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Inspite of positive signs in pre-season, Manchester United still need a new midfielder

Sporting CP v AS Monaco - Pre-Season Friendly
Sporting CP v AS Monaco - Pre-Season Friendly
ANALYST
Modified 30 Jul 2019, 19:04 IST
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With the Premier League transfer deadline approaching in just over a week, it looks increasingly unlikely that Manchester United will sign Bruno Fernandes before the window slams shut.

The Portuguese midfielder has been incessantly linked with the Red Devils throughout the summer in a £50 million move with several conflicting reports in the media regarding the status of the deal.

The 24-year-old appeared to be in tears recently following a 2-1 pre-season defeat for Sporting, fueling rumours that a deal was inevitable.

But chatter has practically died down since then, with an £80 million deal for Harry Maguire looking more likely to happen at the moment.


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The bigger issue

Contrary to popular opinion, central midfield appears to be a bigger problem than defence for United right now. With Marouane Fellaini having left for China in January and Ander Herrera joining PSG on a free, Ole Gunnar Solskjær's midfield options look very thin.

Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay should suffice in defensive midfield, but the second position in Solskjær's preferred 4-2-3-1 double pivot is understaffed.

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Paul Pogba has played there in pre-season, and he plays a similar role for France, but the 26-year-old has always looked underwhelming in United colours. Whether this is due to the rigours of the Premier League compared to international football is unclear.

The World Cup winner would clearly do a much better job as a free roaming attacking midfielder behind the central striker, which will probably be the case if a last minute move to Real Madrid doesn't materialise.

Last summer's £52 million arrival Fred is a natural contender, but it would be unwise to depend on him following a shaky debut season in England. Andreas Pereira has showed some promise, but the Brazilian is defensively very suspect, and is anyway much better in a number 10 role.

United need a player like Herrera, someone who can push forward and support Pogba in attack, while dropping deep alongside Matic/McTominay in defence. He would also need to be a good ball-carrying player, to initiate quick transitions on the counter.


Back to 4-3-3?

Fernandes' 31 goals and assists in the Primeira Liga last season suggest that he's a prolific attacking midfielder. He would ideally thrive in a 4-3-3 alongside Pogba, and his incredible stats might convince Solskjær to try it once more.

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The problem with a 4-3-3 formation currently is the fact that Pogba's presence on the left leaves United lopsided in attack. Overloads on the left wing with Pogba, Shaw, Martial and Rashford are often common, leaving space for the right back and right winger to exploit with the help of cross-field long balls.

Manchester United v FC Internazionale - 2019 International Champions Cup
Manchester United v FC Internazionale - 2019 International Champions Cup

However, this means that a player like Martial who thrives in one-on-one situations is constricted for space on the left, and seldom gets the opportunity to run at fullbacks. It also stifles Shaw's natural attacking instincts.

Having a midfielder like Fernandes, who can arguably match Pogba in terms of passing range and vision, on the right side could balance things out.

With the addition of a right back like Wan-Bissaka whose work rate will be a huge benefit, United can now start regularly overloading the right flank, opening a wealth of new possibilities.

Late runs into the box by Pogba could be picked out by Wan-Bissaka's crossing (which could admittedly use some work), or Fernandes' whipped balls across the park could create dribbling opportunities for Martial and Rashford.

The speed and passing accuracy of Pogba and Fernandes could also benefit United on the counter, with the addition of pacy Swansea winger Daniel James this summer.

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Its clear that no other player could complement Pogba like Fernandes potentially could, with Pereira being the closest that the Red Devils currently have. In the absence of a deal for the Portugal international, a hard-working box-to-box midfielder is still needed for the current 4-2-3-1, a player in the mould of a Nainggolan or a Vidal.

The arrival of Maguire would be a huge boost and shore up a leaky defence. Even if that doesn't happen, Axel Tuanzebe could potentially stake a claim for a place in the starting XI ahead of Jones and Smalling, following his impressive pre-season displays. Eric Bailly, while ridiculously injury prone, remains a good option to partner Lindelof.

Its clear that midfield is probably the biggest issue that Solskjær faces ahead of a blockbuster opening weekend against Chelsea at Old Trafford. Considering the £80 million fee that Woodward is reportedly willing to shell out for Maguire, Fernandes would be a £50 million bargain who could possibly solve a bigger issue.

Published 30 Jul 2019, 16:35 IST
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