Manchester United’s dismal 1-0 defeat at the hands of Aston Villa should act as the wake-up call that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs to begin rectifying his midfield issues.
United’s midfield has been scrutinised for much of the season so far.
Fred and Scott McTominay were given the nod against Villa – despite an impressive performance from Donny van de Beek in the 1-0 midweek defeat to West Ham in the Carabao Cup.
The Dutchman has had to be patient for a real chance at Old Trafford, but there’s no denying that he hasn’t always looked the business in his cameo roles under Solskjaer.
However, it was still a weird call to sideline the former Ajax man against Villa rather than afford him the platform to build on his strong midweek display.
It’s a decision that looks even stranger when you consider Fred’s start to the season.
The Brazilian midfielder has struggled in the opening weeks of the campaign despite United’s bright start.
He looked out of his depth again on Saturday. The 28-year-old failed to get to grips with John McGinn, who ran the show in midfield for Villa.
McTominay wasn’t much better, but after missing the early portion of the season due to a groin operation, his display can be excused to an extent as he works his way back to full fitness.
But the excuses for Fred have surely now run out.
He’s consistently struggled to live up to expectations since his 2018 arrival from Shakhtar Donetsk and is surely drinking in the last chance saloon at Old Trafford.
It’s becoming evident – if it wasn’t already – that he isn’t the answer to United’s midfield conundrum.
It almost seems a no-brainer at this point to elevate van de Beek ahead of Fred going forward.
He may not be the enforcer that United lack in their midfield, but he showed more physicality on Wednesday night than Fred did on Saturday.
It was already noted in the summer that van de Beek had impressed Solskjaer with his physical transformation after intense work during the break.
He enjoyed his best spell at Ajax playing further forward and driving the play on but there could be scope for him to adapt his game to pull the strings from deep in Solskjaer’s preferred midfield set-up.
But it still feels like the ideal solution would be for Solskjaer to readdress the balance of his midfield to fully unlock van de Beek’s potential – and there hasn’t been a better time to do that than right now after another failed run out for the pairing of Fred and McTominay.
If Solskjaer isn’t willing to do that now, even after another abject performance from Fred, then it’s unlikely that he ever will.