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Manchester United’s final pre-season game ahead of the new season went down a treat in front of 55,000 fans at Old Trafford as they earned a rampant 4-0 win over Everton.
Goals from Mason Greenwood, Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and Diogo Dalot saw the Reds sign off their preparations in style with some fantastic football in the first half in particular.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer set the team up in a 4-3-3 shape, with Fernandes more advanced than Donny van de Beek and Nemanja Matic, but the Serbian anchor was clearly under instruction to stay deep and protect the defence behind him.
Alongside Van de Beek, Matic controlled the midfield with quick passes, fluid movement in attack and excellent positioning but there seemed to be a lot more bravery and intent throughout the team.
Matic constantly picked the ball up between the lines from the centre-backs and would pass through the lines himself to the attacking players and full-backs, often using just one or two touches to ensure the tempo was high and that the ball was given to the dangerous players as much as possible.
He played for 45 minutes before being replaced at half-time as Solskjaer looked to give Fred and Paul Pogba their first minutes of pre-season after a late return following their involvement in the Copa America and Euro 2020 respectively. But while it’s fair to suggest that the drop in performance that followed was down to a lack of match rhythm, it’s equally fair to argue that Matic simply does the job better than they do.
Matic was naturally far more defensive-minded than Fred, who occupied the deeper role in the second half. But the tempo went out of the game as Fred failed to break lines with his passing, the midfield lacked a drive from the centre and also the presence that the two-time Premier League winner possesses.
United have been in the market for a defensive midfielder this season and currently it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to sign one, unless something pops up towards the end of the window.
But if you ask fans of the club and probably staff too, if they could do anything they’d make Matic five years younger.
He is the exact type of defensive midfielder the club are crying out for in the current squad. He’s experienced, level-headed, a leader, very good on the ball, excellent at covering distance, positionally superb, good in the air and he exudes confidence. The defenders behind him play better when he is on the pitch and the attackers are found on the ball more often in areas where they can hurt the opposition.
If United had their way, he’d be the third name on the team sheet behind Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes but he’s struggled with a heavy work load for years already. With struggles to maintain a high level over the course of a 40-50 game season, he’s not able to be a regular starter and that is part of the season United are so desperate to enter the market.
Matic’s performances in pre-season have been impressive (Image: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images) Fred’s energy is his best attribute and Scott McTominay has energy and physicality. As it stands, they’re the two alternatives to Matic when it comes to the holding role in midfield and they miss the most important attributes – ability on the ball and defensive positioning.
45 minutes is obviously a small sample size, but Matic has enjoyed an excellent and effective pre-season and with several first-team stars struggling to earn themselves significant minutes during pre-season don’t be surprised to see him get the nod against Leeds United in the Premier League opener next weekend.
United would be a better team for it on the day too.
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