Questions remain over Matic's future as United find balanced midfield
Manchester United’s midfield looked to have the perfect balance ahead of Monday night.
Nemanja Matic in a defensive role, Fred as a box to box midfielder, and Bruno Fernandes in attack. The trio really worked together well and have a formula for the upcoming matches.
The problem with it is that it feels temporary. This for now does not appear anything more than a short-term solution.
The first reason for this is Nemanja Matic’s uncertain future. His contract is up at the end of June.
United have an option to extend Matic’s contract by a year, but so far this has not been done. The past two week break would have been ideal to get that deal sorted.
Soon to be disrupted
Scott McTominay is closing in on a return from injury after he was picture training with the squad last week.
Having him back will be a big boost, and give United more opportunity to rotate effectively amid a packed fixture schedule.
Where he fits in is another matter. McTominay most naturally replaces Fred. If he steps in for Matic, the balance in midfield will be lost.
The Scot does not have quite the same discipline in his play as Matic, although his previously established partnership with Fred has worked very well.
Paul Pogba is another wildcard to complicate the mix – if he ever makes his return.
Longer term, rumours that Jack Grealish is the club’s top summer transfer target [Mirror] serve to prompt questions over how he will fit in.
Will a midfield trio of Fred, Grealish and Fernandes be disciplined enough defensively?
A shift from a midfield three to a diamond of four may be better, but this would not allow a system with wingers to thrive – key if United spend big to sign Jadon Sancho too.
Balance is key
Grealish in or out, United need to ensure a midfield trio have the right balance, especially if Matic is allowed to leave.
Can Scott McTominay or Fred hone their games to play a more defensive role like Matic?
They have shown previously they can share that burden and that’s one option.
Another is to prioritise the signing of a defensive midfielder this summer, such as Lille’s Boubakary Soumare or Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey. Or even a Declan Rice.
The simplest option short term is for the club to extend Matic’s deal, at least with the one year option, and provide more time to find a natural replacement.
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