Manchester United’s deadwood problem

Since Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United eight years ago, United’s recruitment has been questionable; there’s been some great signings like Bruno Fernandes but some terrible signings like Alexis Sanchez. These recruitment issues have caused a major build-up of deadwood in the United ranks over the years leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a lot of the previous manager’s mess. 

Subsequently this causes an influx of players to be left at United who are clearly not good enough, but they are eating the wages up, increasing United’s overall wage bill making it harder to offload these players and thus harder to recruit other players because the wage bill needs to be lowered.

The root to this problem is the structure at the club. Once Ferguson retired, a lot of the footballing men at the club also left. leaving a complex hierarchy that needs experienced personnel with the football clubs’ best interests at heart, to the role of businessmen. These businessmen include Matt Judge and Ed Woodward in particular. 

The main issue with these businessmen is priorities. Their priority is capital, and what will save and raise the most amount of money as possible. They don’t put the team’s best interests at heart but more the club’s financial position treating it like a business. 

As a result, when in the transfer window, despite the managers best wishes, players can be signed due to their public relations value rather than their footballing ability. Signings like Alexis Sanchez and Angel Di Maria where PR signings that were there to please the fans resulting in huge shirt sales and media attention. 

This doesn’t help the team at all as it can often mean bringing in a player that doesn’t have his heart set on a move and thus doesn’t respect the United shirt enough and soon becomes deadwood as their effort levels drop. To combat this, Solskjaer has started a rebuild on the team as well as the actual structure at United bringing in Darren Fletcher and John Murtough into roles that footballing men are more suited to. 

Murtough was recently hired as the ‘football director’ who’s role is to discusses directly with Solskjaer on targets before the negotiators approach the club and player. Previously, Woodward had had a lot of power in these situations, and this led to the deadwood being brought in but now with a footballing man discussing these transfers it can help reduce this. However, as seen with this current transfer window, despite the changes in structure, United are still struggling to sell off their deadwood. 

This is due to the astronomical wages these players have been put on under the poor recruitment. In previous years, too many signings were because of money rather than the passion and desire to play for the club. This summer the approach has changed as United are bringing in players like Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo who are all players who are hungry and want to play for the club. This is a testament to Solskjaer’s progression with the rebuild as players of this calibre were not signing for United previously. 

With these new signings having a real desire to play for United, it means the club doesn’t have to offer them huge wages making them harder to sell off in the future. To ensure that this deadwood problem doesn’t get worse, Solskjaer must keep only looking at players who will fight for the badge and aren’t in it for the money. 

Solskjaer and United should keep looking at upgrading the recruitment and changing staff to fit the clubs DNA and morals better. These gradual changes will ultimately make United a much better run club in general taking them back to the efficiency under Ferguson. 

At the club now there’s several players that United need to ship out. This includes Phil Jones, Andreas Pereira, Diogo Dalot, arguably Juan Mata and potentially Jesse Lingard and Nemanja Matic. Some view Mata as a vital member of the squad especially for his presence in the dressing room and thus not to be considered as deadwood, whereas others perceive him as past his best and now eating up wages. 

Lingard, on the other hand, is loved by a lot of United fans but could become deadwood if he stays at United because he’s unlikely to get many minutes for the team. Meanwhile, with the injury of Scott McTominay and the unlikely chance that a midfielder comes in so late in the window, Matic could prove a crucial part of the squad especially as he’s the only natural defensive midfielder. 

However, some feel due to his age he’s no longer at his best and can be a liability. Due to his unique skill set that United currently lack, I feel he is more important than some people realise and could be key for United this season so shouldn’t be sold off unless another defensive midfielder is brought in. Diogo Dalot is still a young player being only 22 and with Aaron Wan-Bissaka lacking competition some feel he must stay. 

Solskjaer, on the other hand, doesn’t seem particularly satisfied with Dalot and looks keen to get him out on loan or permanently sell him and thus he might be seen as deadwood especially in Solskjaer’s eyes. A player Solskjaer has looked at with great interest is Kieran Trippier. He’s a 30-year-old English right-back playing for Atletico Madrid in Spain and being a Manchester boy would love to go to United. 

This would fit the requirements that Solskjaer is trying to create as despite his age he would work incredibly hard and provide great competition for Wan-Bissaka. Therefore, if United can move Dalot on loan, that could open the opportunity to bring in Trippier who would strengthen the right-hand side even more. With Phil Jones and Andreas Pereira, most fans believe they are deadwood and their time at the club is up. Since Fernandes’ arrival, Pereira has barely had a look in and was loaned off out to Lazio last year but wasn’t majorly successful. 

If Lingard is to stay at the club, he would be third choice which would be a waste of his time and United’s. Phil Jones at one point looked like he could be a great player with Sir Alex Ferguson saying “I think Jones may be one of the best players we have ever had.” But he’s been plagued with injuries in the last couple years and with the recent signing of Raphael Varane it just pushes him further down the pecking order. Jones is on high wages, and many believe he must go as he’ll never play and is wasted at the club but due to his horrendous injury record and high wages it’s difficult to find any suitors. 

Overall, I feel the structure at this club is improving under Solskjaer’s management and with more time he could make it more and more effective. United must focus on only bringing in players that want to play for the club and keeping the wage bill down else they’ll struggle with deadwood issues again as they can’t ship these players off as their wages are too high. 

Then to keep taking this team forward, Solskjaer must get Pereira and Jones out definitely and then look to ease out Dalot, Lingard, Matic and Mata in the coming years if suitable replacements are available as it’ll reduce the wage bill and as these players are getting older it will bring fresh impetus into the club which could lead to a successful tenure for Manchester United under Solskjaer.

Written by Ethan Bents

Opinion: Manchester United’s Midfield Dilemma

The 2021/22 Premier League season has started and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a big decision to make with regards to who he picks as his first-choice midfield. Since his arrival at the club, Solskjaer has tried to stick to partnerships remaining loyal to his primary midfielders. Due to Bruno Fernandes’ remarkable impact, his spot in the team has always been guaranteed thus leaving Solskjaer only two spots to figure out. In Solskjaer’s preferred 4-2-3-1, he’s often used Scott McTominay and Fred as his midfield pivot to ensure stability at the back.

This can be viewed as quite defensive, but it does provide that cover for the back four especially when he sees the partnership of Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire as unreliable. With the addition of Raphael Varane, this may change the dynamic at United as Solskjaer will feel that his new centre half partnership is assured and thus he can adapt to a more offensive approach rather than two more defensive minded players. Therefore, Solskjaer has a big decision to make on whether to play more freely but leaving the defence more vulnerable or sticking to a more stable but offensively hindered duo. The four midfield partnerships he could choose are:

Scott McTominay and Fred

Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba

Donny van de Beek and Nemanja Matic

Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay/Fred

Firstly, McTominay and Fred. This is the pivot we’ve seen the most of as a pairing and thus know what to expect. They bring high work rate always willing to run for the badge and won’t give in when it gets tough. Defensively, they are solid and can cover the back four well seen especially in games against Manchester City where United had to defend for much of the game due to City’s expert ball retention ability but held them out before swiftly hitting them on the counter-attack. McTominay’s height and aggression brings a real ariel presence and can help to win the midfield battle due to his tough tackling and determination to win the ball.

Fred carries a phenomenal engine throughout and never stops pressing and hassling the opposition. However, what this duo lack is technical ability, especially offensively. As a duo they are two separate players doing one mans job; neither player is a specialist defensive midfielder, but Solskjaer has often felt to get the job done you need both. Furthermore, a major weakness of their game is ball progression. A key role in the defensive midfield position is the transition of the ball; they must be able to pick the ball up off the centre half’s and then move it forward with speed.

McTominay and Fred struggle to do this due to their weak first touch, passing and progressive dribbling. Thus, when paired together, the ball is often held around the midfield for far too long taking multiple touches to find a simple pass. This completely slows United’s attacking flow as by the time the ball reaches the final third the opposition’s defence is well organised. Furthermore, because of their weak passing, it can limit how well the ball is progressed often resulting in the forwards dropping deeper and deeper to receive the ball which destroys all attacking shape and make it easier for the oppositions defence.

Therefore, as a duo they bring stability, but due to their weakness on the ball can give possession away which makes it easier for the opposition to dictate the games.

The next partnership is Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba. This partnership was most used post lockdown last year and was highly effective at the time. Its biggest strength is balance, Unlike McTominay and Fred there is balance between a natural defensive midfielder in Matic and then a more creative player in Pogba. This means despite not having two players to cover, the defence is stable as due to Matic’s elite positioning, awareness and ability to intercept he can shield the back four on his own. This then leaves Pogba more license to get forward and with his passing range and strong ball progression abilities, transitioning the ball becomes far easier and more effective.

Matic picks the ball up off the defenders, quickly passing it to Pogba who in turn, can find a 40-yard pass if necessary or make a defence splitting pass through the midfield into the final third for the attackers. This creates a smooth flow and speed to United’s game which is much harder for the opposition to defend. However, one major weakness is energy. Unlike McTominay and Fred in which you’re guaranteed tenacity and energy, with Pogba and Matic this isn’t the case. With Matic’s lack of speed he makes up for it with defensive positioning, but if the opposition team attempt to swamp the midfield it can leave Matic slightly vulnerable.

In addition, Pogba isn’t renowned for his defensive abilities and can be susceptible to not tracking back which would expose Matic even more. Furthermore, as a player Pogba can be clumsy when defending, and has a knack for giving penalties away. This as a trait for a player who is expected to track back and provide cover in the box is a weakness. Therefore, in high energy games this duo can be slightly vulnerable and become a liability but their high quality on the ball means often even against imposing midfields they can retain the ball well keeping a real control on the game and thus not being put into these issues.

Thirdly, there’s the partnership of Matic and Donny van de Beek. This is a relatively untested duo which has emerged in pre-season due to the lack of internationals fit after the Euros. This duo is highly intelligent and would always be one step ahead of the oppositional team. With Van de Beek’s awareness he can play himself out of trouble and prevent United from losing the ball. He like Matic has a good passing range on him, with a real ability to play cute one-twos with teammates making space for others. This will help United’s transition of the ball because both midfielders can pass well and are very comfortable with the ball at feet and can transition it smoothly.

Defensively, although not particularly tall, Van de Beek has good tenacity and can put a tackle in to turnover possession for his side. Furthermore, with Matic next to him it provides the necessary freedom to let him roam forward. Also, Van de Beek is a more energetic player than Pogba and so won’t let himself get ran out of the game. However, he’s not got such a brilliant passing range so can’t create a chance out of nothing like Pogba. Finally, the midfield with Pogba and Fred or McTominay. On paper if you mix Pogba’s attacking output and combine it with Fred’s or McTominay’s defensive work it would create a strong midfield but in reality, it’s the opposite.

Individually, Fred and Mctominay don’t have a strong enough footballing brain especially defensively to properly shield the back four. They can’t read the game like Matic and so United would miss that player who can put in a crucial interception to save a goal scoring opportunity. Furthermore, as Pogba isn’t the strongest defensively, a natural defensive midfielder is necessary and neither Fred nor McTominay provide this. However, as a midfield, due to Mctominay or Fred’s athleticism and stamina, the midfield wouldn’t get outworked and there would be enough speed in there which can be lacking with Matic.

Overall, I feel that despite issues with each pivot, he should use them all. Although previously he’s liked to have one partnership he sticks to, I feel different players will be more effective against different opponents. Against Leeds United due to the impeccable fitness standards Marcelo Bielsa inflicts on his men, Solskjaer used a more energetic duo like McTominay and Fred. But, in the future, against more defensive teams, Solskjaer should look to utilise players like Donny van de Beek and his intricate and clever play style to break down deep blocks.

However, if Solskjaer is to stick to one midfield I think he should, when possible, pick Matic and then either Pogba or Van de Beek as his partner. Last season Pogba played multiple games off the left due to Solskjaer insistence on using Mctominay and Fred and so with Rashford’s injury he may look to move Pogba back to the left and use Van de Beek and Matic as the midfield pivot to maximise creativity.

In Conclusion, I hope that although McTominay and Fred have their qualities, they are used more sparingly, and he goes with a more offensive approach this season as United with the signings of Varane and Jadon Sancho have the quality to dictate games, dominating oppositions and ultimately bring trophies back to Old Trafford.

Written by Ethan Bents

Scott McTominay set for new role at Manchester United?

Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay, 23, could be set for a new role at the Old Trafford club following the arrival of both Bruno Fernandes and Donny van de Beek this year. The two attacking midfielders will most likely see the 23-year-old find his feet in a new midfield role which is likely to be a defensive midfield role. United recently rewarded Nemanja Matic, 32, with a new contract at the club, which will probably be his last at United before retirement. The Serbian has already retired from international football this summer.

The Athletic has reported that United have a hole in the defensive area of the midfield with just Matic as the defensive minded midfielder also citing that the clubs failed pursuit of Jude Bellingham is also reason for McTominay being put into his new role at the club. The 23-year-old has played a defensive role at the club in his breakthrough season under Jose Mourinho but will probably need some assistance to find his feet in the position, which is where Matic could come in.

Matic, 32, is not going to be an option for every match but could offer something coming off the bench, or starting in the bigger matches with McTominay playing other matches with him more able to recover between matches with United set to play out the full 2020/21 season in a shorter period of time, playing in the Premier League, Carabao Cup, UEFA Champions League and the Emirates FA Cup. It is something that could work well for United, if McTominay finds his feet in the new position.

Matic would be seen as the ideal mentor for McTominay which could see him thrive in the position. He is a physical player and during the 2019/20 season, especially when Paul Pogba was injured before the end of 2019, showed what he could do for his club and got stuck into various midfield roles, playing alongside Matic and Fred in the centre of midfield. Since Fernandes has arrived though, McTominay has more often been a substitute, playing in the advanced areas but not doing all that well.

Throughout the course of the 2019/20 season, McTominay made a total of 37 appearances for United, scoring five goals and one assist. His best goal came against Manchester City, scoring a late long-distance goal to secure the three points for United in what was the last match to be played at the Theatre of Dreams with supporters present in the stadium. It was a great goal that secured Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side the Premier League double over City, which shows the direction the club has been heading in under the Norwegian manager, despite the negativity from Twitter fans.

McTominay signed a new contract at United this summer, which will keep him at the club until the summer of 2025, with the option of a further year to be added. This shows that United have a future for the player and he will be an asset in the years to come once he finds his feet in his new position. The 23-year-old has played 23 times in the 2019/20 season in the central midfield position, playing 11 times in the defensive midfield position – the other appearances playing in advanced areas on the pitch. This shows that he could be moulded into the heir to Matic with the Serbian helping him find his feet, which would be good for him.

Written by John Walker

Nemanja Matic warns Manchester United ahead of Premier League title challenge

Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic, 32, warned the Old Trafford club that there would be no excuses if they failed to mount a Premier League title challenge during the 2020/21 season. Last season, United finished third in the Premier League, earning UEFA Champions League football but finished 33 points adrift of champions Liverpool and 15 points adrift of second placed Manchester City. The Serbian midfielder lifted the Premier League title twice with Chelsea and believes that United must challenge Liverpool’s dominance.

Matic recently earned himself a new contract at United based on his performances this season, which saw him return to the best of his ability despite him largely being rested at the end of the season. The new contract keeps him at United until the summer of 2023. During the 2019/20 season, Matic made a total of 34 appearances for United, scoring one goal and three assists. He has a lot of passion for the club and wants to achieve things, matching what he achieved at Chelsea.

The Serbian midfielder, who retired from international duty this week was quoted by The Mirror saying that United had no excuse to most a title challenge this season, saying:

“From the next season there is no excuse. We have to go with everything. We have to fight for the title because I felt that this year we dropped some points too easy.

“They won the league, so we cannot allow that. We need to fight to the end. We have to play with more confidence, with more responsibility.”

United have a good squad and this summer, the addition of a few more players will raise the bar at the club, also raising the quality, which has been lacking outside of the starting XI and a few other players in the squad. If United managed to sign three players; a winger, a midfielder and a central defender, things might be a bit better for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to achieve things with the club. Matic will have personal targets that he wants to achieve, one of which is winning the Premier League with United. He continued by saying:

“My personal target is to win the league with United – and I am sure that everyone wants to do the same.

“We have to promise our supporters that we will do our best – exactly what we have done after corona when we started to play again.

“That’s United. We have to win five, six consecutive games then you can drop some points, then again you have to do that run.

“Like that we can win the league. In the beginning of the season we were not stable, we won one or two games then we lost and we drew.

“Proper United is exactly what we did after corona and I hope we can continue like that next season.”

It just goes to show that players have ambition to win things at the club and Matic is exactly the same. His stock has risen this season after he showed the signs of a leadership role at the club, seeking to get United firing and heading in the right direction. With the reports of Donny van de Beek being United’s first signing of the summer, the midfield will be a position that is strengthened with Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Matic, Scott McTominay and Fred, with the addition of the Dutchman giving United six players and a little more depth and quality.

Written by John Walker

Nemanja Matic says Manchester United ‘cannot allow’ Liverpool to romp to the Premier League title again

Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic has stated that the Old Trafford club ‘cannot allow’ the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City or another other club romp to the Premier League title like the Merseyside club did this season. It would seem that seeing Liverpool win their first league title in 30 years has started a fire within in order to aim to stop that happening again next season. Liverpool earned 99 points in the league this season, unable to break the 100 point barrier.

The Merseyside club ended up being named as the Premier League champions when Chelsea beat Manchester City with the club having seven matches of the season remaining. Of course, to the Liverpool aligned media, it made the club the best ever to play in and win the Premier League because they won the title at the earliest it had ever been won. Overreaction and Liverpool tends to come together, no matter the circumstance.

United had a strong end to the Premier League season, unbeaten in 14 league matches, earning a third-placed finish after chasing down Leicester City, who at one stage of the season were 14 points ahead of United with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side finishing four points ahead of Brendan Rodgers’ side. Matic has stated that finishing 33 points behind the eventual winners of the league will not be good enough next season, which is 100% correct. United should be doing much better.

Solskjaer will need to get things started this summer with the club needing to add a minimum of three top players to the squad in order to have the strength and depth in the squad to be able to rotate players next season, which will be required with the club competing in the Premier League, Carabao Cup, UEFA Champions League and the Emirates FA Cup. Speaking to Inside United and reported by the official Manchester United website, Matic said:

“Me, personally, I would like to win the Premier League with Manchester United. I think that our club always needs to fight for the title.

“We always need to try to do the best for this club, which we are doing at the moment, and I think we cannot allow any club to win the league seven or 10 games before the season finishes. So we have to fight until the end.

“Of course, we have a young team, but this cannot be an excuse. I think these young players already have a few seasons behind them playing. So, from the next season, we have to fight for the title.

“I don’t know if we’re going to win [it] but I’m sure that we can fight until the end. That’s my personal target and I think the rest of my team-mates think the same.”

It is good to hear that at least one United player wants to hit back and make the Old Trafford faithful proud of the club once again. United should have been motivated that Liverpool have been getting better in the past few years and should have been aiming to stop them from winning the league. Now that they have done that, Matic and his teammates will be seeking to stop their party from spreading into multiple summers, aiming to wrestle the Premier League title from them, returning it to Manchester in May 2021.

Written by John Walker

Nemanja Matic surprised by the immediate impact of Bruno Fernandes this season

Manchester United defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic has admitted that he has ben surprised with the speed of which Bruno Fernandes has adapted to life at the Old Trafford club since signing for the club during the January transfer window. He has had an immediate impact at the club which is a good thing.

So far this season, Fernandes has made 12 appearances for the club, scoring four goals and four assists. During a period in which Paul Pogba was out of action through injury, Fernandes filled in and immediately became a player that could be trusted in the squad, helping drive United forward on their push for a top four finish this season.

United will be back in action on Tuesday evening as they face Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League, seeking three points to keep the chase on Chelsea and rise up to fifth in the league after being leapfrogged by Wolverhampton Wanderers after they beat Aston Villa 1-0 at the weekend. Fernandes played two hours against Norwich City in the FA Cup on Saturday, so he could be rested against Brighton.

Matic has stated that he knew United were signing quality in Fernandes because the Serbian has kept an eye on Portuguese football after he left Benfica in 2014. At that time, Fernandes was playing for Udinese in Italy, then signing for Sampdoria in the summer of 2015, before signing for Sporting Clube de Portugal in the summer of 2017. Matic said:

“I’ve followed him for a long time because I played in the Portuguese league at Benfica.

“I knew he would bring quality for us. He played for a big club with a lot of pressure to win, but I didn’t think he would adapt so quick. From the first minute in the Premier League he made the difference.

“I’m happy for him and happy we have him in the team. He’s playing in the position where he needs to make the difference. He has all the ability to be the leader on the pitch.”

It is good to see United with Fernandes in the team. Last summer, when the player was hotly linked with a move to the Old Trafford club, there was some disappointment when nothing materialised after a summer of rumours from his home nation. It was great to see United sign the player in January though, which was needed. Now he is forming a partnership with Paul Pogba, it could set United up on the road to greatness again.

Nemanja Matic can earn himself a new Manchester United contract, according to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has admitted that defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic could earn a new contract at the Old Trafford club providing that he can keep his current form. Not that long ago, it looked like the Serbian midfielder’s career at the Theatre of Dreams was up but this season, he has shown signs of not giving up.

Injury problems with Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay have given Matic ample time in the starting XI this season, showing signs that he is not over the hill and still has something to offer United. Against Tottenham Hotspur on Friday, he was missed and brought on late in the game then against Sheffield United, he started and United did well.

Solskjaer believes that the Serbian is now at the top of his game once more, which bodes well with United keeping chase on Chelsea to break into the top four of the Premier League this season, earning UEFA Champions League football, which has been the objective all season. United have two chances to do that this season.

Solskjaer, speaking to the official Manchester United website, spoke about Matic and how he is playing she of his best football at the present time. It is good to have him in the squad at this moment in time as I feel he compliments both Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes in midfield together. Solskjaer said:

“Nemanja is playing some of his best football. He’s had a good pre-season for the first time in many, many years and today he was dictating the game and his experience is vital for us.

“I’m very, very happy that we’re seeing the best of Nemanja and he’ll be important for us and then, of course, it’s down to performances and if Nemanja wants to stay but at the moment he’s in great form.”

Back in March, United triggered a one-year contract extension for Matic, 32 meaning he will remain at the club until the summer of 2021. Between then and now, he could earn a new long-term contract at United. United recently signed Scott McTominay to a new long-term contract at the club, and Matic seems to be content with rotation at the club, saying:

“It is always good to play with top players and we are lucky we have top players in every position. [Against Sheffield United] I played with Bruno and Paul and we did really well.

“It was a good formation and I am sure in the future we can improve a lot together also with Scott [McTominay] and Fred when they play with us.”

The experience of Nemanja Matic can still be vital for Manchester United's youngsters

Nemanja Matic has made a remarkable return to the Manchester United first team in the new year, starting four of the last five matches. Matic was seen at the start of the season by many United fans to be a by-product of Jose Mourinho’s tenure and that he would face the same fate as Marouane Fellaini, frozen out for a more dynamic midfield set up under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and that he would be eventually sold.

The Serbian did feature in early Europa League group games against Astana and AZ Alkmaar, but also appeared in a disastrous 2-0 defeat away to West Ham United in September. He did not feature at all for the club between early October and mid-December and although he had been struggling with a groin injury, not many were eagerly anticipating his return. However, injuries to Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba, on top of the limited midfield options the Reds started the season with, have given Matic a chance again. 

He seems to have taken his chance with his performances at Burnley and at home to Norwich both going somewhat under the radar, as his tidy and professional work protecting the defence allowed the likes of Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata to create goals. Even goalkeeping legend Peter Schmeichel stated he would like to see Matic in the team after the 3-3 draw at Sheffield United, when United dramatically took the lead only to surrender it late on.

“They needed a player like Matic today just to sit in that defensive midfield role and calm things down.

“He’s been criticised for slowing the ball down and playing the ball backwards too many times, but sometimes they needed that in this game.”

It’s no wonder also that with Matic back in the team, United look more solid. Of the 11 clean sheets the team have kept this season, Matic has featured in eight of them. It is, however, his experience in the team that has been the main positive of his return. Not only will Matic give a calming presence on the pitch but also off it, helping the likes of Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood with their integration into the first team. 

When Scott McTominay first came onto the scene in Jose Mourinho’s first season, he was learning from the likes of Nemanja Matic in his position and Matic was so impressed by what he had seen he tipped McTominay for greatness during that same season. McTominay now seems ahead of him in the pecking order but who knows if he would have developed so much since if it wasn’t for the influence from the Serbian. 

One player who will be looking to benefit in the same way will be James Garner and Matic spoke after the Carabao Cup match against Colchester United about how he tries to help the younger players and that inconsistency with them is nothing new to him.

“We have to be more consistent in our games, but this is normal for a young team without experience.”

With United now playing a game every three or four days and as the season reaches its climax, the Reds will hopefully maintain a battle for the top four and go as far as possible in the cup competitions. It will be vital for this inexperienced team to have serial winners who know what it takes to get results and to get over the line. 

There are rumours he may be given a one year extension, but if Nemanja Matic was to be moving on in the summer when his contract expires, he could well leave a lasting impact on some of the clubs youngsters.

Juventus seeking to sign Nemanja Matic on a free; the one-year clause in his contract could see some return for his departure

Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic is now wanted by Juventus according to reports. The reigning Serie A champions will be seeking to sign the player as a free agent in the summer, aiming to get the 31-year-old to sign a pre-contract agreement as early as January as they did with former Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey.

Matic was benched by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for the first four matches of the season, missing the victory over Chelsea, the draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers, the defeat to Crystal Palace and making a 22minute cameo in the 1-1 draw with Southampton. On Saturday though, Matic started in the 1-0 victory over Leicester City.

During the international break, the Serbian midfielder admitted that he did not agree with Solskjaer’s decision, giving the impression that he was not happy with life at United. At the end of the day, he needs to offer what the team and the manager demands, otherwise, he is not going to fit the picture at all. Matic did well against Leicester but it is clear he doesn’t fit.

During the summer, it was reported that both AC Milan and Inter Milan were interested in signing Matic, but they were unable to sign the 31-year-old due to United not allowing him to leave. The midfield has been left at barebones since both Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera left this year, with no replacements incoming.

Matic’s current contract expires at the end of the season, but when Jose Mourinho signed the former Chelsea midfielder, a clause offering an extra year was inserted in the players contract, which can be activated at any time. If United do this, it could be that they have plans to sell him in January or in the next summer transfer window.

This would be good business rather than letting a £40 million signing leave the club after just three years. Granted, United would struggle to get anything close to £40 million for the player but a return, no matter how little would be better than letting Juventus sign him as a free agent, something they seem to do quite regularly.

I really cannot see Matic having to play many matches for United this season. He was literally only a starting player against Leicester on Saturday because Paul Pogba was injured and Fred was probably not ready to start, based on the fact he has not played since pre-season. With some game time, Fred will probably be ahead of Matic, in Solskjaer’s eyes.

The rise of Scott McTominay will have been a bitter pill for Matic, but after praising the young midfielder the season before last, he could have seen this day coming. McTominay offers everything that Matic cannot, especially pace and energy, which is reason for Matic, more often than not, being benched by Solskjaer.

If James Garner earns himself an opportunity to play for the first team this season, which his early form suggests he could do, then Matic will be pegged even further back in the squad, which will be good to see, not for him though. Matic is a professional and will understand that United need to cater for the wider picture, not just for him.

Nemanja Matic’s time at Manchester United is drawing to a close; academy graduate ready to show his worth

Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic is coming to the end of his career at the club. In the summer, both AC Milan and Inter Milan were interested in the 31-year-old, whose contract will run out at the end of the season, although there is the option for another year to be added, which might ensure United got a fee for the player, should he leave.

Reports in the media suggested that Matic was ‘forced’ to stay at the club this summer but could have linked up with Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez at Inter, if he was allowed to leave. So far this season, after not being picked to start or come off the bench in the first three matches, Matic played 22 minutes against Southampton, a 1-1 draw.

Looking at the fact Matic has been overlooked by Solskjaer this season is pretty telling that his number is nearly up. When he has played, he has been very slow, effectively slowing down United’s counter-attacking play, even taking time to despatch the ball, which is clearly not going to work for United. Matic has been professional, to a point.

Only last week, Matic had suggested that Solskjaer could lose his job this season if he did not get things right. Some took that as a criticism, others a call to arms to get the players ready for their matches after the first international break of the season. The media, of course, took the negative slant as the words ‘Manchester United’ sell and bring in clicks. Matic said:

“The coach must opt for the team that will fight for the title and if he does not win, he bears the responsibility.

“I have been in football for a long time, I have played almost all the games for all the clubs in the last 10 years.

“In order for me to play, one had to sit on the bench and accept that fact, and so do I now.”

At this moment in time, it is hard to see where Matic fits into this United team. With Solskjaer utilising a 4-2-3-1 formation, which is not really working, with Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay the trusted central midfielders, even a switch to a 4-3-3 formation might see Matic remain on the bench or not involved at all.

United need more creativity in the midfield, which is where Angel Gomes could come in. In terms of filling Matic’s position, James Garner, who has so far performed for the U23s this season, scoring four goals and one assist in the four matches he has played, could see him fast-tracked into first team contention, which would be great to see.

Garner has been compared to United coach and former player, Michael Carrick. This is based on his style of play and positioning during matches. Despite his age, 18, Garner plays football as a much older player. He is calm and composed with a high work rate and level of determination. He’s a natural leader with a good footballing mind.

Ensuring that the 18-year-old plays first team football this season will be down to Solskjaer, who can call on his services from the U23s. United also have the likes of Fred, who has not played a single minute of football this season but for me, Garner is the more exciting prospect, although Fred should be given a chance to redeem himself after last season.

I would imagine, that if Garner started playing to a good standard at first-team level, the likelihood of Matic leaving in January or even next summer would be very high, as long as there was interest in his services, of which there would seem to be in Italy. Should Garner and Fred play well, if, given the chance, this could, in fact, become reality?

copyright: JW