Manchester United got off to a brilliant start to the Premier League season, but in the last few games, Manchester United have looked shaky and have not convinced the spectators of their dominance this season. They failed to put the game to bed yet again because of the number of missed chances in the first half and blunders in the midfield.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made changes to the starting line-up with the idea of rotating the squad against what he thought was a much-weakened injury-hit Everton side. Manchester United started against Everton with Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba and Jadon Sancho on the bench. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side came within inches of losing a second consecutive Premier League match when VAR ruled out Yerry Mina’s close-range finish as he was offside. United started brightly at Old Trafford but as the game proceeded they once again showed a lack of fluency and a vulnerability against the counter-attack.
The problem may not be easy to solve as United’s midfield lack players who can quickly turn defence into attack. Scott McTominay and Fred add some stability in front of the back four but neither like playing swift interchanges of passes. They are more like a defensive unit that try to prevent the ball from reaching their defenders but when they win the ball back, they fail to create space for the players. Paul Pogba, who started on the bench on Saturday, has that ability but frequently wants to take too many touches and has been given the chance to be in a position from where he can control the tempo of the game, but with a midfield of Pogba and Bruno, they need a stable defensive midfielder who can deal with the counter-attacks of the opposition in case when Pogba and Bruno are on the attack.
Fred – Duels Won in 2021-22
Fred – Duels Lost in 2021-22
The above two visuals show us the number of duels Fred has been able to win and the duels that he has lost. We can see that Fred has been more successful at winning 50-50 duels against his opponents, but has failed to win the defensive duels that he has attempted when he takes on a player one on one. He lacks the physical prowess and quickness needed by a midfielder when the opposition is in possession. There have been times when his decision making has not been up to the mark and United are left wide open on the counterattacks. The most recent incident was against Everton when Fred had the opportunity to clear the ball and staying goalwards and tackling the ball, but Fred was easily bullied off the ball and Everton went on to score on the counter.
Paul Pogba only came on for the last twenty odd minutes of the game, but had a much higher impact on the game than Fred. As seen in the above visual, he had a higher xT than most of the players with only 22 passes attempted by him. United need the creativity as well as the strength Pogba possesses in the midfield. Although Pogba started the season by playing on the left flank, the arrival of Ronaldo has pushed him back into the midfield to acquire the likes of Greenwood, Sancho, Martial and also Marcus Rashford who is on his way back to full fitness. It might not be the position that Pogba prefers, but United cannot let a player like him be on the bench when he can be the game-changer in tight games like the Everton one.
Nemanja Matic has been impressive in the limited game time he has been given for United. Matic is calm and composed on the ball and can solve the problem that United are facing, that is being the defensive midfielder that can give their attacking midfielders the freedom to move forward. There have been times when United have tried to attack the opposition, but when they have given away the ball, there’s a huge gap between the midfielders and defenders which gives the advantage to the opposition to use this space and move forward. The above visual indicates that Matic has performed his defensive actions better than most players, but the only concern here is whether or not Matic can play full games week in and week out. United also have the option of playing Donny Van de Beek as a six in the midfield, but the Dutch international has not been given any significant playing time for him to prove his talents.
Manchester United have only won two of their last six games in all competitions. They have a tough list of fixtures coming up in this month and will have to sort out their midfield problems in order to get a positive outcome from most of these fixtures.