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What Manchester United plan to do with their midfield in the transfer market

  /  autty

From also-ran to starter. The irony is Andreas Pereira was advised to push against Jose Mourinho's plans to use him as a holding midfielder after an encouraging pre-season in 2018 largely devoid of World Cup participants. He was never going to.

Pereira, 22 at the time, had never started a Premier League match and was certain of starting the season after an underwhelming year on loan with Valencia. Had Pereira listened to the advice he would likely have been outed by his manager and scapegoated by supporters.

Pereira's attitude has never been in question and he has wilfully played out of position, often to his detriment. He has started 25 times this season - more than twice the amount of starts he previously made for United in five years - and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has tinkered with Pereira as much as Sir Alex Ferguson did with Wayne Rooney.

Solskjaer billed Pereira as a midfielder in pre-season yet the Brazilian has always seen himself as a No.10 and has started eight times there in the league. He lined up in 11 successive league games from August to December but occupied three positions and his inclusions began to grate with some fans.

Pereira dropped back to midfield to accommodate Bruno Fernandes on his debut as the 10 against Wolves and he last started in the drab draw with Club Brugge. Solskjaer was so unimpressed by Pereira and the ineffectual Jesse Lingard in Belgium both were excluded from the weekend squad against Watford. From regular to rotation.

Pereira is at the back of the midfield queue again and whenever United deploy a playmaker it is Fernandes, with Juan Mata an expert alternative. Pereira replaced Fernandes in Linz and his quick-thinking was rewarded with a first European goal, albeit via a foam-handed goalkeeper.

Pereira moved to Manchester in 2012 and bought a house in Hale earlier this year. His partner gave birth to their firstborn two months ago and Pereira is especially friendly with neighbours Paul Pogba, Victor Lindelof, and Anthony Martial. Of all the United squad members being squeezed out, Pereira is likely to stay in.

Five midfielders is insufficient when at least three usually start and Soslkjaer soon realised that after the failure to offset Ander Herrera's departure. Come mid-November, Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay were all prone and the Pereira-Fred axis at Sheffield United was so flimsy Gary Neville claimed United had 'no midfield'.

James Garner has not had as many minutes as he would have liked and there was interest from Football League clubs to take him on loan in January. Garner, 19, has not had a look-in since December and the head of first-team development Nicky Butt empathised.

"I think I'd probably be the same if I was 18 or 19 and not getting in the first-team," Butt told the MEN. "I'd want to go and play men's football as well, because you do come to a point in the reserves where you bypass that and it does become too easy for you, and it becomes a bit lethargic and you also want to push the younger ones up.

"But then also the flip-side of it is you don't want to dive into the wrong loan spell or wrong club and end up thinking, 'I've made a complete error here, I'm going to lose six months, I'm going to lose a year of my football, I'm at the wrong club'. So you've got to be very careful.

"It's a really strange dynamic in that bubble of a Jimmy Garner, a Dylan Levitt, Brandon (Williams) to a point, Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong. It's a hard place they are in at the minute because you want that final little hurdle to be playing every week but you're not going to be. It's how you manage that."

Garner and Levitt are scheduled for loans next season now United have signed Fernandes and extended Matic's contract. Pogba is likely to be marooned in Manchester for another year after Mino Raiola failed him last year.

Now the noise is subsiding around Pogba United's need for another specialist midfielder is not as acute and, in a post-coronavirus climate, planned deals will have to be deferred by almost every club elite club. Jadon Sancho or Jack Grealish are more essential for United than overcrowding the midfield with another seasoned player. Jude Bellingham has primarily played in midfield for Birmingham but also played as a forward and is still 16.

Parking plans for a new midfielder until next year - when Matic and Pogba could move on - is logical and places a greater emphasis on recruiting the most suitable target. In a year's time, United might need silk and steel.

They needed to watch Fernandes for five months to be convinced and that has worked out so far.

Related: Manchester United