Manchester United might have to rebuild around two unpopular players – Dominic Booth

Just as the Bible details that Jesus Christ rose from the dead at Easter, Manchester United seem to do the opposite at this time of year.

Against Everton on Easter Sunday in 2019, United were smashed more easily than a chocolate egg in 4-0 defeat, a nadir that, according to then manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, should never be repeated. The scoreline wasn’t quite as bad a week away from Easter in 2022, but Ralf Rangnick struck a similar chord with an admittance that United were far from good enough at Goodison Park and needed to change.

That day three years ago was memorable for how easily United’s players surrendered and the same was true on Saturday. Afterwards in 2019, Solskjaer promised a reset, which wasn’t truly followed through by the club in the summer. This time, United must rebuild properly.

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It was probably a morsel of injury news delivered by Rangnick that most clearly exposed the current state of the United squad ahead of such a rebuild. He’d been forced to take Fred off after 36 minutes and replaced him with Paul Pogba, and was asked about the Brazilian’s fitness after the game.

Rangnick said: “Fred had some muscular problems on his hip flexor. We already are without [Scott] McTominay. Without both defensive midfielders it isn’t good for us.”

Rangnick might as well said United don’t have any midfielders whatsoever. Without Fred — undoubtedly United’s most effective outfielder in the past few weeks — and McTominay, his options boiled down to an aging Nemanja Matic and Pogba, who has long looked distracted ahead of his inevitable summer exit.

Next season might see Donny van de Beek reintegrated into the squad, especially if his former Ajax mentor Erik ten Hag arrives at Old Trafford, but otherwise United’s midfield requires major surgery. Fans will clamor for the addition of two or three midfielders, with the MEN recently revealing interest from United in Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips, but it remains to be seen how feasible (and expensive) it is to strike up multiple deals.

The truth is that Fred and McTominay, often maligned by a section of the United support, must be pillars around which Ten Hag (or another manager, if the deal with the Dutchman collapses) rebuilds.

Fred and Scott McTominay of Manchester United run out to warm up

In 2019, a group of United fans defiantly chanted the Scot’s name around Liverpool’s Stanley Park after he’d fronted up amid the chaos of that 4-0 defeat. That day McTominay had shown what few of his United teammates displayed — a willingness to keep working hard, no matter what the score or circumstances.

Nowadays, Fred is just as reliable and arguably more important to the side; he has shown under Rangnick he can provide a cutting edge through midfield in a more advanced role. Fans who used to ride the No.17 have warmed up to him.

Of course United need to sign players this summer, especially in midfield. But it’s of equal importance that they usher plenty through the exit door, as well, starting with Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata — three out-of-contract midfielders. Edinson Cavani will be next and others must follow.

It’s no coincidence that three successive United managers (four if you include former caretaker Michael Carrick) have warmed to Fred and McTominay simply because of their work ethic and attitudes. Jose Mourinho spent £52million on Fred and gave McTominay his chance from the academy; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer persisted with the duo despite loud calls for them to go; Carrick continued that trend.

Rangnick, too, has found that Fred and McTominay are by no means the problem at Old Trafford. Nor are they a panacea to the club’s problems, but United would be better off with more players willing to fight with the dogged determination of ‘McFred’.

The current squad is criminally lacking in desire and commitment. It would be wrong to jettison a pair of hard workers.

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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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