Opinions can change instantly in football and there are few who know that better than Nemanja Matic.
One year ago the Serb was viewed as surplus to requirements at Manchester United and informed he could leave the club in the January transfer window.
However, injuries to Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay saw Matic restored to the United first-team on a regular basis at the start of the year and the 32-year-old prospered following United’s failure to sign a new central midfielder in the 2019 summer window.
Matic had played just 160 minutes of Premier League football in the first 19 matches of last season; over the next 19 he played 1423 minutes in the league as he quickly restored faith in his abilities and was rewarded with a new three-year deal in July.
The former Chelsea man showcased his talents in a refined defensive midfield role, keeping things tidy and acting as an anchor which allowed January arrival Bruno Fernandes to flourish in an attacking role ahead of him.
Pogba’s return from injury after lockdown complimented the midfield perfectly with United’s dynamic duo now transformed into a tremendous trio which went the remainder of the league season unbeaten.
Matic had established himself as the most reliable defensive midfielder at the club, with United’s line-up largey predictable in every game they played. Yet while the familiarity boosted United’s confidence on the pitch it also made them far too formulaic in their approach with opponents easily able to anticipate what was coming their way.
United’s failure to adapt cost them with their poor start to the current season with the dire defeat to Tottenham acting as the final nail in the coffin for the line-up which had served them so well earlier in the year.
In the two games since then Matic has played just a minute of football with Solskjaer switching to a midfield base of Fred and McTominay, something which has revolutionised their approach in games away from home.
While the old question used to be about how United would find a player to replace Matic in big matches it looks like they have stumbled towards a solution with Fred and McTominay able to fill the void as a pair. The two midfielders still appear to be a little lost as individuals in the first-team, but when played alongside one another they offer the stability of Matic but with added mobility.
In certain matches when United expect to be on top Matic still has an important role to play at the base of a midfield three, but as demonstrated already this week there is now a viable alternative when Fred and McTominay are paired together.
United’s solution is a timely one after they failed to sign a new defensive midfielder in the summer window but Solskjaer is no longer as reliant on the Serb as he was only three months ago.
The opposition will always influence which side United put out, but you’ll now be able to tell which matches Solskjaer deems most difficult by who he selects in his midfield.