Fan notes: our midfield three
Jonathan Davies muses on the future of United's midfield trio
Throughout the stewardship of Sir Christopher, one position has been more vital than the others: the pivot of the midfield 3. In that wonderful League One season, everyone raved about Paul Coutts, and rightly so. He was the heartbeat of that side and everything good we did went through him. He was the base for Fleck, Duffy, Freeman, Lafferty and the rest to do what they did. The following season we signed John Lundstram in the summer to compete for this position and then Lee Evans in January after the unfortunate injury to Coutts. The real replacement came the following season with the signing of Oliver Norwood.
Now, I think everyone who follows our great football club appreciates Norwood and how good he is. However, with the signing of Sander Berge, there is talk amongst the fanbase that Norwood will be sacrificed for Berge, possibly as early as next season. The fact that Norwood hadn’t played Premier League football before this season is nothing short of a disgrace, and I don’t see Berge replacing him.
It is well known that the coaches (Knill especially) are huge fans of John Lundstram, but it is clear they have worked and worked on him to become the player we have seen this year - the box to box midfielder who has a bit of everything, not the pivot of the three. When Norwood signed, the quality of the side went up a notch straight away, as did the levels of individual players around him. Defensively, he is far better than people give him credit for: he reads the game very well. Going forward, like the aforementioned Coutts, everything we do goes through Norwood. He is the heartbeat of this team, to the point if he plays well everyone else plays well, and when he drops off it is very noticeable that we struggle to keep the ball and the performance generally deteriorates.
In the recent away FA Cup game at Reading it was noticeable straight away he wasn’t playing. The way he moves the ball (three touches at the most) is critical to us breaking teams down, and gives Fleck, the wing backs and centre halves the best chance of getting into space to create. Sander Berge will be a top player for us and what the coaching staff did with Lundstram I can see happening again with Berge, leading to us seeing a completely different player next season: a big box-to-box midfielder who moves the ball quickly, with the ability to score goals in and out of the area. That would take some defending against, and I think this is the avenue they will goal down. Despite this season and how exceptional we have been, we are not in a position where we are going to be replacing players at the level of Norwood at this time. A midfield of an improved Berge, the heartbeat Norwood and the master that is John Fleck causes problems for everyone in the Premier League. Great times ahead.