The Man Utd midfield has seen major improvements thanks to Erik ten Hag, but at the moment it still appears to be the team’s weakest link.
Any one of Brighton’s three goals scored at Old Trafford on Saturday could serve as a case study on how mismanaged Manchester United’s midfield was, but let’s start at the very end and examine the third.
Bruno Fernandes is a few yards behind Joao Pedro as he begins to sprint forward from the center circle, but the captain jogs back without closing the distance and ends up with the ideal view of the forward’s excellent finish.
With that, the game was over, and another desperate day for United this year was punctuated. There are many issues that Erik ten Hag needs to address, but it seems like many of them begin in midfield, which is problematic for Ten Hag personally.
He chose four center midfielders as a response this past weekend, but they still didn’t seem as good as Brighton’s three. While Donny van de Beek, a midfielder for United who cost £35 million, was not in the team, Pascal Gross, Mo Dahoud, and Adam Lallana all cost £2.6 million.
You can draw attention to how midfielders contributed to each goal. First, Christian Eriksen was unable to reach Joel Veltman in time; nonetheless, this was more of a tactical error because the diamond midfield always left the opposing full-backs without a direct opponent.
Veltman’s pass into Danny Welbeck left United vulnerable since Casemiro was unable to cut it out and was subsequently on the wrong side of the striker.
Brighton regularly used the approach of dumping their forwards into the middle, and United ought to have been aware of it. Welbeck had the option to turn because neither the center backs nor Casemiro were attempting to mark him. He was unnoticed when he ran into the box to put Simon Adingra’s cross into the net.
For the second goal, Gross started the move in the center circle without any pressure and then dribbled into the penalty area without ever drawing a defender’s attention. Karou Mitoma received a wide delivery from Scott McTominay, but the Japanese winger was passive in the face of him and provided an easy pass to Tariq Lamptey on the edge of the box. Eriksen was caught off guard on the edge of the box when Gross gained hold of the loose ball even though Diogo Dalot and Casemiro were near to the full-back.
Since these problems are nothing new for United, opposing midfielders must already be licking their lips at the prospect of taking on a squad that has softened.
Matheus Nunes and Matheus Cunha of the Wolves were able to dribble past key areas and open up potentially dangerous situations. A week later, at Tottenham, James Maddison, Pape Matar Sarr, and Yves Bissouma all appeared to be more physically fit and stronger than their opponents.
Martin Odegaard and Declan Rice both performed admirably for Arsenal before Brighton dominated at Old Trafford. In the pitch’s middle, United appears to be weak.
It shouldn’t be like this. Central midfield has undergone the most changes under Ten Hag. Last year, Eriksen came on a free transfer and Casemiro was acquired for £70 million. This summer’s £60 million acquisition, Mason Mount, began out slowly before suffering an injury.
Ten Hag will be hoping Sofyan Amrabat gets well as soon as possible. The physicality and intensity of the 27-year-old could be just what this midfield needs. As opposed to the plodding 31-year-old he has been so far this season, Casemiro has to rediscover the form that made him look like an amazing addition in his debut season at the club.