In past years, Nemanja Matić filled the center-defensive-midfielder role for Manchester United. Marouane Fellaini also played the role from time to time, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer changed things at CDM. Moving from a midfield diamond to a pivot, required two players to start at CDM instead of one.
Fellaini left United for SD Taishan, so Pogba and Matic became the main men in the pivot. However, among injuries and transfer rumors, Fred and McTominay seized their chances to play together as CDMs. The future of this position remains stranded in the air with an aging Matić, misplaced Pogba, solid Fred, and developing McTominay, all wanting to play more games at that role.
United’s record signing, Paul Pogba, has enjoyed a good career at Old Trafford. However, a player signed for over $115 million should have a better than ‘good’ start to their time at United. On his day, Pogba is absolutely world-class. Yet, those performances never seem to string together. Overtime more issues surrounded Paul due to his statements about a potential transfer to Real Madrid. Ole has made it clear that Paul will stay for at least two years, but his potential absence could leave a massive hole in the squad.
Assuming Pogba stays for the long haul, him remaining as a CDM will not improve his form. He plays his best as a roaming center midfielder instead of a central defensive midfielder. Ole tried him a few times as an attacking midfielder but that spot became filled with the signing of Bruno Fernandes. Playing Pogba at CDM is a waste of his talents on the ball. However, despite his class, the worry remains around Pogba that he does not play for the shirt and that Pogba is not strong even in defense for the CDM role.
Nemanja Matić always performs when he is on the pitch. He is reliable and consistent, but time will not let him play like this forever. At 32, Matić has already hit the peak of his ability and is not a long term option for United to rely on season to season.
In the short term, Matic provides structure and leadership in the midfield. He is still a crucial member of United’s squad, but he cannot be a permanent solution for the issues in defense.
The Brazilian joined Manchester United from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2018 for a fee of $64 million. His start in Manchester wasn’t initially hot, but after an injury to Pogba last season, Fred played a lot of quality games for United. Fred was crucial in wins against Man City, Tottenham, and Newcastle last December. His quality in those fixtures led him to receive more game time for the remainder of the season. Fred undoubtedly played one of his best seasons last year and was even considered to be one of United’s “players of the season” by former Red Devils Dimitar Berbatov and Peter Schmeichel.
Fred has shown versatility in midfield and played as a sole CDM in the Europa League semi-final match against Sevilla. However, Fred might not have been ready for that role as he slightly struggled. That forced Ole to push Pogba back alongside Fred into the CDM double pivot. If Fred wants to contribute more, he must become more comfortable and reliable in defense for United and be able to play as a sole CDM. This season, Fred will still be seeing a lot of games to prove himself. The opportunity exists for Fred, but he must establish himself quickly, or else Scott Mctominay or a future transfer could try to take that role in the midfield.
Scott McTominay, the Scottish United academy product, impressed many last season. He was not supposed to get many first-team minutes, but along with Fred, he got game time due to injuries to other midfielders. Mctominay formed a strong partnership with Fred in the double pivot and grew comfortable. McTominay began to play his best football right before lockdown. His highlight performance came in a March win over Man City, where Scott led the midfield and scored a goal in injury time.
McTominay shows extreme amounts of potential. However, the question remains if he is good enough to start for United right now, and will ever reach the caliber of player needed to play CDM regularly for the Red Devils. The signs in Scott’s development are positive, yet potential does not guarantee results. Many have predicted Ole to phase out Matić and bring in McTominay as his replacement. While the opportunity for McTominay to become a starter at CDM for United is strong, Ole may look towards the transfer market for either a backup for McTominay or a player that McTominay will act as a reserve for.
Future Signing or Academy Lad
As mentioned above, if none of those players can establish themselves enough to control the future at CDM for United, then Ole can look at the transfer market and academy for new prospects. Targets like Sergej Milinković-Savić and Declan Rice would fit the build nicely for United, especially if Pogba or Matic were to leave in the coming seasons. However, youth players, Dylan Levitt and James Garner, show promise and will want to make a splash at CDM when they return from loan.
Written by CJ Szaz.