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After David Moyes’s reign at Manchester hit the nadir of the 0-3 home defeat to Liverpool, the outlook has started to become a lot brighter for the Scottish manager who strains desperately for his team to produce indications that he is worth both the long-term patience and financial backing of the Glazer family.
Olympiakos were batted away 3-0 in the Champions League while West Ham were beaten with what was arguably United’s most cohesive and slick performance since the 50 year old succeeded Sir Alex Ferguson last summer.
The morning after Wayne Rooney’s double did for the Hammers at Upton Park, the Sunday papers were awash with the news United have already begun to plan for the future. Not since May 2007 have United signed a genuine holding midfielder, Ferguson forever on the sharp side of criticism for the folly of losing Paul Pogba to Juventus for free while his midfield problems were allowed to develop to the extent of a desperate call for Paul Scholes to undo his retirement in January 2012.
Scholes finally exited along with Ferguson at the age of 38, Moyes inheriting the uninspiring midfield of Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, the bowel-troubled Darren Fletcher and the 40 year old absurdity that is Ryan Giggs. Anderson has been since jettisoned to Fiorentina while Moyes, who spent the summer trawling for an dynamic presence in the form of Ander Herrera, Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas, had to settle for Marouane Fellaini who has since struggled to justify his £27.5 million fee.
The Belgian is however more of a box-to-box asset, a player more adept in advanced positions which leaves United short of steel in the engine room, a vulnerability that has been seized upon by more sides than Moyes wishes to remember in his inaugural year at Old Trafford.
Moyes’s other purchase has been the £37 million Juan Mata who adds to the glowing list of attacking options alongside Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, the inexcusably under-used Shinji Kagawa and the exciting Adnan Januzaj.
Against West Ham, in the absence of Van Persie who had on Wednesday scored a hat-trick to steer United into the last eight of the Champions League, Mata, Kagawa and Rooney, together with Ashley Young, conjured up a bewitching attacking display tinted with fluid movement and guile to give United’s travelling fans a warm feeling of optimism that has this season been all to rare. It was an indication that fears United have lost some of their attacking verve during the transition from Ferguson to Moyes may be premature.
The back-pages of Sunday’s newspapers filled its inches with who they believe to be Moyes’s first signing of the summer, Sporting Lisbon’s 21 year old defensive midfielder William Carvalho, the player who will be tasked with holding United’s system together as well as protecting the defence should he complete the mooted £37 million deal which meets his release clause.
The move is rumoured to be completed after the World Cup where Carvalho, who has 2 caps so far for Portugal, is expected to rival Miguel Veloso for a starting spot, testament to the rapid rise of the Angola born midfielder who only made his professional debut for Sporting back in August.
It was in Portugal’s World Cup qualifying play-off against Sweden when he made his first senior appearance for the national team, entering the fray to shore up Paulo Bento’s midfield after Zlatan Ibrahimovic had scored twice in four minutes.
“His quality and recent performances justified the call, which also has to do with his height which could be an influent aspect in the match” said Bento who showed no aversion to thrusting the youngster into such pressure. Carvalho calmly sat and offered his defence protection as Cristiano Ronaldo sent the team to Brazil.
The Leoes are recovering from last season’s disappointing seventh place finish and a recent era of financial mismanagement and misplaced luxury buys, so have now altered their approach to the investment of home-grown talent.
All 3 members of Leonardo Jardim’s midfield trio has been produced by the club, Andre Martins and Adrien Silva operating either side of the anchor provided by Carvalho, who has racked up 23 appearances in his first season at senior level, as Sporting attempt to bring a viable challenge to Benfica’s charge to the Liga Sagres.
The touted fee of just under £40 million may seem hefty for a player whose valuation lies mostly in potential, but for the rate of development Carvalho has seen over the past 18 months, the price will be seen as justified for United who seek a holding-midfielder in the mould of Nemanja Matic or Yaya Toure who are both playing major roles in their respective team’s challenge to the Premier League title.
With a powerful core strength and an imposing six-foot build, Carvalho may be compared to the latter though it is the way he shuffles across his defensive zone, covering areas in front of his own defensive third allowing for team-mates to move up the field, will bring similarities to Matic.
Not a dynamic player who will sprint the ball out of his own half but a more considered one, specialising in the basics and keeping it simple, unselfishly allowing for the more attack-minded players to thrive with the shackles released.
Another young Portuguese prospect likely to go to Brazil with Bento’s OS Seleccao is Cedric Soares, the Lisbon right-back who has benefited greatly from the stability Carvalho has added in playing the neo-holding role where disciplined positional sense is just as important as tenacity.
Knowing Carvalho is able to cover if needed, Soares has often been free to advance down the right to provide another attacking option and that type of link-up will be important to Moyes, who has sent club officials to watch the midfielder over 15 times this season, as he seeks next season to implement a greater conviction in his United when going forwards.
Carvalho’s agent Jorge Mendes, who has previously taken Nani, Anderson and Cristiano Ronaldo as well as Bebe to Old Trafford, has been rumoured to have recently been invited to United’s training complex as a move nears closer to fruition amid a period of major upheaval at the club.
Moyes is said to be targeting a centre-half, a left-back and two central-midfielders as Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic head to the exit door and questions still remain over the future of Patrice Evra. Carvalho will usher in the first part of Moyes’s renovation work, the firm holding-midfielder that Ferguson perhaps should have acquired before he passed the reigns over.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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