Should Manchester United drop McTominay or Fred in season restart?

Fred and Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)
Fred and Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images) /

Manchester United are back in action against Tottenham on June 19.

The Red Devils’ last game was in the Europa League round-of-16 against LASK, as they thrashed the Austrian league leaders 5-0 in the first leg. Manchester United have not lost a game since an embarrassing 2-0 defeat at home to Burnley in January, with winter signing Bruno Fernandes providing a major boost to Ole Gunnar Solskjær and his men.

The Portuguese midfielder has been one of the standout players in the squad, with fellow signing Odion Ighalo also chipping in with goals. Even in the absence of stars like Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, United have beaten Manchester City (twice) and Chelsea in their run of unbeaten games.

Of course, with the suspension of sporting activities in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, fans haven’t had an opportunity to see their teams in action for over 3 months now.

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The break has allowed Pogba to regain his fitness, as he participated in a recent 11 vs 11 squad friendly, and is expected to be fit for the match against Spurs. With almost every Manchester United midfielder in good form at the moment, it poses a huge selection problem for Solskjær.

Midfield dilemma

Solskjær has been adamant in playing a 4-2-3-1 formation throughout this season in spite of some poor results. But the arrival of Fernandes, and his deployment as a number 10, has rejuvenated the side.

Scott McTominay and Fred have been fantastic since the turn of the year. McTominay has grown tremendously as a player since his debut 3 years ago. The 23-year-old is well-suited to play in a midfield double pivot, often in a more box-to-box role.

Fred has proven all his doubters wrong after a terrible debut season at the club. The Brazilian has improved a lot defensively (his performance in the 2-0 derby win against City at Old Trafford was match-winning), while also contributing in attack with his smooth dribbling and passing skills.

While Nemanja Matic received a lot of flak at the start of the season for being slow and clumsy, the former Chelsea star has also shown a lot of improvement since January, starting in the games against City and Chelsea.

With Fernandes a guaranteed starter and fans eager to see him link up with Pogba, it remains to be seen whether this trio will be dropped in upcoming games.

The double-pivot as usual?

Pogba has often played in a deeper midfield role in Manchester United’s 4-2-3-1 (as he did for France in the 2018 World Cup as well). Playing Matic alongside him would give him the freedom to venture forward and link up with Fernandes in a shape almost close to 4-3-3.

This will necessitate both McTominay and Fred being dropped, as neither of them possesses the positional discipline that Matic does. Although Fred comes close, Solskjær might prefer the physicality of Matic in the Premier League.

With Rashford and one of Daniel James or Mason Greenwood flanking Fernandes, with Anthony Martial upfront, this side has the potential for a lot of goals.

Pogba’s tendency to drift towards the left flank has meant that United are left unbalanced, but Fernandes could help rectify that.

Solskjær will probably prefer to bring McTominay and Fred on towards the end of matches for their ball-winning abilities.

3-4-1-2 against big teams

While fans might not like it, United have always gone with 3 at the back against top 6 sides this season, and that is likely to continue after the restart.

With Tottenham up first, it is very likely that Solskjær will choose to keep Pogba on the bench and favor a midfield of Fred and Matic, with Fernandes operating in the number 10 role behind Rashford and Martial.

Pogba could play as a number 10 as well, but Fernandes wins out on current form.

Matic might still be a decent player, but without signing a much more solid holding midfielder, it’s hard to see United playing both Pogba and Fernandes against a top 6 rival in crucial matches.

But there could still be another way. If Solskjær opts for a normal back 4, Fernandes could replace James/Greenwood on the right. While this will sacrifice the width and pace of James, and the goalscoring talent of Greenwood, it could massively boost creativity while providing a solid midfield base of Matic with Fred/McTominay and Pogba as a number 10.

Back to 4-3-3?

Given how well 4-2-3-1 has served Solskjær in recent times, it is hard to see the Norwegian moving away from it. But if the Red Devils manage to sign a solid holding midfielder like Wilfred Ndidi, the 4-3-3 is still a possibility.

It would give Pogba and Fernandes an equal role, with both contributing to attack and defense in box-to-box roles. This seems like the ideal scenario, but given that United aren’t being linked with any defensive midfielder, it’s highly unlikely.

McTominay is still only 23, and could yet mature and gain the discipline to play in the base of midfield. But playing Matic would be a risk irrespective of how much he’s improved.

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Whatever option Solskjær chooses to go with, he will have to rest some of his best performers in the coming weeks. It won’t be an easy decision to make, but fans can at least rest easy knowing that Manchester United currently have their best set of midfielders in the post-Ferguson era.