There has been a lot of talk about Manchester United’s need for a midfield rejig.
The Red Devils are linked with one physical midfielder after another – West Ham’s Declan Rice is the talk of the town these days – with the argument being that United simply don’t know how to ‘control’ games in midfield.
To try and address that concern against Burnley on Tuesday, Ralf Rangnick brought Paul Pogba back into the fray. With Fred sidelined with Covid-19, the Frenchman joined Scott McTominay at the base of United‘s midfield, forming the duo with arguably the best chance of ‘controlling’ any game.
In reality, that didn’t work. Pogba had an excellent first half, opening the scoring with a tidy finish, but his flame died out after the break, while McTominay continues to look uncomfortable when tasked to sit deep and focus on defending.
However, for United, the biggest concern involving ‘control’ has to be the complete lack of it when it comes to defending a lead.
For Burnley’s equaliser in the 1-1 draw, McTominay was caught wildly out of position. Too high up the field, he invited Wout Weghorst into the space he had vacated, and the Dutchman obliged. He picked up the ball and pulled out a Cruyff turn with all the agility you’d expect of a 6’6 striker, and yet United made it look like lightning.
Weghorst took out McTominay and humiliated the onrushing Harry Maguire, who bit on the skill move and ended up thundering into the Scot – not the first time he has been guilty of crashing into a team-mate this season.
To Maguire’s credit, he did bust a gut trying to get back and stop Jay Rodriguez, only to let the Burnley man cut inside him and finish.
With the momentum now against them, United looked at risk of capitulating for the remainder of the second 45. They watched a Burnley side who have won just one game all season put on their most impressive performance of the campaign.
The midfield steel began to disappear, the marauding full-backs started to look scared to get forward, the creative eye for a final-third pass became clouded and United felt like they froze at times. They allowed Burnley to play some entertaining football.
Rash decisions and an inability to cope with pressure appear to plague this United squad from front to back, and bringing in a midfielder with some big arms and legs isn’t going to change that.
In the build-up to the game, Rangnick argued that United don’t need a mass overhaul. In truth, he’s right. However, the spine of this squad is struggling massively.
Rangnick knows that, but fixing that problem doesn’t happen overnight. He needs time to work with the squad and identify suitable replacements, but just how big of a role he will have once his temporary time in the dugout is up is unclear.
There’s a lot of work ahead for this United side. Finding a new midfielder is just one of many items on the to-do list at Old Trafford.
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