen, in a Champions League group fixture in September 2002, the midfield personnel available to Alex Ferguson was an embarrassment of riches Moyes can only dream of at Old Trafford.

Just like Moyes, Ferguson was without two senior midfielders, with Paul Scholes and Roy Keane unavailable due to injury, yet his midfield quartet for that 2-1 victory 11 years ago comprised David Beckham, Juan Sebastian Veron, Nicky Butt and a 28-year-old Giggs.

Cleverley's career is reaching a crossroads due to his lack of progress, while Anderson is likely to be sold as soon as United can find the first club interested in taking the 25-year-old off their hands.

Jones would be an automatic selection every week alongside a fit Carrick but for the fact that his best position is centre-half. So, while Giggs continues to defy time and logic, his presence in the team is also an indictment of United's forward planning for a key area of the team.

When Bryan Robson was nearing the end of his time at United, Ferguson invested in the youthful promise of Paul Ince and then Roy Keane. Then came the Beckhams, Butts and Scholeses before Ferguson hand-picked Carrick, and the injury-cursed Owen Hargreaves, as Keane's successor.

Ferguson and his scouts appear to have fallen asleep at the wheel in recent years, however, with no obvious solution to the midfield conundrum in place at Old Trafford.

The careless handling of Paul Pogba's contractual situation two years ago saw the French midfielder, now being billed as Patrick Vieira's natural heir, walk into the grateful arms of Juventus.

The result is that Giggs, now just four short of Raul's all-time Champions League appearance record of 142 games, remains as crucial as ever.

But Giggs is smart enough to realise to that his qualities will not suffice if United find themselves up against the likes of Bayern, Barcelona or Real Madrid in the latter stages of this season's Champions League.

He remains a freak of nature, a diamond whose true value will not be realised until he finally retires, but he and United need the cavalry to arrive at some point. Giggs will not go on forever and that, for United, is a frightening reality. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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