A pre-season wonder once again seeks to make his mark. But why are things different for Andreas Pereira in the 2019/20 season?

Andreas Pereira completed a move to Manchester United from PSV Eindhoven on his 16th birthday on New Year’s Day 2012. He was lured to Old Trafford after a personal visit from legendary former manager Sir Alex Ferguson in late 2011. After progressing through the youth teams, Belgian-born Pereira made his senior debut in August 2014, coming on as a substitute in the embarrassing English League Cup defeat to Milton Keynes Dons.

He is one of the few involved on that occasion to have remained at the club. His Premier League debut for the club followed around six months later when he again came on as a substitute, this time in United’s 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur. Pereira later signed a contract extension with the club, which has since been followed by another, and he capped off a good season by winning the Denzil Haroun Reserve Team Player of the Year for 2014/15.

He was then selected for the Brazilian under-20 team at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where they finished as runners-up. Pereira scored the equaliser in the final, which Brazil went on to lose 2-1 to Serbia. He was then included in the United first team’s pre-season tour squad ahead of 2015/16, where he opened his goalscoring account for the club against American side San Jose Earthquakes.

He made his full United debut in the League Cup against Ipswich Town early on in the season, scoring from a free kick in a 3-0 win for the Red Devils. Pereira once again found himself spending the majority of the season in the reserves, where he was even used as a false striker due to injuries and loan spells. He was, however, able to achieve success with them as they won the U21 Premier League title. 

José Mourinho was appointed as United’s manager ahead of 2016/17 and played Pereira in a deeper midfield role in his first pre-season friendly, away at nearby Wigan Athletic. Pereira of course, scored United’s second goal in a 2-0 win. He later signed for Spanish club Granada CF on loan for the season, where he impressed. Pereira’s return of five goals and three assists however, was unable to save the Andalusian club from relegation.

This had always looked likely for the club, who had three different permanent managers that season. Pereira returned to United for 2017/18 and again went on a pre-season tour with the club before signing on loan for a Spanish club, this time with giants Valencia CF. He was unable to make a significant impact at the club, who were nevertheless able to qualify for the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League, where they would later be drawn against United in the group stage.

In 2018/19, Pereira remained with the United first-team even after the pre-season tour, where he scored a free kick in a 4-1 defeat to fierce rivals Liverpool. While he was initially selected in August, he later found opportunities limited once players returned from their extended breaks following the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The initial opportunity for Pereira also earned him international recognition, as he was called up the Brazilian national team for a friendly against El Salvador in which he made his debut.

This is particularly noteworthy as it made him the first foreign-born player to represent the nation in over a century. During the months that followed, Mourinho preferred Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matić, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini, new signing Fred as well as Scott McTominay, who had elevated himself to the first-team in Pereira’s absence during the previous season. Mourinho’s dismissal, followed by the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as caretaker manager, the departure of Fellaini and injuries to Herrera and Matić, finally afforded Pereira the opportunity to stake a claim for a place in midfield.

He initially struggled to play in a deeper role, making a notable error that led to Burnley scoring at Old Trafford in late December, in a game which eventually ended 2-2. Pereira later delivered arguably his best performance in a United shirt against Southampton in early March, scoring a stunning long-range equaliser before providing an assist to Romelu Lukaku as United eventually prevailed 3-2.

He followed this up a few days later with a solid showing in United’s 3-1 win away at Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, which gave them an unlikely victory in the Round of 16 tie. Pereira ended the season with 22 competitive appearances for United, having made just 13 in the four seasons prior. The goal against Southampton was also voted the club’s Goal of the Season for 2018/19.

Pereira recently signed a contract extension at United and has once again been selected for a pre-season tour. He does however, find himself in a different position, now that he has made significant contributions for United in the Premier League and Champions League. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has also shown a little more patience with Pereira than José Mourinho did. Solskjaer has even experimented with a few different formations, allowing Pereira to play roles he is more comfortable with.

Pereira excelled for United’s youth teams and Granada when playing as a wide or central attacking midfielder. His technical abilities make him ideal for playing these roles, despite his lack of raw pace not making him a wide player in the traditional sense. This is likely why he was moved to a deeper role in central midfield, as he possesses the ball control, range of passing and defensive work rate to succeed in this role. Pereira’s ability to score from range should also not be underestimated, as most of his goals for United have come from distance and set-pieces.

Recently, it was noted that Michael Carrick has begun working more closely with Pereira. While not a direct replacement for Carrick in the holding midfield role, Pereira has many qualities which make him a vastly different option than Nemanja Matić, for example. Pereira is someone who could be effectively used deeper in midfield as a playmaker, particularly alongside someone with a more physical presence such as Matić or fellow youth team graduate Scott McTominay.

This seems likely as United have used a 4-2-3-1 formation on tour thus far, with Pereira playing as one of the two deeper-lying midfielders when selected. This formation has allowed Solskjaer to use speedier players like Anthony Martial, Daniel James and Tahith Chong as well as Mason Greenwood in wide areas. These players peg the opposition back in their own half, affording the midfield players a little more space and time on the ball. This is where United need additional sources of creativity, particularly someone to decrease their reliance on the inconsistent Pogba.

United fans have demanded the signing of an additional midfield player for this purpose, especially since Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera have departed the club. Pereira playing the deeper role could permit Pogba to play further forward, where he thrived last season. Solskjaer could also utilise the likes of Juan Mata and Angel Gomes as the most advanced midfield player, with Pereira providing an additional source of creativity from deeper in midfield. 

United are also likely to field strong line-ups containing a mixture of experienced first-teamers and academy graduates in the League Cup and UEFA Europa League group stage. Andreas Pereira, along with the likes of Scott McTominay, find themselves somewhere in between the two. They have gained first-team experience both on the domestic and European fronts over the past few seasons and despite being 23 years old, they still possess significant scope for improvement. This pre-season may just be more of the same for Pereira, but he finally has a chance to build on something.

Written by Shiven Nayager

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