Sun. Sep 27th, 2020

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Four ways Man United could line up their midfield vs Crystal Palace

4 min read

Manchester United may have plenty of areas to address in the remaining weeks of the transfer window, but midfield is one department of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad that appears well stocked.

The arrival of Donny van de Beek this summer to supplement the likes of Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes — not to mention Fred, Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay — leaves the United boss with a dilemma.

Van de Beek and McTominay played together in a double pivot during last weekend’s pre-season friendly versus Aston Villa, but with Pogba, Fernandes and the rest now back in training, what are Solskjaer’s options?

The middle of the pitch undoubtedly represents the biggest selection headache for the Norwegian going into this Saturday’s league opener against Crystal Palace. So how do United line up?

Here are four different options for the midfield…

Pogba, Fernandes, Van de Beek

The most obvious United midfield trio is the one that supporters will surely be clamouring to see.

Much will depend on whether Van de Beek can play the foil to the more attacking duo Pogba and Fernandes, the way Matic did with such efficiency towards the end of last season. Both Pogba and Fernandes enjoy playing with freedom and the license to push forward in support of the strikers, though that is also a role Van de Beek has played with both Ajax and the Netherlands.

Perhaps at home to a team like Crystal Palace is the ideal fixture to try such a combination. Van de Beek may not be tested as much in the anchor role by the Eagles, as he would against the very top teams.

Pogba, Fernandes and a defensive midfielder

Matic sitting behind the two marquee midfield names was the blend Solskjaer favoured in the final weeks of last season, after football restarted following the lockdown.

It proved to be a smart decision by the Norwegian, as the former Chelsea man brought balance and experience to the United midfield, helping Solskjaer’s side win four successive league games by a three-goal margin.

Fred was then drafted into the defensive midfield role for the conclusion of the Europa League and was arguably United’s best performer in the games against LASK, Copenhagen and Sevilla. The Brazilian will be keen to remind Solskjaer of his importance to the United team, despite seeing fierce competition for his place arrive in January and the summer.

The other option is McTominay, who played well for 45 minutes against Villa last week and, like Fred, will be eager to stamp his authority on the new season.

Van de Beek’s first United game was against Villa in a friendly

Leave out either Pogba or Fernandes

This is the option many fans will reject, given how important the Pogba-Fernandes axis was to United’s successful bid for a top four finish last season. It is no exaggeration to say the duo were integral to Champions League qualification, transforming United’s midfield and ensuring they began to dominate games rather than relying on the counter-attack.

But both players will be going into the new season cold, light on football and short of match sharpness, particularly in the case of Pogba who has just recovered from Covid-19, for which he had to self-isolate.

There is an argument for Solskjaer to play Fernandes in the No.10 role, Van de Beek as the box-to-box player, alongside a true holding midfielder.

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Four players in a diamond

Given that this is by far the strongest part of Solskjaer’s squad, the United boss may want to include as many midfielders in his side as possible.

That would mean switching to a formation that is not alien to the Norwegian at Old Trafford. He favoured a diamond system towards the end of his first season at United, then used it occasionally last term, the 1-1 draw with Everton at Goodison Park being an example.

Playing Fred or Matic at the base, then Van de Beek, Pogba and Fernandes ahead would certainly be an enticing prospect. And having so many ball players would surely allow United to dictate the tempo of games, while feeding a likely front two of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.

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