Man United’s midfield
Manchester United’s 4-2 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool on Thursday shone a bright light on the issues that must be addressed by the club in the transfer market in the near future.
The absence of Harry Maguire left Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly as his centre-back pairing.
And, unsurprisingly, Bailly – who has spent much of the last few years ravaged by injury and fitness woes – and Lindelof – who has never really looked a reliable choice for a top club – put on a rather damming display against their bitter rivals.
Harry Maguire might not be worth £80m, but Thursday’s game showed just how integral the Englishman is to United’s success.
It was not just the centre-backs who were to blame for United’s dismal defensive showing against Liverpool, though.
As well as a central defender, it has been clear for a while now that the Reds need reinforcements in midfield.
Nemanja Matic is now past his best, leaving United without a quality defensive midfielder.
This has led Solskjaer to start both Scott McTominay and Fred in a midfield pivot.
However, this selection creates a number of problems, forcing Paul Pogba to be played out of position and, as Gary Neville highlighted during the Liverpool game, damaging United's production in the final third in the process:
"Manchester United need that right-hand side option. And Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs to work out if Paul Pogba can play in the centre of midfield or not in big games.
"If he is not then the whole balance of the team shifts when he is put on the left and Rashford has to go to the right. It's just obvious that the whole team are better [following the introduction of Greenwood and Rashford's switch to the left]."
Even more concerning, though, is the fact that, even when Fred and McTominay start together, United’s midfield still looks shaky.
The pair were majorly at fault for a goal netted by Aston Villa recently:
And again on Thursday, Fred in particular was pretty dire against Liverpool, prompting Roy Keane to question whether United could realistically secure major silverware with the Brazilian in their midfield:
"All of United's shortcomings have been shown up in the last couple of days. Look at the performance of the two midfielders. [Scott] McTominay is a good, honest player. And they've got Fred. As long as those two players are in midfield for Manchester United, they will not be winning any big trophies.
"I can't believe how short Manchester United are."
"I know Ole perseveres with Fred, but I can't see it. How they think Fred is going to get Man Utd back to winning titles is beyond me.”
Whilst Keane can sometimes be unnecessarily harsh in his opinions as a pundit, it is hard not to agree with the former midfielder when it comes to Fred.
Even when ignoring the Brazilian’s most recent showing, Fred has never truly looked that impressive for United, and if they actually want to challenge for the Premier League title next season, defensive midfield reinforcements are likely going to be needed.
So, at 101, we have picked out three players who could replace Fred at the base of Manchester United’s midfield.
The first player Manchester United should target to replace Fred is Declan Rice.
Despite still only being 22, Rice has a plethora of PL experience, and is already developing into a leader on the pitch for West Ham.
Rice is also, unlike Fred and McTominay, very much a true defensive midfielder. So, if played alongside Pogba, he would have little problem sitting back and allowing the World Cup winner more freedom.
Solskjaer, with Rice in his side, would also likely be more open to using a midfield trio that includes both Bruno Fernandes and Pogba in big games – something he refrains from doing at present due to the lack of a Rice-type figure at Old Trafford.
Man United were linked with the Englishman earlier this year, though it was claimed that the club's approach will hinge on progress made towards securing targets in other positions.
The fee required to convince West Ham to part with Rice would also likely be huge, with David Moyes having previously insisted that the Hammers’ captain is worth more than £100m:
“I don’t agree with the owners that Declan Rice is a £100 million footballer. Far, far more than £100 million. I look at the players who have joined some clubs from overseas and come in and had nowhere near the impact Declan Rice would have.”
The next player Man United should look towards to replace Fred is Yves Bissouma. The African has so far notched 87 appearances in all competitions for Graham Potter’s Brighton.
The 24-year-old is confident with the ball at his feet, and more than capable of picking it up from deep to either take players on, or pick out the right pass to a teammate. Bissouma is also a progressive passer who generally avoids the sideways option – something players such as Fred are often guilty of at Old Trafford.
And, at the other end of the pitch, Bissouma’s work rate and stamina allow him to get back and help out defensively.
It is also worth pointing out that, in the current Brighton system, Bissouma is generally fielded as the more defensive-minded central midfield option, alongside the likes of Adam Lallana or Pascal Gross. This means that he is already used to taking on a considerable defensive workload, boding well for a partnership alongside players like Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes.
United, however, could face a fair bit of competition, should they choose to pursue Bissouma.
It was reported earlier this month that the midfielder wants to leave the Amex this summer, amid interest from Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal.
The final player whom Man United should look at as a potential replacement for Fred is Denis Zakaria.
Zakaria joined Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer of 2017, and has since gone on to firmly establish himself as a key cog in the club’s midfield.
The Swiss international is generally deployed alongside Florian Neuhaus, who is the more attack-minded of the duo.
Such a setup would work well in a partnership with Paul Pogba, in which the Frenchman would be allowed more attacking freedom, whilst Zakaria handles defensive duties.
The 24-year-old remains forward-thinking when required, though, with his passing ability second to none.
Another plus in any potential swoop for Zakaria is the fact that his current contract will have just a year to run in the summer, meaning he would likely be available for a reduced fee, and therefore stand as the cheapest option on this list by some way.