Premier League

Andreas Pereira’s started well, but what happens when Matic returns?

Manchester United’s ideology surrounding youth has, somewhat surprisingly, continued under Jose Mourinho. The Red Devils have persisted in giving stars of the future their opportunity. Just ask Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Andreas Pereira. It’s the latter who’s currently on our minds.

Pereira started his career as a winger, using his pace, trickery and offensive-mindset to hurt opposing defenders. Under the self-proclaimed Special One, the now 22-year-old has been moulded into a holding midfielder.

It’s a position he looked right at home in during pre-season tour. Calm, comfortable on the ball off either foot, strong in the tackle and positionally aware. He carried his friendly form into the Red Devils’ opening Premier League encounter against Leicester City. Sure, he may have taken a minor step back against Brighton & Hove Albion. De Gea aside, who didn’t?

Pereira must be looking over his shoulder

Now comes his biggest test yet; keeping his place in the team despite Nemanja Matic’s return. The Serbia international was criminally underrated by many in the 2017/18 campaign. But not by the man who mattered most… Mourinho made him a vital cog within his starting XI. They say lightning doesn’t strike twice. In this case, it has the Brazil-born Pereira looking over his shoulder already…

Changes will be made. Pereira was rightly hooked at half-time during the aforementioned Brighton clash. Despite Matic having no pre-season whatsoever, Mourinho won’t think twice about throwing the veteran straight into the mix in a tough game against Tottenham Hotspur.

That’s where Pereira has to remain resilient. He chose to run away from Old Trafford on a loan deal twelve months ago. This time, he has to show Mourinho that he is willing to stick it out and fight for his place. In time, I’m backing him to succeed.

Pereira will learn that, at a club with United’s stature, a guaranteed starter is extremely rare. Even moreso when you’re young. The good thing? The season is long. Carabao Cup games are just on the horizon, as are the Champions League group games. Matic, at 30, isn’t going to be playing week-in-week-out. The opportunities for 22-year-old Pereira will be there. He has to be ready to grasp them with both hands.

Why not turn this into an advantage?

Matic is up there amongst the greatest defensive-minded midfielders to play the game. Training with him from day-to-day can only enhance Pereira’s skills. Don’t forget, this is a relatively new position to Pereira. He’ll still be learning the tricks of the trade. The only way is up.

Mourinho is an extensive game-planner. Although Matic and Pereira are vying for one spot in the team, you better believe that they’ll be chopped and changed around depending on the situation. At times, when in full ‘park the bus’ mode, don’t be surprised to see both on the field at the same time.

United’s #15 is in confident mood fresh off his first call-up to the Brazil national team. In such a stacked squad, particularly in the midfield, that tells you everything you need to know about Pereira’s overall abilities. The fact that he’s versatile certainly helps his case, but to see that he’s already being recognised at the highest international level has to be a huge morale boost.

Motivation

If I were to focus solely on this season, Matic’s know-how probably gives him the slight edge. The ex-Chelsea man will probably scrape the lions share of minutes, Pereira has to use that to his advantage. Even as motivation, if you will…

Before signing off, we have to take a look at Nemanja Matić’s set-piece ability. United haven’t had that free-kick wizard over the last two seasons. Take a look back at the Reds’ pre-season tour game against Liverpool. Pereira left his countryman, Alisson, hapless in between the posts. That gift cannot be taught. Getting those dead ball goals can often be the deciding factor in tight-knit games. The Brazilian is up there with the best when the ball is just outside the eighteen-yard box. That’s a skill that Matic just simply doesn’t have.

For now, the pair will have to learn to co-exist. The future, though? That’s Pereira’s – should he want it badly enough…

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