Manchester United’s tactical options to get Fred back in the side
Manchester United’s opening four Premier League fixtures have been plagued by a lack of control in midfield.
Blame the use of a two-man midfield partnership, blame Scott McTominay, blame Paul Pogba; the simple fact is that United haven’t controlled games in the manner Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would like.
The Norwegian is keen to build his side around pace and the counter-attack, but for United to break down teams like Crystal Palace and Southampton — which has been a struggle so far — they need more in the middle of the pitch.
That’s why there’s been a clamour from many for Fred to return to the fold. The Brazilian certainly has his flaws and has been omitted from each of Solskjaer’s matchday squads so far this season, but he’s a £52million Champions League midfielder with a considerable amount of ability.There will surely come a time soon when United have to utilise Fred.
These are the options, tactically, for Solskjaer when considering how best to use the midfielder…
Solskjaer initially used a 4-3-3 upon his appointment as United boss, but it contained Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera, alongside Pogba. With Herrera now gone and Matic on the decline, the United coaches have been loathed to go back to the formation and 4-2-3-1 has been king in 2019/20.
Fred, however, would surely be most comfortable in a three-man midfield, playing the role slightly further up the pitch and allowing McTominay to sit deep as United’s holding midfield player.
Should Solskjaer want to stick with 4-2-3-1, then there are two options that can include Fred.
The first is to include McTominay in the role he’s been playing so far, with Fred next to him. That could prove effective, with the Scot more of a ‘shuttler’, a ball-winner and Fred the deep-lying playmaker, while it would release Pogba into a genuine No.10 role — where many argue he can be most effective.
The second would be a straight swap with Pogba, with someone like Juan Mata in the No.10 role ahead of them. The only issue with that would be the lack of a true tackling midfielder to cover ground and win the ball back. That’s not the strength of Fred or Pogba and could maybe see United overrun in midfield.
One option that has largely been unexplored by Solskjaer — this season, at least — is the diamond midfield.
It would certainly suit Fred, giving him adequate support from players around him, and allowing Pogba that freedom to roam, while deploying Mata and McTominay in their favoured positions.
You wonder, however, whether United have the naturally attacking full-backs to make a success of this formation, which also wouldn’t make use of Daniel James, since Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial would be the natural strike partnership.
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