Manchester United have strengthened two major positions this summer – right wing and central defence – but Sunday’s lacklustre display against Southampton gave more than enough evidence that the centre of midfield still needs addressing as well.
United have explored signing Kieran Trippier to strengthen at right-back before the transfer window closes but the numbers show no signs of adding up, and the priority for the club hierarchy now in the final week before the deadline has to be on seriously going after a new midfield recruit.
From thrashing Leeds 5-1 on the opening weekend of the Premier League season, United laboured to a 1-1 draw at St Mary’s in their second game. This was an opportunity to underline their statement win of the previous week against a poor opposition and they couldn’t take it.
The midfield is what was off about it. With no Scott McTominay in the starting XI, rested after struggling with his fitness during pre-season, Nemanja Matic lined up next to Fred.
Matic had shown renewed promise in the summer that he could step into the team on occasion and plug a gap, having bossed the friendly against Everton at Old Trafford. But the Southampton game passed the veteran Serbian by and he couldn’t exert any control.
Fred, meanwhile, was excellent against Leeds. Yet inconsistency has plagued the Brazilian’s career at Old Trafford since the day he arrived in 2018 and Sunday presented the other side of him. When McTominay, who has developed into a leader and driving force at the heart of midfield, arrived for the closing stages it was too little too late to change the rhythm of a poor team display.
The midfield often sets the tone for any performance and United didn’t have it.
The reality is manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t really have other options. Assuming that McTominay will be an automatic starter, when fit, there is no saying which Fred might turn up from one game to the next, while Matic can only be a bit-part player at most.
Solskjaer prefers to use Paul Pogba further forward or wide on the left, while Donny van de Beek is better deployed as a rotation option for Pogba and Bruno Fernandes rather than a conventional central midfielder, although with a continued lack of game time, who even knows.
United do have options to pursue in midfield between now and the transfer deadline at the end of the month if they want to. Rennes have agreed to sell Eduardo Camavinga and United are among several clubs that already made it known they wish to speak with the player and his agent.
Alternatively, Wolves will not stop Ruben Neves from leaving if a club meets his valuation in excess of £30m. Neither he nor Camavinga would be considered ‘expensive’ by modern transfer standards, especially if there is a way United can also secure some late sales.
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