Manchester United might have stumbled on their ideal midfield line up – James Findlater


There was a degree of trepidation leading up to Manchester United’s crucial encounter with Tottenham on Saturday. As team news began trickling through, there was a definite sense of things going wrong at the worst possible moment for United.

The news that David de Gea — undoubtedly the player of the season so far — could be out looked to be the salt in the wounds as United reach the business end of what has been a truly dismal season. The suggestion that he might not be the only one missing only made matters worse.

It was a do-or-die game for United, so of course things were not going their way, even before a ball was kicked. But, just before the team sheets were handed out, there was some better news.

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De Gea was back in, and it looked as though Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane would be returning to the side. There was still one big-name absentee though. Bruno Fernandes was confirmed to be missing through illness just before the teams were officially announced. Reacting to the news though, United fans weren’t actually too concerned.

You would never have imagined 12 months ago that supporters would be feeling as calm about their two-time player of the year missing out. But such has the Portuguese’s form been this campaign that a change-up in midfield didn’t seem like the worst outcome.

And so it proved. In came Nemanja Matic for Scott McTominay, while Paul Pogba was given more licence in Fernandes’ usual advanced role as Fred acted as the number eight. The trio suited each other down to a tee as they helped United to that all-important 3-2 victory.

Fred’s performance in particular drew some well-deserved praise from Ralf Rangnick. “He’s probably, together with Scott McTominay, one of the best ball-winners if the other team is in possession,” Rangnick said.

“He also showed today in quite a few counter-attacks and transitional moments he can play perfect balls, he gave the assist for the first goal to Cristiano. So also, from Fred, it’s one of the best performances since I was here.”

The fact that the trio of Matic, Fred and Pogba worked so well together shouldn’t come as too great a shock. After all, they have probably been the most in-form options in the middle of the park this season.

Matic has perhaps been a little hard done-by due to his age, but there can’t be much denial that United’s best performances of late have come with him in the side. Fred, as his manager alluded to, has hit a rich vein of form with his goal contributions, and having Matic alongside him has given the Brazilian the freedom further up the pitch as a No.8.

As for Pogba, there will be plenty of conjecture about his future and his place in the side before the end of the season. It seems likely he will be leaving Old Trafford for a second time, and if that is the case, then why shouldn’t United make the most of him while they can?

Despite everything, Pogba continues to pose a genuine threat to defences with his ability to hold onto possession and play the defence-splitting pass. With Fernandes struggling at the moment, the Frenchman could be the go-to man for the remainder of the campaign.

In fact, Saturday’s performance might have shown Rangnick what his preferred midfield three should be for the rest of the season. It’s certainly still an area is in need of improvement in the transfer market, but as the top four race hots up, a short-term solution may have been found.

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