You can’t blame Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for everything. Solskjaer inherited a mess of a squad comprised of mostly entitled players and ones who weren’t good enough. Solskjaer has been unfairly blamed for a lot of things. He promised to clear out the bad culture from the United dressing room, and while he ultimately did keep his word, he was criticized all through July for not having done it yet.
You can’t blame him for contracts that made it impossible to sell Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Marcos Rojo. You can’t blame him for Ander Herrera walking away because United wouldn’t give him the same kind of money they gave Marouane Fellaini last summer. Those contracts were mistakes that were handed out under the previous regime, signed off on by José Mourinho and passed on to Solskjaer to deal with.
Then there’s Andreas Pereira.
This past July Manchester United handed the Brazilian academy graduate a new four year contract. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signed off on that, and for that he is to blame especially, because it’s hard to see where Pereira earned that new contract.
Pereira was given one start by Solskjaer last year where he was yanked off after 63 minutes against Burnley. After that his starts all came due to injuries throughout the squad. In other words, Solskjaer only played him because he had to.
On the pitch, Pereira started on that magical night in Paris. Four days earlier he scored United’s goal of the season against Southampton. Unfortunately that’s where his positive contributions ended. In Pereira’s four league starts under Solskjaer, United’s record was one win, one draw and two losses. In his two starts under Mourinho, they won one and lost the other with Pereira being subbed off after 45 minutes.
And yet this summer he was given a new contract.
I’m not naive. I don’t think this was entirely Solskjaer’s doing. We all know the problems at this club reside in the owners’ and director’s boxes above the manager’s head.
United lost Ander Herrera this summer and targeted Newcastle’s Sean Longstaff as a potential replacement. They went as far as to inquire about him but were quoted a price of £50 million from the Magpies.
It was shortly after that that Solskjaer began talking up Pereira and Scott McTominay as potential replacements for Herrera. I’m sure that played a role in this new contract. That, and the chairman seeing that giving an academy graduate who had never really gotten a chance a new contract would be a good PR move.
Nevertheless, Solskjaer signed off on it and when he watches his team struggle to attack, he now has to shoulder some of that blame.
This is a season about answering questions and one question has already been answered. Andreas Pereira is not good enough.
It’s a bit ignorant to make judgements after just eight games. It’s still early in the season — extremely early — but no part of Pereira’s career has led us believe that anything better will come. He’s 23 years old and we still don’t know his best position, or rather his actual position.
He came up as an attacking midfielder, operated mostly on the wings during his two loan spells in Spain, was used as more of a box-to-box midfielder last season, and is now being deployed either on the right wing or as a number 10.
Pereira lacks the skills necessary to be an attacking player. His passing is poor. His ball control is terrible. When I went back through the Rochdale game it didn’t take long to find Pereira giving the ball away.
Not only am I not sure what he was trying to do here but this wasn’t even his first giveaway. By the 20th minute this was his stat line:
Andreas Pereira has lost possession five times already — more than any other outfield player.— UtdArena. (@utdarena) September 25, 2019
He has only completed three passes.
His career numbers amount to a grand total of 9 goals and 10 assists. His best season saw him score 5 with 3 assists in 37 appearances for Grenada.
Pereira’s United career can basically be summed up with his performances in the past week. We’ll start with the positive. Take a look at this play, which I guess is where Solskjaer sees the creative potential in him.
Pereira makes a really good play with his movement to open up West Ham. He plays a great ball in to Juan Mata, and the only reason United don’t get a shot is because West Ham did a great job of sticking with Mata.
He also would play in a very dangerous cross that Mata should have finished, not too dissimilar from his assist on Martial’s goal against Chelsea.
Unfortunately for him, that’s where the positives end. The xA (expected assists) on Pereira’s ball to Mata against West Ham was 0.54. The xA on his set up of Martial’s goal vs Chelsea was 0.61. If you’re creating high quality chances like that every week you’re doing a tremendous job. But Pereira isn’t; his total xA on the season is 1.19, just 0.04 more than the Mata and Martial chances. Basically, in five Premier League games those are the only two chances he’s created.
For attacking players, it’s not all about what they do on the ball but also what they do off it. A well timed run can draw a defender to you and create space for one of your teammates. But Pereira doesn’t ever seem to make those runs. In fact, his positional sense leaves a lot to be desired.
Look at this sequence against West Ham.
Mata gets the ball on the half turn, expecting the right winger Pereira to make a run and continue the break. Pereira doesn’t run; actually he doesn’t do anything. The lack of movement forces Mata to rethink what he’s going to do, and leads to him mis-touching the ball out of play. The match commentator pointed this out in real time.
Later in the match United had a great chance to run at West Ham and hit them on the counter. Countering is what United are built to do but Pereira again becomes a liability.
McTominay runs with the ball but instead of running wide and giving him an option, Pereira makes a run behind Rashford, essentially into no man’s land. The result is that no United player is open, McTominay doesn’t have a ball to play, and gets caught from behind.
In the second half against Rochdale, Solskjaer moved Pereira to the left flank and introduced academy product Brandon Williams at left-back. Once again Pereira’s lack of positional sense came into play.
Williams spent the half trying to overlap on the left flank, but far too often Pereira was drifting wide towards the touch line, limiting the space that Williams has to work with.
With Pereira out wide, the left footed Williams doesn’t have any options other than passing it to the right footed Pereira. It’s easy to defend and United have to recycle the possession.
This is part of the same sequence! Look at the clock! It’s only seconds later and Pereira is still out wide. He never comes inside.
The point of having an inverted winger and an overlapping fullback is so the fullback can you know, overlap! Overlapping creates questions in the defense and more importantly, movement. Movement leads to potential openings. Pereira spent the whole second half hugging the touchline and taking all that away. It was the opposite of creativity.
There’s no doubt that Juan Mata is a more creative player than Pereira, but Mata lacks pace and Pereira usually gets the nod over him, which many claim is because of his defensive work rate. Well let’s talk about defending because Andreas Pereira is pretty bad at it.
Watch Pereira on West Ham’s opening goal last week.
The play starts with him clearly being in charge of marking Andriy Yarmolenko.
When the ball goes in to Mark Noble what does Pereira do? He leaves his man and half-heartedly heads towards Noble, even though Nemanja Matić is right there! He doesn’t even signal to an already preoccupied Ashley Young that he’s letting Yarmolenko go down the wing. Pereira letting him go allows Yarmolenko to sneak around behind the United defense and get open at the top of the box.
Fast forward to Wednesday against Rochdale and look what Pereira is up to again.
Pereira’s man is visible at the start of the clip. He drifts down off the screen and Pereira pays no attention to him. When Matheson makes a break towards the goal, it’s too late for Pereira.
At no point in the Rochdale match did Pereira look like he was better than any of the players playing for the League One side. At 23, this is what Pereira is. He’s not a creative player, and he’s not good defensively either.
Maybe Pereira’s playing time will lessen if United get a new midfielder in January, but for now, he’s going to have to play simply because United’s squad is so thin.
United could have rode out this year and cut ties with the Brazilian if his game didn’t improve. Instead they gave him a new contract, not only ensuring he’ll still be there but it almost encourages Solskjaer to play him more in hopes that he will figure it out. If that doesn’t happen, every time Solskjaer sees an attack die at Pereira’s feet, he’ll only have himself to blame.