Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s unbeaten run in the Premier League came to an end on Sunday night in a cagey duel with Arsenal. A rather static affair saw Solskjær’s men leave the Emirates empty-handed, but there were a lot of positives to take for the Red Devils. The latter part of February was a stressful period for Manchester United fans as an overload of injuries and vital fixtures were upon them. Solskjær was forced to provide players like Andreas Pereira, Scott McTominay and Fred one last chance to stake a claim for a spot in his first choice starting 11. With some impressive displays from the trio and many of his injured players returning to full fitness, it’s time to question who makes up Manchester United’s best midfield.
Manchester United’s Best Midfield Trio
Solskjær’s formations vary from game to game, but most commonly he seems to prefer a variation of the 4-3-3. However, when facing opposition that consistently field an organised and rigid defensive line, Solskjær prefers lining up with two strikers in a 4-3-1-2 formation or the classic 4-4-2.
Despite a lot of criticism from fans, Scott McTominay caught the eye of Jose Mourinho last season and Solskjær has incorporated him into his squad as well. McTominay was often labelled as ‘bang average’, however, recent performances have shown the fans why he is worthy of wearing a Manchester United shirt. The Scottish international impressed against Liverpool and put in a man of the match performance in the historic Champions League win against Paris Saint-Germain.
In both games, McTominay acted as a metronome, dictating the tempo of play from midfield. His work rate was admirable as he was constantly acting as the link between defence and attack. In Paris, the youngster was employed as a defensive midfielder and shielded the back line magnificently. He used his stature to nullify the threat of Marco Verratti and dictate play from the back. An aspect of McTominay’s game that still needs further development is his passing range. The 22-year-old looks comfortable playing the ball sideways and along the back, however, hasn’t fully developed the skill to play long balls forward. In addition, he doesn’t quite have the ability to play the intricate pass that exposes the holes in opposition defences.
Fred was signed for £50 million under Jose Mourinho from Shakhtar Donetsk. Upon his arrival, he has failed to meet expectations and has looked uncomfortable in many games. The Brazillian has managed just nine Premier League appearances this season but looks to have found some form in recent weeks. Fred is a very complete midfielder and despite the result, looked very good against Arsenal last weekend. His attacking mentality and ability to play the ball forward with a great degree of accuracy is of great value. Lately, Fred has highlighted his ability to win the ball back in the middle of the park and ignite a counter attack. With the absence of Martial and Lingard, it hasn’t been as effective, however, once Solskjær has all players back at full fitness, Fred could fit the system very nicely.
In the build-up to the current Premier League season, United fans were begging for Pereira to start, however, an abysmal display against Burnley saw fans turn on him very quickly. Due to the injuries of Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera, the Brazillian has been given one last chance to prove his worth.
Pereira is a technically gifted player who has an outstanding passing range and great set-piece abilities. However, the main flaw in his game is consistency and defensive discipline. Solskjær’s tactics rely on midfielders and wingers dropping back to defend, and so for Pereira to cement a spot in the starting lineup, he must work on winning the ball back and breaking up the play in the midfield.
Paul Pogba is perhaps the player who has made the most remarkable comeback under Ole Gunnar Solskjær. During the Mourinho era, the Frenchmen often looked lethargic and lazy, however, he now looks like the player Manchester United thought they signed back in 2016.
Recently, Pogba has looked phenomenal, as the revival of Herrera and Matic have given him the license to attack and play a free-flowing brand of football. His size gives him an aerial presence whilst his technical skills on the ball are vital in both creating and scoring goals. Pogba is one of the few players in the Premier League who has the ability to single-handedly change the game. The 25-year-old’s game is near perfection at the moment, but for him to retain his spot in Solskjær’s best midfield would be to remain consistent and defensively disciplined.
Ander Herrera has always been a fan favourite amongst United fans and has also had a great resurgence under Solskjær. The Spaniard has recently been playing as a box-to-box midfielder and has been labelled a ‘jack of all trades’. Similarly to Pogba, Herrera’s game is also very complete as he is well developed in all areas. Besides his excellent defensive abilities and threat in front of goal, what makes Herrera so loved by fans is his passion for the club and leadership qualities. Despite his build, Herrera has been nicknamed the ‘Spanish Bulldog’ for his desire to regain possession and ability to intercept the ball and cut out opponents counter attacks.
Nemanja Matic’s time at United has been a rollercoaster ride as his form has been extremely inconsistent. Upon his arrival, he put on a series of impressive performances and was dearly appreciated by the fans. However, during Mourinho’s final season in Manchester, the Serbian looked like a liability as he was extremely wasteful on the ball and didn’t have the speed to try and recover it.
Matic’s recent displays have been of a much higher standard as he has adopted the traditional defensive midfielder role. He utilises his physical dominance to hold up the ball before distributing the ball deep inside his own half.
The Most Effective Combination
Ole Gunnar Solskjær is evidently spoilt for choice when deciding a midfield trio. However, the most effective and balanced midfield he should field would consist of Nemanja Matic or Ander Herrera as the pivot, with Fred and Paul Pogba on either side of him. Matic and Herrera should rotate based on the opposition and their style of play. Against sides that bring a strong aerial threat, the Serbian would be the favourable option, however, when against a more technical side that play a possession-heavy game, the Spaniard should be employed. Fred provides the flare and is a valuable asset on both ends of the pitch, whilst Pogba should be used to supply and create chances for the strikers.
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