Heading into next season, Manchester United could potentially boast quite the selection of midfield options at their disposal.
Bolstering such an area is evidently on top of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s wish-list this summer, with Jack Grealish being the prominent name mentioned. Should the Aston Villa captain arrive though, this creates quite the predicmant as to how United’s midfield would shape up.
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Luxury would perhaps be the better way to describe it, as the team would have at least six options to consider, for just three starting positions. We’ve taken a look into which trio could work out best.
Solskajer’s ideal setup
As highlighted through United’s improved defensive record this season, Solskjaer likes to set-up with quite a rigid structure, laying down a blanket of defensive security for his attacking front three.
Neither full-back tends to push too high, but if they do venture forward, they have two sitting midfielders covering. Solskjaer has predominantly opted for a pivot in the middle, with an advanced figure pushing just in-front. Such a shape would fall under the 4-2-3-1 formation, but this ‘3’ includes the wide-men maintaining an offensive position in the final third.
Operating with two holding midfielders, we have seen Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic enjoy successful campaigns this season, with the three figures compromising the squad’s top five spots for average tackles made per game in the Premier League.
Each midfielder flourishes in their defensive duties, breaking up play and screening the space in-front of the backline. It’s a role that each individual has played on a solo basis at some point in their career, so with a similar partner next to them, their duties become simplified with just one channel to be responsible for.
Although McTominay and Fred do often like to bring the ball forward, their main duties lie with distributing the ball from deep. Holding that position in the middle, the side rarely opt to recycle the ball, but instead, hit it down the flanks and start attacks quickly. It’s a role that all three can perform rather safely, offering their services on a consistent basis.
Only one space for the reliable three?
Given Paul Pogba’s prolonged ankle injury this season, the above trio have all featured regularly. Matic’s appearances have prominently come since the turn of the new year, but his strong form has been rewarded with a new contract extension, meaning he remains in Solskjaer’s plans.
Whilst the Frenchman’s future remains in doubt, there is every chance that he will still be at Old Trafford come September. Should he still be wearing the jersey, he will be expecting to re-occupy his favoured LCM position. It’s a role that Pogba tends to thrive in, spraying balls from deep but also carrying the ball forward when possible.
So far this season, no player in United’s squad has averaged more key passes or through balls, per game in the league. His passing range was missed over the Christmas period, with his absence in the team highlighting the lack of creativity in the middle.
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Grealish has also been heavily rumoured with a move to Old Trafford, suggesting that Solskjaer is keen to bolster options in this department. The Englishman likes to operate down the same channel as Pogba, driving forward inside from the left, creating chances for his fellow attackers.
Even if just one of Grealish or Pogba is at United next season, their creative attributes will likely give them the nod on the left side, over the more defensive options.
Bruno’s spot a given
No player in recent memory has managed to deliver quite an instant as Bruno Fernandes.
He’s scored three goals and assisted four in his opening nine games for the club, transforming the side’s attacking with devastating fashion. Operating as the ‘no.10’, the Portuguese international has been granted a free license to drift into the final third and act as the link between midfield and attack.
Fernandes has taken to his role as the playmaker quickly, offering a type of creative source that United have been deprived of for many years. His tally of three league assists places him joint third in the squad, despite playing just five games. He has also managed 2.2 key passes per game (only Pogba has averaged more), with his creative skills becoming integral to Solskjaer’s XI.
Whilst there are options up for grabs in-behind the attacking midfielder, Fernandes’ position in this team has been quickly cemented. Fans will debate who should compromise the ‘ideal three’ next season, but not many would entertain the thought of dropping Bruno.
How successful would this blueprint serve for United?
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