With the prolonged Premier League season finally coming to an end, there is plenty to reflect on at Old Trafford, coming off of a turbulent season with impressive highs and lows muddled with inconsistency. Given the way, the Reds came out of the blocks heading into the new season, a third-place finish is quite a bit better than what most experts thought of them to achieve, at the start of the season. Looking forward moving into the new season in just about seven weeks of time after the last game of the 19/20 season, there are a number of aspects that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be looking to fix, or make dramatically better if United are to have a legitimate shot at competing at the highest level and win trophies.
During the course of the season, which included a three-month lockdown period due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were quite a few things of concern to note for Solskjaer regarding his squad, one of the most glaringly obvious ones being the squad depth, or the lack thereof. An issue most amplified visibly in the midfield department. The club’s first-choice midfield option, Paul Pogba had been side-lined due to an injury sustained at the end of August, an issue that would only be resolved until after the resumption of football in England. Although January signing Bruno Fernandes made an instant impact ever since his arrival, pulling the team on an upwards trajectory with himself, for a major chunk of the season, the onus was on the midfield duo of Scott McTominay and Fred.
Starting off with Fred, he was a shock €50 signing from Shakhtar Donetsk in the summer of 2018, and the Brazilian endured a less than inspiring the first season under Jose Mourinho and was quickly branded as a flop after failing to impress, however in the absence of Pogba and Matic, Fred enjoyed a multitude of minutes, being an almost certain fixture in Ole Gunnar’s starting 11. To say that this had worked out well for him would be an understatement as for many games running he had been putting in consistently impressive performances in a really inconsistent United side.
Fred outclassed his opponents with high energy attitude. His ball winning and distribution skills helped United to bypass defenses with ease. At the base of the midfield, he didn’t leave the defense vulnerable and maintained good discipline off the ball. His Brazilian instincts of playing quick shrewd passes were also noticable.
On the other hand, a fan favorite when he burst onto the scene, coming through the ranks at the Manchester United Academy, Scott McTominay has impressed for the most part. In his initial years at the club, operating as a solid holding midfielder who is technically sound and a good passer of the ball. Coming into a United side that had been struggling for quite some time, he brought with him a lot of stability at an especially young age performing maturely whenever chosen. Hailed as a longterm fix for United’s midfield woes and a defensive stalwart, McTominay is surely someone who can develop immensely while fighting for a position in the first 11, now that veteran Nemanja Matic has had a return to his form.
The narrative has changed though, with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes and the return of Paul Pogba from injury, the almost constant midfield partnership between McTominay and Fred seemed to come to an almost instant standstill, with game time hard to come by, especially with the miraculously resurgent look that United sported with the inclusion of the two aforementioned.
In the few chances off the bench that now out of favour duo has received, they have not really bee impressive, looking like a shadow of their own selves from a few months ago. Is this just a temporary dip in form caused due to the lack of time on the field, or is it a sign for United to be worried about midfield depth, remains to be seen.
Both players are still backed by Solskhaer and seem to be in his plans for the future. Especially given how young and mature McTominay is, United would definitely be looking to focus on his development as with proper work, he could be a mainstay in the midfield as he has clearly shown signs of being able to go to the next level. With no talks of the club trying to off-load Fred, who for the first part of the season was arguably United’s best player, the duo despite their recent dip in forms seem to be happy and stable at Manchester United, and with no parties showing any dissent, their future for now at least seems to be at Old Trafford, albeit with considerable work necessary if they look to regain their first-team spots.