Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got his midfield selections completely right during last season’s Premier League run-in.
An area that had been a weakness for Manchester United for much of the 2019/20 season became a great strength, with Solskjaer forced to leave two strong performers on the bench, in Fred and Scott McTominay. The duo were sacrificed for the sake of balance, as the returning Paul Pogba was beautifully complemented in midfield by January signing Bruno Fernandes and the foil, anchorman Nemanja Matic.
During United’s post-lockdown surge, the trio could seemingly do no wrong and United’s reward was a third place league finish and Champions League qualification.
Yet football is one of those sports that, as it rewards proactive and progressive decision-making, will punish you for standing still.
That is the scenario facing United in the summer transfer window, with fans calling for the squad to be renewed and refreshed, for extra competition to be added to the current crop. A possible explanation for United’s slow start to the campaign is that the squad is arguably too settled. It does not need revolution, but it needs evolution (as Alan Partridge once so wisely said).
So has Solskjaer got his midfield selections completely wrong in the opening two games of this Premier League season?
It certainly feels strange that he has not yet started new signing Donny van de Beek — the only player United actually brought in to freshen up their squad this summer, so far, and one of the few to perform respectably during their league travails.
Many may urge the Dutchman to be patient, may argue the midfield was settled at the climax of last season. Yet with Pogba way short of match fitness having struggled with Covid-19 and Van de Beek fresh off the back of international displays over the summer, Solskjaer’s decisions have been strange.
The truth is that the Norwegian may need to trial a completely new midfield trio to harness the best of Van de Beek’s ability.
The 23-year-old isn’t a player United can ignore for too long. He’s already given us glimpses of his talents and even midfield teammate Matic is excited about what Van de Beek will bring.
“It’s always good when you have competition in the team, without it you cannot win anything,” said Matic. “You need to have competition, when you know you have other great players in your position you know you have to work harder on the pitch and give your best every day.
“It’s just a few weeks he’s been with us and I’m sure he’ll be a very important player for the future because he has a lot of talent. He’s a very young player and I’m happy that we signed a great player.”
As Matic says, Van de Beek hasn’t yet integrated himself into the squad, which perhaps explains his limited involvement so far.
But a United trio comprising Van de Beek, Matic and Fernandes may be the ideal blend in terms of balance, energy and creativity. Maybe adding in a more progressive passer like Fred or Pogba instead of Matic when United are asked to break down defensive teams could be an option.
United have the depth to change things up in midfield and transform their performances this season.