Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s choice during Manchester United’s victory over LASK Linz was slightly special.
It hardly mattered given United’s huge overall advantage, but it still didn’t work well for the two players hooked around Old Trafford’s time stamp. So far, Jesse Lingard and Fred have been United’s best players, although I must admit that this was a low band, as Solskjaer’s side had worked hard for much of the competition.
However, to see the two men – starving from regular football since football restarted in June – was replaced by Paul Pogba, and Andreas Pereira was a bit strange. Especially since others like Daniel James and Scott McTomini were much more sparse and extravagant on the ball. And with United̵
Solskjaer admitted that Lingard, the top scorer of United’s only goal so far, was gutted with the decision to replace him. Paul Scholes, on duty at BT Sport, questioned Lingard’s future at Old Trafford – a problem that could be solved in one way or another this summer.
Still, you wonder what the future holds for Fred and whether the Brazilian midfielder, who seemed so important to United in early 2020, needs to be rediscovered.
He offered more than McTomini in the middle against LASK with his mix of energy and fast transition, but the two obviously need to do more in these matches to convince their manager that they need to start more regularly.
Currently, none of Solskjaer’s strongest 11, firmly behind Pogba and Nemanja Matic, although the Norwegian really prefers McTomini when pressed for another option. Fred is the fourth choice central midfielder; quite a significant fall from grace.
But perhaps the biggest imbalance in United’s squad offers Fred this chance to become a player of greater value to Solskjaer.
Luke Shaw’s injury means he will not play a role in the rest of the Europa League campaign and leaves United without a natural left foot. Brandon Williams has surpassed expectations with his appearance last season, but he looks a little uncomfortable and ragged since returning.
This Solskjaer felt compelled to give Tait Chong a left-back outing in the final stages against LASK, suggesting that the United boss knows he has a problem to solve here.
Williams deserves to be the man he owns, but the backup game doesn’t exist, especially with Solskjaer, who at first glance lacks any faith in Diogo Dalot – even though he was injured because of the LASK game. Timothy Fossou-Mensa and Chong may be options, but why not Fred as a left back?
He has all the necessary attributes, and statistics show that he is among the fastest players in the United team. His left leg is strong and has the endurance to load up and down the flank for 90 minutes or more. Passing and passing it should not be a problem.
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The biggest problem, of course, may be a lack of familiarity with the position. The only previous time Fred played at left-back for United came when both Shaw and Williams were injured in a 2-2 draw with Southampton last month. It was chaotic for a few minutes, and through no fault of Fred United, he gave up late to miss two valuable points.
Yet this showed Solskjaer’s thinking. So maybe the upcoming Europa League quarter-final against Copenhagen may be the time to try it for over 90 minutes.
As both Solskjaer and Lingard have said, the pressure is off from United as they head to Germany for knockout football. But they could learn a few basic tactical lessons before the new Premier League season, which begins in about a month.