Manchester United can unleash Shola Shoretire as new midfield option vs Brighton – Tyrone Marshall


Juan Mata’s graceful Old Trafford farewell on Monday arguably posed more questions than answers, given the Manchester United playmaker has been underused by successive managers.

Even at 34, Mata showed against Brentford that he can still control a Premier League and make it bend to his will. He linked United’s midfield and attack with a touch of ‘magic’, as Ralf Rangnick called it, and his first league start of the season only left you wondering why it had taken so long.

A week ago the loss of Mata on a free transfer this summer didn’t look too concerning for United, but the way he pulled the strings on Monday left the question of whether United do need another creative midfielder in their ranks.

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In talking about what was United’s best Old Trafford performance of his tenure, Rangnick mentioned the creativity of his midfield. While Fred and Scott McTominay have often been paired together under the German and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the center of the pitch contained more creativity than usual on Monday.

Not only was Mata in the side, but Bruno Fernandes drifted in from a left-sided role and Nemanja Matic played as well. Matic might be a holding midfielder but he can pick a pass, as his assist for Cristiano Ronaldo against Chelsea proved.

Replacing that creativity will be vital under Erik ten Hag, who has always built teams with an eye for creating chances and scoring goals. Too often the burden for manufacturing chances at United has fallen on Fernandes.

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Mata’s performance against Brentford will probably keep him in the team against Brighton this weekend, and perhaps even in two weeks when the season concludes against Crystal Palace, but these fixtures are also an opportunity to look at internal solutions.

Hannibal Mejbri is one of those, although the 19-year-old’s demotion from the first-team squad recently doesn’t suggest he is high on the list of players likely to feature before the end of the campaign.

Shola Shoretire could yet provide United with a long-term midfield option, however. The 18-year-old has been playing as a creative No. 8 for Neil Wood’s Under-23s recently and it’s a position he’s got to grips with quickly. If Ten Hag wants to play a 4-3-3 system with two No. 8s next season then Shoretire could be a youthful option as a squad member.

Three of his last four Premier League 2 appearances have come in central midfield and Wood has been impressed.

“We played Shola in a deeper role at Leicester and I thought in the second half [in that game] he was outstanding, in the build-up, getting on the ball, and outstanding in the way he was playing forward passes, driving past players, driving the team,” Wood told the Manchester Evening News after Shoretire had played in that role against Chelsea at Old Trafford.

“I wanted to have another look at him there, he’s not played there a lot, it’s a challenge for him and I thought he did really well again. He was really disciplined in his positioning and showed some excellent bits that we know he has. “

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“I think what you see with all the players, with Hannibal we played him from the left, as a 10, we started to play him a bit deeper this season. Shola is the same, I don’t think there’s a position he hasn ‘t played across midfield or attack.

“With Shola, he’s still very young, he’s done a lot for a boy who is so young. He takes the challenge on, he’s got a great personality and character, he’s great for me to have in the team because I can give him a job and I know he’ll do it.

“We wanted to have a look at him again in this deeper role and I thought he did excellent again.”

Shoretire only turned 18 three months ago but he has already made four appearances for the first team. Having previously been considered a wide player, his recent repurposing of him at academy level could give United a new option, one they can explore in more detail before the end of the season.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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