Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Discusses Andreas Pereira's Best Position

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2019

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 02: Andreas Pereira of Manchester United celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton FC at Old Trafford on March 02, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer thinks Andreas Pereira is better in the advanced areas of midfield after the 23-year-old helped Manchester United beat Southampton 3-2 in the Premier League on Saturday.

Pereira made the most of a rare start by scoring one goal and assisting another at Old Trafford. His contributions helped the Red Devils to move into the top four.

Caretaker manager Solskjaer praised the skilled midfielder's impact, per Samuel Luckhurst of the Manchester Evening News: "He's gone through the academy; we know what he's capable of. He's got loads of energy and drive. Maybe we found a better position for him than as a No. 6—he's more of an 8 or a 10 going forward. He's got high energy. He's got quality in his passing, crossing and shooting."

Such a performance was timely given United's injury crisis. Solskjaer is having to cope without several key first-teamers, including forwards Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard and midfielders Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata.

Pereira is growing into a key role in Solskjaer's squad.
Pereira is growing into a key role in Solskjaer's squad.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

To make matters worse, Paul Pogba is suspended for Wednesday's second leg against Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League last 16. Luckhurst suggested Pereira could take Pogba's place for the trip to the Parc des Princes, with United trailing 2-0 on aggregate.

It would be a significant responsibility to give to an academy graduate who has started just six games in all competitions this season. Yet it's hard to ignore the flair and potential Pereira displayed against the Saints.

His maiden Premier League goal was a thing of beauty, a terrific curling effort from outside the box. By the time he played in Romelu Lukaku minutes later, Pereira had inspired a comeback after Yan Valery had given Southampton a shock early lead.

The numbers endorsed Solskjaer's view about Pereira's value in attacking areas:

Statman Dave @StatmanDave

Andreas Pereira’s game by numbers vs. Southampton: 77% pass accuracy 11 final third passes 6 ball recoveries 2 interceptions 2 fouls suffered 1 assist 1 goal An absolute 🚀 of a first PL goal. 🙌 https://t.co/GzUzUMBkRF

Pereira was played farther forward after Alexis Sanchez was withdrawn with a knee injury, which transformed United, per James Ducker of the Daily Telegraph:

James Ducker @TelegraphDucker

United so much better now Sanchez off and Pereira pushed further on into that false nine position, with Lukaku and Rashford either side, and Dalot wide-ish in a midfield three with McTominay and Pogba. So much more energy and intensity

It was a good audition for a key role against PSG. Pereira's ability to change games from the tip of midfield could also prolong his career with United.

His contract expires at the end of the season, and Pereira was linked with Premier League rivals Arsenal and Chelsea ahead of the winter transfer window. An exit would feel like a missed opportunity for United, who have had Pereira on the books since 2011.

Loan moves to Granada and Valencia during the previous two seasons made it appear as though Pereira was never going to make the grade at Old Trafford. Yet Solskjaer's arrival and the injury list have given Pereira the opportunity he needed to prove his doubters wrong.

Solskjaer is showing faith in United's younger players.
Solskjaer is showing faith in United's younger players.OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

More performances like the star turn against Southampton could make Pereira indispensable to a squad that needs more guile in midfield to support Pogba. Mata is also out of contract this summer, so Solskjaer might need to replace the Spaniard's creativity if he gets the United job permanently.

Trusting a player already comfortable in a United shirt would be the easiest way to do that.