Saints draw shows need for midfielder

Manchester United have strengthened two major positions this summer – the right wing and central defense – but Sunday’s poor showing against Southampton provided more than enough evidence that the midfield still needs to be taken up.

United have investigated buying Kieran Trippier to strengthen the right-back before the transfer window closes, but the figures show no sign of adding up, and the priority for the club hierarchy now in the last week before the deadline must continue in earnest after a new midfield recruitment.

From crushing Leeds 5-1 in the first weekend of the Premier League season, United worked to a 1-1 draw at St Mary’s in their second match. This was an opportunity to underline their statement of victory last week against bad opposition and they could not take it.

The midfield is what it was. Without Scott McTominay in start XI, rested after struggling with his fitness during the pre-season, Nemanja Matic lined up next to Fred.

Matic had shown renewed promise over the summer that he could step into the team from time to time and close a gap, having been head of the friendly against Everton at Old Trafford. But the Southampton game went past the veteran Serbian and he could not exercise any control.

Fred, meanwhile, was excellent against Leeds. Still, inconsistency has plagued the Brazilian’s career at Old Trafford since the day he arrived in 2018 and Sunday presented the other side of him. When McTominay, who has developed into a leader and driving force in the heart of midfield, arrived in the final stages, it was too little too late to change the rhythm of a bad team spirit.

The midfield often sets the tone for all performances and United did not have it.

The reality is that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær does not really have other alternatives. If we assume that McTominay will be an automatic starter, when appropriate, there is nothing that Fred says can come from one game to the next, while Matic can only be a bit player at most.

Solskjaer prefers to use Paul Pogba further forward or wide to the left, while Donny van de Beek is better placed as a rotation alternative for Pogba and Bruno Fernandes rather than a conventional central midfielder, but with a continued lack of playing time, who even knows.

United have the opportunity to continue in midfield between now and the transfer deadline at the end of the month if they want. Rennes have agreed to sell Eduardo Camavinga and United are among several clubs that have already announced they want to talk to the player and his agent.

Alternatively, the Wolves will not stop Ruben Neves from leaving if a club meets his value of more than £ 30 million. Neither he nor Camavinga would be considered “expensive” by modern transfer standards, especially if there is a way that United can also secure a late sale.

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