Monday 23 August 2021

Frantic Fretic illustrate United's major weakness

Whilst a point away from home in the second game of the season shouldn't cause too much concern, the form of two midfielder players against Southampton certainly did.

With Scott McTominay not fit enough to play 90 minutes at St Mary's, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had little option but to opt for the incompatible midfield pairing of Fred and Nemanja Matic (aka "Fretic"). 
Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane are quality summer signings and add a sprinkling of stardust to a talented squad, but it's been clear for years now United's midfield isn't up to scratch. Games at this level are more often than not won and lost in this area, but the Reds can't hope to challenge with such a glaring weakness in the team.

For all their detractors, Fred and McTominay work well as a two and have never let Solskjaer down. With Matic restored to the team in the latter's absence though, the ageing Serb was all at sea on the south coast. swimming against the tide in the wake of Southampton's vicious and energetic current. 
At times it felt as if Matic was sporting the red and white stripes of Saints rather than the dark blue of United's newly unveiled third kit. It was a day when no one on our team stood out - with the possible exception of Mason Greenwood and Paul Pogba - but, for Matic in particular, it was a day he'll want to forget in a hurry. There is glittering promise in this side, but in the two Mourinho-era signings, our biggest drawback as well. Fred has been an important first team player and a key cog for Solskjaer's United, and Matic was one of our best players during Project Restart after the first Covid lockdown. If you argue United are a club with great ambition of success (whether they are or not is another matter), then you simply need more creativity and reliability than these two. 

With a week of the window still to go United should go all out for the addition of a top class midfielder. Declan Rice, Ruben Neves or Eduardo Camavinga have all been linked, but it's going to be hard to prise any of the three men away from their clubs at this late stage of the summer. I've been a long term admirer of Brighton's Yves Bissouma - every time I've seen him he's excellent and is nearly always the best player on the pitch. He would slot in alongside McTominay like a glove. 

The pivot has been a point of weakness in United's team for a while now, with the presence of an elite central defensive midfielder conspicuous in absentia. Fred and Matic felt the full force of the Saints trademark energy and high press - hussled and harried into submission with misplaced passes and poor decision making. When Fred was replaced with McTominay in the 75th minute, United - instead of re-asserting control - only slipped further. 
Pogba was excellent again on the left wing and picked up his fifth assist of the season in only our second game, but his success out there diminishes options even further. In a way, you're hoping Pogba's anonymous on the wing because then he can moved further back to bolster the quality of the pivot. Fred played well against Leeds last week and even got himself on the scoresheet, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day and he was back to his usual chaotic self at Southampton. 

Fred was at fault for the opening goal as Jack Stephens - despite what looked a clear foul on Fernandes - allowed to carry the ball and move it on to Moussa Djenepo. He in turn found Che Adams and the Saints striker deflected off the outstretched toe of Fred and beyond the stranded David de Gea.
Why do United always seem to get naff Brazilians - I want to get this man's passport checked because there's no way he's from the country that perfected the Beautiful Game - aren't the Brazilians supposed to be able to pass a football? Matic was cumbersome against the energy and industry of James Ward - Prowse and Oriol Romeu but did, at least, improve a little after the break. Fred seemed to get worse as the game went on - he dithered, dallied, got skinned twice, scored the own goal and seemed rattled by the officiating. His poor day at the office was perhaps epitomised by Valentino Livramento - Southampton's hitherto unknown full-back.

Shortly after he erred at the wrong end, Fred was smoked by Saints teenage tyro on his home debut having come in from Chelsea. From a United corner, the right-back stormed forwards 60 yards upfield leaving Fred trailing and treading water in his wake like a tin can on the bumper of a wedding car. Nothing came of the burst, but it was an example of where this United team will struggle.
On another occasion, all he had to do was roll the ball ten yards sideways to Aaron Wan - Bissaka, but instead of doing even the basics he fired the ball straight out of play with his supposedly strongest left foot - everything he attempted failed and it was no surprise to see Fred subbed. The only surprise was he lasted as long as he did. Matic did nothing and Fred's only contribution saw him score an own goal and almost create another - for his side's opponents. 

By the end of the game, United's midfield looked utterly adrift in Southampton. Donny van de Beek did not make it off the bench - all the stranger given the struggles of his colleagues but perhaps a terminal verdict of the player's prospects under Solskjaer. 

Your midfield is supposed to be a platform but, at present, it looks more like a ceiling for United's ambitions. 

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