Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must seek alternatives to Man Utd’s ‘McFred’ midfielder twinning
It’s pretty clear to anyone who watches Manchester United regularly that when they have a big game coming up, their midfield duo chooses themselves.
With players like Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and Donny van de Beek on the squad, you’d expect the Reds to be able to implement their style of play wherever they go and look to control matches.
Yet it is the couple of Scott McTominay and Fred who consistently get the nod from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team for these matches.
The defensive partnership, dubbed “McFred” on social media, has provided a solid foundation for players like Fernandes and Marcus Rashford to shine in attack, but against top teams it seems to limit Old Trafford’s side.
Defensively, they are able to contain sides for the most part. In games against the “Big Six” this season, McTominay and Fred started together in five of six games. The only game they didn’t play, Manchester United were beaten 6-1 by Tottenham, although an early red card for Anthony Martial played a big part in that.
In the other five encounters, however, United drew three and lost two, conceding three goals but not scoring none. Even if you extend that to other games that they’ve started, United have struggled to create in the future.
Newcastle’s game ended 4-1 against United, but it was 1-1 until Pogba replaced Fred in the 69th minute. Stretching to the Champions League, the score was tied in Man Utd’s victory over Paris Saint-Germain in Paris before Pogba replaced Alex Telles and added an extra boost to the attack, securing help for the winner of Marcus Rashford.
It’s a problem for United as they move into title load territory, currently sitting atop the Premier League table in competition with Liverpool and Manchester City.
Although in recent years avoiding defeat in these matches can be seen as a success, with the club simply looking to make the top four, it’s not enough to just stop losing.
When you’re trying to win titles, those games against the teams around you could end up making a difference at the end of the season. For the first time in a long time. United don’t have too many problems against the teams they are supposed to beat.
They have corrected their home form somewhat, undefeated in their last five league games at Old Trafford, and remain undefeated away all season. They are finally consistent to get results. But Solskjaer’s approach in big games could cost the team points.
While it’s fair to suggest that Solskjaer is not yet fully confident in his defense and therefore balances that with protecting his midfielder, being a little more courageous could be a major turning point.
Sometimes the duet of “McFred” will be necessary. High-energy games or games where United don’t expect to have a lot of the ball, their defensive partnership has proven to work well. But when United are at home, or even when a game goes a certain way, giving up on it is likely to bring more success than failure.
Even if they ended up losing one or two games, they would also win more games. It’s about finding that balance and United have enough quality and talent in their midfield to do more than just stop the opposition from hurting them. They can really put other top teams to the sword.
Credit where it’s due to Solskjaer, he made Manchester United hard to beat. Now he needs to be more courageous with his midfield selections and create a team that is impossible to keep out.