Sat. Oct 31st, 2020

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Man United gave fans a glimpse of their dream midfield vs Newcastle

4 min read

For 14 minutes at St James’ Park Ole Gunnar Solskjaer unleashed the midfield that many Manchester United fans had been waiting for.

When Donny van de Beek came off the bench to replace Daniel James with United drawing 1-1 with Newcastle it was the first time in six games this season that the Dutchman had been on the same pitch as Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes. A little over a quarter of an hour later United had scored three times and a tense stalemate had turned into a rampant away win.

It was nothing less than United deserved, playing with great character and confidence to wash away the pain of the 6-1 drubbing dished out by Tottenham two weeks ago, but for a long time it looked like it would be another day of frustration.

Instead, a late salvo ensured Solsjkaer got the response he wanted to the humiliation against Spurs, in terms of performance and points.

It was a blitz inspired by Fernandes and Van de Beek, especially, and perhaps it was no coincidence that United began to look a more threatening side when their three best midfielders were on the pitch.


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But this won’t have been a lightbulb moment for Solskjaer. If anything it’s only added to the problems he’s facing in midfield. To start with, this wasn’t a natural midfield three. Scott McTominay was still providing protection and Van de Beek and Fernandes were taking it in turns to occupy a left-sided role. That could become a ploy long-term but would leave Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial with nowhere to go.

Fitting Van de Beek, Pogba and Fernandes into the same starting line-up right now still looks difficult and their influence against Newcastle came thanks to the platform laid by McTominay and Fred.

Solskjaer had made it clear he wanted energy from his side after the pitiful nature of the collapse against Tottenham, which made the inclusion of Fred and McTominay fairly simple decisions.

The Brazilian and the Scot formed an unlikely partnership last season but they do tend to bring the best out of each other and they certainly set the tone for a more aggressive midfield display on Saturday.

United’s pressing was evidently more intense against the Magpies and Fred is often a key figure in this regard. While Nemanja Matic doesn’t have the ability to press high and still retreat to cover in midfield now, and Pogba is rarely an aggressive presser when fielded deeper, Fred does make it his job to press his opposite numbers in midfield and gave Newcastle no easy route out.

With McTominay’s energy and drive alongside him they have all bases covered in midfield when it comes to work rate.

They might not have the class of Matic and Pogba, but so far this season that quality has been overshadowed in all three Premier League fixtures. United’s midfield, which looked to be a strong point in the initial weeks after the season restarted, has been unbalanced so far this term and it’s been too easy for the opposition midfield to find a way through and get a run out at the defence.

Fred and McTominay mostly put a stop to that and they gave United a platform. Now Solskjaer has to balance how valuable that platform is with the quality he gets from Van de Beek and Pogba, who both began on the bench.

That was particularly cruel on the Dutchman and the £35million summer signing has to be close to a start now. The question is where he fits in.

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He was involved in Fernandes’ goal, the strike which broke the Newcastle rearguard, doing well in possession in a deep position on the left before firing a low ball into Juan Mata’s feet which opened up the attack.

But given Fernandes is a certainty to start in the most advanced midfield position, Van de Beek would appear to be fighting for one of the deeper roles. So far this season Matic, Pogba, Fred and McTominay have been chosen ahead of him in those roles and it would be a surprise if Solskjaer went with a more offensive option against Chelsea or Arsenal in the next couple of weeks.

The former Ajax midfielder can play from an attacking role on the left, but that would involve breaking up the front three. There’s no easy solution to fitting Van de Beek into the starting line-up for Solskjaer, especially as Fred and McTominay gave him exactly what he wanted at Newcastle.

For 14 glorious minutes, United’s dream midfield ripped Newcastle to shreds. But at least two of them might be back on the bench on Tuesday night and again on Saturday.

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