Jose Mourinho would do well to talk to his Academy coach about his midfield conundrum

Nicky Butt served Manchester United with great distinction in central midfield and could give Mourinho some pointers about what it takes to make it in that position

Jose Mourinho would do well to talk to his Academy coach about his midfield conundrum
Nicky Butt is currently United's Academy coach (Photo: Dave Thompson / Getty Images)

Nicky Butt played 378 games for Manchester United, and the vast majority of those were with distinction. He also won six Premier League titles, three FA Cups and a Champions League when he was an integral part of the treble winning team.

He is currently the Academy coach at United, and when Jose Mourinho took over at United, he made it clear that he would not interfere with Butt's role. Basically, the first team and the youth team were separate entities. Butt stated that was perfect for him.

Well, maybe it's time that Mourinho asked counsel of Butt. Not to ask how Tahith Chong or Angel Gomes are doing, or if there are any other potential starlets ready for the for the first team. Although that might not hurt.

No, maybe he should ask Butt about what makes a great United midfielder, and how he can get the best out of Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic.

Butt was a United great

Butt would undoubtedly be able to give good advice because he was a great midfielder. To play that many games for United and win so much is no mean feat, but when you consider he had to compete with Roy Keane and Paul Scholes for a shirt, then it is remarkable.

He never had the talent of either, but he was talented in his own right. It was said by many that he was the best of the "Class of '92" as a youngster and that included icons such as Scholes, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs.

He was more Keane than Scholes, but he was not deficient in any area, either attacking or defending. He wasn't able to dictate a game as Keane could, and he couldn't replicate the genius of Scholes. Yet he rarely, if ever let United down.

He was more adept at tackling and breaking play up and he was a worker that never gave less than 100%. He could play football though, and one of the moments that capture Butt, in a nutshell, was his goal against Liverpool in Eric Cantona's 'comeback' match.

Plenty of desire

It also captured United in a nutshell in those days. Andy Cole picked the ball up around 30 yards from goal. Centre forward. He sprayed the ball out to the left wing to Cantona. His strike partner.

When Cantona put the ball into the box, Giggs and Keane waiting for the cross. It went beyond everyone but Butt was steaming in and nicked the ball away from a Liverpool defender and stretched to poke the ball home.

It just showed desire. The desire to gamble, desire to risk, desire to go in where it hurt and more importantly a desire to hurt the opposition by scoring.

Pogba and Matic could both learn from watching that goal. Both central midfielders going beyond the strikers - not the lone striker - and breaking their necks to score a goal. Sounds fanciful, doesn't it?

United's system is restrictive

Tactics and formations may have changed, but football hasn't.

Whether the 4-2-3-1 formation means that both players are only allowed to patrol the centre circle is anyone's guess, but they are not really contributing in attack or defence.

The tippy-tappy five-yard balls. Play it forward, get it back. Pass it sideways, move, and get it back. Go back to the centre-half. Receive it again. Ping a 30 yard ball out wide.

Go nowhere slowly. It sounds boring reading it, but it is just as boring watching it.

This sort of football got Louis van Gaal the sack, and rightly so. It is slow, ponderous and ineffective.

The onus is on Alexis Sanchez now to create some magic. He and anyone that is playing in and around Romelu Lukaku have an enormous responsibility to create things from nothing.

Lukaku is so isolated even having three players behind him in forward positions. Despite the fact that the fullbacks push on to support, the majority of the time the ball gets up into the forward areas, there is a wall of opposition defenders to repel most threats.

Something needs to change, and quickly.

McTominay maturing

Mourinho could go to Butt for advice on another potential solution. Butt has managed Scott McTominay on more occasions than Mourinho and it could be that the youngster could be the answer.

McTominay is nowhere near as talented as Pogba or Matic but he has shown more enthusiasm than either of those in his recent performances. He wants to affect games. He is not happy to just take part, yet it appears that his more illustrious colleagues are.

McTominay has provided the best piece of the action in United's last three disappointing performances. It came in the home game with Huddersfield Town

A rare Huddersfield break late in the first half saw McTominay sprint back from the halfway line, look around and spot runners coming from midfield. He adjusted his run to engage the onrushing players and thwarted the attack by winning the header as the cross came in.

It was a sign of his growing maturity that he not only raced back but had the presence of mind to adjust when he spotted more imminent danger. It is doubtful whether Pogba or Matic would have done the same.

Pogba needs help

It wasn't a glorious piece of attacking flair, but it was excellent play and it's part of what's expected from a midfielder. And if you ask Mourinho, Pogba is a midfielder.

In response to comments from Wayne Rooney and Giggs about Pogba's best position and qualities, Mourinho was quite snide with his assessment of what Pogba is - "he is a midfielder" he declared in his press conference.

If Mourinho has Pogba all worked out, then why is the axis with him and Matic not a modern-day version of Scholes and Keane?

Pogba, especially, must start to play like a midfielder. Either that, or he needs protection. When he has played in a three-man midfield he has flourished. That would work.

Frank Lampard wasn't the best midfielder in the world. In a two-man midfield Lampard was exposed because he could not defend. When he was allowed a free role in a three, he became one of the best goalscoring midfielders ever.

Pogba is not likely to get close to Lampard's goal record, but he should be providing and scoring a lot more than he does.

Maybe Jose should take a leaf out of his own book as he managed Lampard.

Or maybe he should just start playing McTominay because right now a good McTominay is much better than a bad Pogba.

Nicky Butt would probably agree.