Tuesday 14 July 2015 08:27, UK
As Bastian Schweinsteiger completes his move from Bayern Munich to Manchester United, we look at how the Germany international could slot into Louis van Gaal’s side.
Is this the signing that will see United successfully fill the midfield void left by the likes of Paul Scholes and Roy Keane? Will the German replace Michael Carrick or play alongside him? Is he likely to be used as an offensive player or asked to play in a defensive way? And how will he work with fellow new recruit Morgan Schneiderlin?
We assess the formations and positions in which Schweinsteiger could be deployed and ask where he will be most effective…
Van Gaal started his tenure as Manchester United manager by adopting the 3-5-2 formation which had seen him steer the Netherlands to third place in the 2014 World Cup.
United struggled to adjust to the Dutchman’s demands and needed five games to register their first victory of the season – a 4-0 win over Queens Park Rangers. They went on to make their worst start to a Premier League campaign, winning just three of their opening 10 league outings.
United will start the new campaign in similar fashion to the last, with an influx of new players following the arrival of Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian and Morgan Schneiderlin - and perhaps the purchase of Schweinsteiger could herald the return of one of Van Gaal’s preferred formations.
Having started his Munich career as a winger, it was Van Gaal who moved Schweinsteiger into his recognised central midfield role. Schweinsteiger could potentially play in left-centre midfield alongside Carrick and Schneiderlin and would add creativity and solidity in the middle of the park.
Having played alongside Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, both of whom are noted for their reluctance to track back, Schweinsteiger’s displays have become synonymous with discipline and awareness. He made 1.7 tackles per game last season, which is more than Carrick (1.4).
He is no stranger to defensive responsibilities and should the wing-backs (Darmian and Ashley Young would be the leading contenders for the roles) bomb up and down the flanks as Van Gaal demands, he could help to protect a back three which was exposed far too many times last season.
Six consecutive victories from late February to early April saw United get the better of Liverpool to secure the final Champions League qualification spot.
In the middle of that run came three stellar displays against Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City, during which the same 4-1-4-1 formation was adopted.
If Van Gaal persists with that system, Schweinsteiger could potentially replace Fellaini in midfield in front of the deep-lying Carrick. He may not be perceived as an out-and-out goalscoring midfielder, but Schweinsteiger certainly knows how to find the back of the net - as illustrated by his clinical finish at Old Trafford during a Champions League quarter-final tie in March 2014.
According to WhoScored.com, Schweinsteiger had 0.9 shots on target per game last season, which is superior to Fellaini (0.6 per game). Furthermore, WhoScored give the German a rating of 7.38 for shooting accuracy, compared to Fellaini's 7.16.
With that in mind, Van Gaal could choose to deploy him further up field, allowing Carrick to pull the strings behind him. However, Jamie Carragher has questioned whether he and Carrick could play alongside each other.
“Great player but at Bayern Munich he found it difficult to play alongside Xabi Alonso. [It will] be interesting to see how he and Carrick work,” the Sky Sports pundit said.
Schweinsteiger’s former manager, Jupp Heynckes, feels the German stands alone among the world's top midfielders, suggesting he plays the game with an unrivalled degree of intelligence.
“To me, Schweinsteiger is a great strategist,” the former Bayern manager said. “Just as a film director has his script, he has a plan in mind for matches. You have to cross the ball to the other side, you have to pass, and that is what Schweinsteiger does. He is the best midfielder in the world."
The stats suggest United have indeed signed a pass master. He averaged more than 66 passes per game last season, including 1.6 key passes per match. That's vastly superior to Carrick, who offered 60.5 passes per game - with just 0.4 key passes.
Many feel Manchester United’s positive final third of the season was derailed by the injury Carrick sustained in the Manchester derby last April. In his absence, United went on to win just one of their final six league games, losing three of them.
But could Schweinsteiger's arrival signal the end of Carrick's role as a first-team regular? The German is two years younger and the stats show he scores more goals, produces more assists and is a more effective passer of the ball. Does a central role in a midfield three with Schneiderlin and Fellaini beckon?
Van Gaal certainly has options - and a few interesting decisions to make...
How would YOU like to see Schweinsteiger utilised in the Manchester United team? Which formation would YOU go for? If you're reading on a desktop device, let us know in the comments box below...