Thu. Sep 24th, 2020

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Man Utd must make ruthless decisions on three players to achieve transfer needs

3 min read

It seems like an age ago that Manchester United were preparing for a crucial must-win Premier League contest against Watford.

Back then, at the end of February, the main concern for many United fans was getting the chance to see new signing Bruno Fernandes in action. Full houses, no social distancing, no hand sanitiser; it truly was a different time — though one everyone surely hopes will return sooner rather than later.

It was also a time when United could only dream of finishing third in the Premier League, before Fernandes had truly had time to leave his special imprint on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team. But the 90 minutes against Watford, which saw United wrap up a 3-0 victory at a vibrant Old Trafford, were significant for many reasons — and not just because of Fernandes.

Okay, yes, the Portuguese playmaker was influential and opened his United account with a trademark ice-cool penalty to open the scoring, before goals from Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood.

But it was also the day Solskjaer began to get ruthless with some players. His January acquisition of Fernandes had emboldened him to leave Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira out of the 18-man squad altogether.

The Norwegian played a typically straight bat when asked about the omissions before the Watford contest.

“Well we picked a squad of 18 that we felt was the right 18 here,” Solskjaer told club media. “We have got cover on the bench; wide men, forwards, midfielders, and defenders. That was the decision I made.”

Having seen the decision bear fruit with an emphatic victory — the kind that had been hard to come by earlier in the campaign — Solskjaer continued to play hardball with the pair, who had been far more involved earlier in the campaign.

After the restart, Solskjaer got even tougher and neither Pereira nor Lingard started a league game between them. Even players who had shown promising form before the pandemic, such as Fred and Scott McTominay, were made to wait for regular football. And even in a virtual dead rubber in the Europa League against LASK Linz last week, Pereira did not start and Lingard was hauled off after an hour, much to his chagrin after scoring a goal.

You can put both players and Juan Mata in the same category this summer. All three could feasibly leave United without Solskjaer’s first team feeling the effects. That is how much Fernandes has improved United, not to mention the return of Paul Pogba to midfield and the rise of Greenwood as an attacking option.

All of this is not to mention United’s interest in Jack Grealish. You suspect if they can land the Aston Villa playmaker, there may only be room for one of Pereira, Mata and Lingard — with the latter at least in the goals again to send a message over his future.

Pereira showed some nice touches off the bench against LASK but he’s been far too inconsistent when it has come to the crunch. And Mata, great player though he has been, is 32 and into the final year of his contract. He will be missed as a personality, but you suspect not as a footballer anymore.

The reality is that United will probably keep hold of two of these three peripheral players. But Solskjaer showed months ago that he can be ruthless when the occasion requires. This summer is the time for him to show those qualities once again.

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