The Portuguese proved to be the final – and arguably the most important – piece of the jigsaw in the Manchester United midfield. With Nemanja Matic providing a stable anchor and Paul Pogba dictating the tempo from the deep, it was evident that Manchester United finally hit the midfield jackpot. The biggest concern, however, was the lack of creative options from the bench.
Fred enjoyed a fabulous 2019-20 season and was unlucky that the Matic-Pogba-Fernandes trident hit off so well. Scott McTominay, on the other hand, is a more mobile, sturdier version of Matic, albeit without the latter's experience and silky feet.
Fred and McTominay were good last season, but they did not have the guile to split open rigid defences, and that was the problem at Old Trafford. Manchester United did not have creative alternatives to Fernandes and Pogba in their squad. That definitely would have been in the back of the mind of the club’s hierarchy when the season came to an end.
Donny van de Beek could provide Manchester United with much-needed creativity in midfield
Manchester United started the transfer window with the club linked with numerous players, but as the days passed, none of those rumours materialised.
The Red Devils looked on as clubs signed players left and right. Manchester United fans watched their rivals strengthen their squads and buy players previously linked with the Old Trafford club. So when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally managed to sign Donny van de Beek from Ajax, the fans were understandably ecstatic.
The Dutch international was exactly the kind of player Manchester United were craving for at the backend of last season. He has the ability to help ease the creative pressure off Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba while also possessing the ability to score goals from midfield.
United fans had every right to be excited about his arrival. However, if they hoped that the Dutchman’s entry would open the floodgates for more incomings at Old Trafford, they were in for a rude surprise.
With less than ten days left in the transfer window, Manchester United are yet to sign anyone else. Alex Telles is rumoured to be close, and the Jadon Sancho saga refuses to come to a conclusive end, which is why Solskjaer must make do with the best he has at hand at the moment.
Solskjaer’s preferred midfield combination needs an urgent rejig
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s preferred midfield trident of Nemanja Matic, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba has remained the same over the summer. But the midfield trio has failed to replicate their efficiency that had lit up the Premier League at the latter stages of last season.
However, there are signs of light at the end of the tunnel. Bruno Fernandes, after an underwhelming start, has already managed two assists and a goal in three appearances. Nemanja Matic, on the other hand, continues to be assured on the field, with his wise presence pivotal at the base of the Manchester United midfield. The situation with Pogba, though, is not so pleasing to the eye.
The Frenchman recently recovered from a battle with COVID-19 that had limited his appearances with the French national team and had also culled his pre-season preparations. And the rustiness has been evident in the Frenchman’s first two appearances for the club this season.
Pogba struggled in his two games so far, failing to assert his influence on both occasions. The Frenchman provided very little at either end in the first game of the season against Crystal Palace, and Manchester United paid the price as they flagged off the new season with a shock 1-3 home defeat.
The first outing may have been brushed aside as a one-off, but Pogba also struggled in the next game against Brighton, with his only notable impact in the game being a controversial penalty that he conceded which was rightly overruled by VAR.
Once again, Pogba was not the only player who fared poorly in the game for Manchester United, but the problem was that his failure hurt the team the most. United appeared toothless in attack, Bruno Fernandes had to do all the running, and Matic was isolated in the middle. The United midfield lacked bite and failed to control the game, and a lot of that was due to the misfiring Pogba.
Donny van de Beek could be the answer to Manchester United’s midfield conundrum
While Pogba continues to stutter, Van de Beek has already managed to convince everyone that he is ‘United’ material in the short time that he has been at Old Trafford.
The Dutchman started off by scoring Manchester United’s first goal of the season in his home debut against Crystal Palace, managing to salvage some pride on a dismal day. He then put on a stellar performance in his first start for Manchester United in the Carabao Cup against Luton Town, helping his side earn a 3-0 victory.
Last weekend, Van de Beek came off the bench against Brighton and had a telling impact in that game as well. It was his tenaciousness that won Manchester United a corner in the dying minutes of the game, with the Dutchman refusing to give up hope even in the final seconds of the game.
It was the attribute of a quintessential Manchester United player, with his team surely benefitting from his relentlessness. The subsequent corner led to a Neal Maupay handball and ultimately resulted in Bruno Fernandes scoring the winner from the spot.
There has been evidence that the Matic-Van de Beek-Fernandes midfield is the right way forward for the Red Devils at the moment.
The Dutchman has the ability to play in the double pivot, and his tendency to drift into the box to sniff out goals would add another dimension to the Manchester United attack.
Van de Beek would also be effective against teams that defend deep, where his ability to pick out pockets of space in and around the box would be invaluable. His tenacity and work rate, on the other hand, would be just what the doctor has ordered for Manchester United.
The Dutchman would add much-needed bite and teeth in the middle that United need while defending, and Matic would certainly feel a little more assured with Van de Beek around. On the other hand, Van de Beek’s Fernandes-esque attitude and desire would be a headache for the opposition backline, while his guile and intelligence would open up opportunities galore for the Manchester United frontline.
Manchester United need to bounce back to their creative best after a less than impressive start to the season. More than the results and the three points, it is the attitude and performance that need a shakeup. Solskjaer needs to reconsider his midfield jigsaw to get the Manchester United bandwagon rolling, and perhaps the final piece of the puzzle, right now, is Donny van de Beek.Published 29 Sep 2020, 02:08 IST