The start of the 20/21 season has been far from promising for Manchester United, with them lying 14th in the Premier League after an extremely inconsistent start, and the midfield needs to be held heavily accountable.
Bar Bruno Fernandes, I think all United fans would agree that Ole has found it hard to uncover the perfect combination in midfield, and this could explain why they have struggled to string together a consistent streak so far this season. Players such as Scott McTominay, Donny Van De Beek and Paul Pogba have all found it hard to cement their places in the first team squad, with Ole preferring to rotate this position to keep competition for places high.
In recent matches, Scott McTominay’s position in the squad has been questioned, as he struggled to impress in a huge game in which he started against Arsenal. Scott offered little more than high energy levels, after misplacing multiple passes as-well as failing to progress the ball in a positive manner. With Donny Van De Beek sitting on the bench, fans struggled to see what McTominay brought to the table and demanded for the player to be dropped.
McTominay seems to struggle with putting in consistent performances when being given a short run of games. Matches against PSG highlighted how Scott’s energy levels can be pivotal to victories, but shifts like the one he put in against Arsenal seem all too common for the Scotsman.
Fred seems to suffer with a similar problem, however Ole seems to have found a way around it by cementing him into the first eleven. With a lengthy run of games, Fred seems to be able to put in consistent 8/10 performances, shown by his impressive form at the start of last season where he was playing in place of the injured Paul Pogba.
It could be argued that OGS has to play the combination of McTominay and Fred in order to provide cover for the unreliable centre backs, yet United fans will feel as though starting the likes of Pogba and Van De Beek will surely give them a greater chance of securing victories more often, with these players possessing the creative flair needed to unlock games.
The diamond setup has looked promising for Ole at times, with it leading them to a triumphant 5-0 victory over last season’s Champions League Semi-finalists RB Leipzig. Not only has it guided them to such impressive results, it has also enabled them to utilize both Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba in the same setup, which was one of the main elements United fans wanted to see coming into this new season.
With the diamond formation proven against one of the world’s best, fans will hope to see it more going forward, just with the hope that many of their players will be able to re-enact their magical performances against Leipzig, and not the flat and un-entertaining shifts they put in against The Gunners.
One of the main reasons for Manchester United’s demise against Arsenal could have been down to the simple swap Ole made with Fred and McTominay. For the game against the German giants, Matic was deployed as a defensive midfielder who played directly in-front of the two centre backs, providing an easy pass to help retain possession, yet for the game against Arsenal, Matic was dropped to the bench with Fred coming into his position. This obviously meant that the rest of the midfield also had to be altered, with McTominay playing as a right-hand sided box to box midfielder and Paul Pogba playing in what was Fred’s role for the Leipzig game on the left hand side of the pitch. Sadly, this system didn’t seem to have the same effect, with McTominay struggling in both a defensive and attacking sense whilst playing on the right hand side of the midfield.
So how do United fix their midfield problems? When playing the diamond formation, the answer could be simple, Donny Van De Beek. In his Ajax days, Donny was often deployed as a right-hand sided box-to-box midfielder, exactly the role that United appear to have problems with. He has also already played in this position for Manchester United, playing it extremely well in their ever impressive 5-0 thrashing of Leipzig, but then where does Paul Pogba fit in? Obviously, he could be used as an impact sub, coming on for 30 minutes each game, yet I doubt a player of his calibre would be open to such little playing time.
Honestly, I feel as though United’s strongest diamond midfield would be Matic in the DM role with Fred playing as a left hand sided central midfielder, Paul Pogba/ Donny Van De Beek in the box to box right hand sided midfielder role and Bruno Fernandes in the advanced playmaker role further up the pitch.
Consistency is key in football, and Manchester United have failed to realise that so far this season, but if the entirety of the midfield 4 could find their form, I’m sure the red devils would be back to their very best.