Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal doesn’t tend to make things easy for sports journalists, who generally flit between ‘holding-midfielder’ ‘defensive-midfielder’ ‘deep-lying midfielder’ and ‘anchorman’ when describing the role just ahead of the centre-halves in a football team.
Van Gaal rather archaically insists on calling the position ‘No.6’, and the 63-year-old is clearly in need of a new one; as he has said himself, soon-to-be-34-year-old England man Michael Carrick is the only specialist in the role in United’s senior squad.
Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin and Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger have been linked with moves to Old Trafford so far this summer, ostensibly to fill the gaps left by Van Gaal’s side in Carrick’s absence.
The Geordie missed more than half of his side’s Premier League matches last season, and with another year on the clock United desperately need cover, with Daley Blind and Ander Herrera clearly not comfortable in the role when tried there during the Iron Tulip’s first term in charge.
Neither Schneiderlin nor Schweinsteiger would currently identify as defensive midfielders; the former scored four Premier League goals in 26 starts last season, and averaged just under one key pass per game, while the latter’s five in 28 all-competition appearances for Bayern in 2014/15 was his worst return for three years.
Indeed, WhoScored.com lists both as having turned out many more times in the centre of midfield for their clubs last term than further back in a defensive role, but considering how many top players are converted into anchormen during their careers, this shouldn’t worry the Red Devils’ faithful.
United legend Roy Keane arrived at Old Trafford having played further forward during his time at Nottingham Forest, and never surpassed his 14-goal tally at the City Ground during 1991/92, while Juventus’ Andrea Pirlo went through a similar conversion when moving from Inter to Milan 14 years ago.
More recently, the likes of Schweinsteiger’s in-demand Die Mannschaft teammate Ilkay Gundogan has gone from playing behind the striker to in front of the defence at Borussia Dortmund.
Schneiderlin’s defensive numbers are in his favour, with 3.7 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per Premier League game to his name last term, compared to 1.7 and 1.4 in the Bundesliga for Schweinsteiger, but it’s fair to argue the Germany centurion was playing in a much better (and less stretched) side.
There seems to be negligible difference in the pair’s passing ability, with Schneiderlin hitting his mark 89 per cent of the time over an average 19 metres, compared to 88 per cent/18 metres from Schweinsteiger, according to Squawka.com’s 2014/15 stats from their respective leagues.
The one reason the French international looks a better bet for United is that he’s almost five years younger than the World Cup winner, who has just endured two seasons of Pep Guardiola’s pressing tactics after more than a decade running box-to-box with Bayern.
Former Bayern captain Lothar Matthaus recently stated, in defence of his fellow countryman, that ‘Guardiola showed in the last 12 months that he is not that convinced of Schweinsteiger’.
Despite a distinct lack of European football on Schneiderlin’s CV, he ranks as less of a risk than Schweinsteiger this summer.