It’s been a week of reflection for Manchester United, having lost their first match of the 2019/2020 Premier League campaign and their first ever against lower table side Crystal Palace Saturday. Concerns about the form of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men strengthened after news broke that left-back Luke Shaw would be sidelined for a month with injury and forward Alexis Sánchez is taking his talents to Italy.
Despite adding some depth to the backline this summer, a huge criticism United faced following the summer transfer window was the failure to add another creative midfielder to the squad. The hole at no. 10 is arguably the biggest hurdle Solskjaer is facing at the moment. The absence of it now means that Paul Pogba, who serves as United’s only creative source in the midfield, plays deeper and doesn’t have the help that like Bruno Fernandes or Paulo Dybala could have provided in lieu of Scott McTominay.
Once seen as one of the most electric athletes on the pitch, it’s been nearly a year since Jesse Lingard produced anything of substance for his side and it has been dreadful to witness week after week. In fact, the last two instances Lingard contributed to a successful goal scoring opportunity for United came when he found the back of the net twice in Solskjaer’s first game in charge as interim manager, a 5-1 win over Cardiff City in December. The second was an assist shortly after against Huddersfield Town in January, resulting in a 3-1 win for United. Since then, the 26-year-old has been in a slump.
So with months until there’s real potential to remedy these woes by reinvesting in the midfield, how can United work with what they currently have on the roster? It’s certainly not a permanent fix, but Angel Gomes has the potential to assert himself as one of Solskjaer’s favorites if given the opportunity from the Norwegian.
This campaign Solskjaer has employed the 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formation against the opposition, which are both structures that align with Gomes’ talents. Should he be awarded the start against Southampton this weekend, the 18-year-old would have to demonstrate his knowledge of finding pockets of space within his opponent’s defensive units.
The no. 10 post requires more than just accurately passing the ball and scoring goals, so the youngster must also prove he’s able to hold his own in one-on-one duels with defenders or respond just as quickly if he’s caught off guard. Even if he’s only played attacking midfielder in his career so far, he is a hungry youth with potential to be a game changer in United’s offense this year. Plus, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a United player alternate positions as he progresses with the club. Before dropping back, Ashley Young used to play a more attacking role and same with Antonio Valencia before he departed at the end of last season.
Fans lamented when United failed to replace the two midfielders who left this year and it only took the third match of the season for critics to hail this year’s Red Devils as a team with new faces but same inconsistencies. Solskjaer certainly honored his promise to deliver a more diverse lineup this campaign, but sadly the most needed role is one that has yet to be filled. If the rumors are true that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could start Angel Gomes against The Saints on Saturday, expect the young star to be a source of relief for a club still in a heap of doubt.