Manchester United’s clash against Aston Villa could be determined by which team dominates the middle of the park. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to get his midfield selection right.
The Norwegian opted to go with three centre backs against Sheffield United, but it was a tactical tweak that didn’t pay off.
Fred and Andreas Pereira were given the run around and were outnumbered against John Lundstram, John Fleck and Oliver Norwood.
Solskjaer cannot go with the Brazilian duo against Villa, a lot will depend on the fitness of Scott McTominay, but there is simply not enough bite and presence from Fred and Pereira.
The game at Bramall Lane passed them by and at no stage did they bring an element of control to proceedings.
Villa’s strength lies in midfield
In their recent win against Newcastle, Dean Smith went with a midfield three of John McGinn, Douglas Luiz and Connor Hourihane.
Although Jack Grealish started on the left-wing, he was given a free role and often drifted inside looking to get on the ball and create chances.
Villa’s midfield has a good blend of attacking quality, goal threat, work rate and defensive discipline.
Between the four of them they have already mustered up 9 Premier League goals and 8 assists, they all complement each other and bring different qualities.
McGinn is the box-to-box player that will hassle and press out of possession, but can also explode into life with driving runs from deep and his endurance allows him to make late darting runs into the penalty area.
Hourihane and Luiz have already scored some stunning long-range goals this season, United cannot afford to give them time and space on the edge of the box.
Villa’s captain Grealish will look to get on the ball in dangerous areas and make things happen, he will try and play off Villa’s powerful striker Wesley and find pockets of spaces with quick incise passes.
Villa may opt to go with Marvelous Nakamba who is averaging 3.9 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per game, the Zimbabwean would give the Villains some added steel.
A lot will depend on how adventurous Smith sets his side up at Old Trafford, but one thing is for sure, the visitors will have the quality and numbers to give United problems in the middle of the park.
Who should Solskjaer pick
Solskjaer will be hoping that the influential McTominay is fit enough to return, but the game will come too soon for Paul Pogba.
United missed McTominay massively last weekend, there was a gaping hole in our midfield, Fred and Pereira got bullied and offered no leadership.
Fred’s performances have significantly improved playing alongside McTominay, but he looked tentative without his reliable and reassuring partner next to him to guide him through matches
If the Scot does pass a fitness test, Solskjaer may be tempted to give Jesse Lingard a start ahead of Pereira after coming off the back of scoring his first goal since January.
Lingard would have to dig in defensively especially when United don’t have the ball and almost make it three central midfielders, he couldn’t afford to stay high up the pitch in the number 10 role.
After impressing against Astana, it would be a huge statement of faith by Solskjaer if he boldly selected either of James Garner and Dylan Levitt if McTominay was ruled out.
It seems unlikely, but United are lacking numbers and quality, the academy pair would bring energy and tempo to our midfield and they couldn’t do any worst than what Pereira produced against the Blades.
Nemanja Matic may be lacklustre in possession and not as quick across the grass as he once was, but he would certainly add some physicality to a lightweight midfield. He’s an alternative to consider.
Without McTominay, United’s chances of controlling the game look slim so the onus will be on our talented attacking trio to produce the goods if and when they receive the ball.
The lack of numbers in our midfield needs addressing and signings are needed, Solskjaer has got to get his midfield selection right against Aston Villa otherwise we could be in for a long afternoon.
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