Andreas Pereira has returned from a loan spell at Granada, and the signs are he will be given a chance to win a role in Jose Mourinho’s plans for the coming season. Given United’s lack of depth in midfield, this is a welcome development.
With Manchester United’s transfer activity stuck in limbo, somewhere between frustration and anticipation, José Mourinho may yet look towards his returning loanees to breathe some fresh life into his squad. Of the six United players who left the club on a temporary basis last season, it is likely that only one can force his way into Mourinho’s plans for the coming Premier League campaign: Andreas Pereira.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson suffered a confusing season at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Under new Chinese ownership, Wolves started the campaign with Kenny Jackett in charge. The 55-year-old took a liking to the loanee, with Borthwick-Jackson starting seven games under Jackett’s tutorship, scoring an impressive 7.32 rating on WhoScord, before the now Portsmouth manager was replaced by Paul Lambert. The former Norwich City and Aston Villa manager rapidly discarded Borthwick-Jackson and failed to offer the youngster another outing at the Midlands club, commenting disapprovingly on both the player’s fitness and mentality.
The United academy product, who broke into the first team under Louis van Gaal, returned to Old Trafford in search of game time with the under-23 squad. He has not enjoyed senior football since. Despite Mourinho’s ongoing tussle with Luke Shaw over the player’s fitness and attitude, it seems unlikely that Borthwick-Jackson will be involved in the first team squad during the coming season.
Similarly, Guillermo Varela is unlikely to squeeze his way into Mourinho’s plans, especially given the player’s now infamous behaviour at the end of the 2016/17 season. There have been a few humorously embarrassing injury stories in modern football, but not many top the young Uruguayan’s. Prior to Eintracht Frankfurt’s DFB Pokal final against Borussia Dortmund, Varela got a tattoo against his manager’s wishes. This tattoo got infected, ruling the loanee out of the final. Frankfurt’s sporting director Fredi Bobic issued a statement slamming Varela’s behaviour and the German club abruptly ended his loan-spell.
Like Borthwick-Jackson, it is unlikely that Varela will play for United’s first team again, especially with Mourinho attempting to shape the mentality of the club into one that is much more serious – and winning. Unprofessional personalities are likely to be cast aside.
The same goes for the trio of English-based loanees. Adnan Januzaj is the most high-profile case. The Belgian’s unimpressive season under David Moyes at Sunderland was probably his last affiliation with United after too many campaigns of stalling development.
Meanwhile, James Wilson made a total of four appearances for Derby County’s first team, scoring one goal in the EFL Trophy for what was essentially Derby’s reserves. Despite scoring a brace on his début for United under Ryan Giggs’ management, the exit door is looming, especially with Mourinho chasing a number nine as one of his primary transfer targets.
Sam Johnstone is also likely to leave the club. Having made nine separate loan moves since 2011, the Englishman does not have a future at Old Trafford, particularly since David De Gea, Sergio Romero, Joel Pereira and probably even Dean Henderson are ahead in the pecking order of the now journeyman goalkeeper.
Pereira, by contrast, may stand a chance. Of all United’s loanees last season, his club suffered the most, although the Brazilian regularly featured for Granada side that won just four from 38 La Liga games, theatrically crashing out of the Spanish top division.
It is all the more welcome given Pereira’s success in Spain. Playing in a side relegated with a goal difference of -52, he nevertheless distinguished himself, scoring five goals in 35 league matches — a sixth of the team’s total. That he went to La Liga at all speaks volumes for his character — rather than remain at Old Trafford, he took the risk of going elsewhere for regular football, choosing Granada specifically for the style of football they played. Unlike another of United’s recent young talents, Adnan Januzaj, Pereira had the fortitude to flourish on loan. In doing so, the Brazilian resumed the positive path he had been on a couple of years before, when he won the club’s Under-21 Player of the Year award and made his first team debut under Louis van Gaal.
Pereira was also involved in more goals than any other player at the club, including five strikes and three assists. While that is not overly impressive on it’s own, in a hugely disappointing season for Granada, Pereira played in an astonishing number of positions. The Brazilian started 10 games on the left of a midfield four, seven in the centre, six in an attacking midfield role, another six on the left of a 4-2-3-1 system, two on the left of a 4-3-3, two as a defensive midfielder and even one as a solo striker. It is a positive sign of the player’s ability to perform even amid the chaos, and he perhaps boasts greater mental strength than many thought.
There may even be a space for Pereira in Mourinho’s squad. It is safe to assume that Mourinho will recruit a holding midfielder in this summer’s transfer window – a move that should free up some of the defensive burden placed on Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera. Nemanja Matić now the most likely player to form a three with two of United’s better performers last season, with Herrera deployed in a box-to-box role and Pogba as the most attacking of the trio. Should Pereira prove his worth to Mourinho in preseason, he will alleviate some of the burden on Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera in central midfield. Pogba, in particular, showed signs of fatigue over the last 12 months, during a return to Old Trafford that may have been as taxing mentally as physically, while Herrera got through such a prodigious amount of work that it made many fear it was unsustainable.
Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick are set to be retained, most likely a cover for Matić and Herrera. With Wayne Rooney leaving the club, and Mourinho generally preferring Juan Mata in wider roles, Pereira could provide a rotation option when Pogba needs a rest. The youngster has demonstrated that he is more than capable of performing in the role.
Mourinho needs the depth. United fought hard on four different fronts last season, with the lack of squad depth becoming an issue towards the end of the campaign. This coming season, Mourinho’s team will again be fighting in four separate competitions, although with even more intensity in the Champions League. The manager needs all the quality replacements he can get – and Pereira will surely be a useful tool in what will be another busy season.
A statistical look at Andreas’s Season at Granada
Looking at Pereira’s statistics from last season, he would be best deployed at the front of a midfield three. Per 90 minutes, he made 1.66 passes and 1.56 key passes, numbers which are all the more impressive given the limited amount of the ball that his team saw each match — he made only 34 passes on average, less than half of Herrera’s 74.6. He also showed a surprisingly combative streak — he won 44.4 percent of his duels, only slightly less than Herrera’s 46.0 percent. If there are any question marks, they might arise over his difficulty in retaining possession — he completed 76 percent of his passes. However, this figure must again be viewed in the context of a team whose midfield and defence was continually under siege from rivals with far greater resources.
Pereira’s eye for goal and sharp turn of pace should be a great asset to a side that struggled to score too often last season. If he can return such notable figures in a struggling team, it is exciting to think what he could do in a team with the vision and movement of players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan. He may also be better at linking up the attack than Jesse Lingard was during the previous campaign — though the England international was always industrious, he too often failed to execute passing moves at the kind of tempo that would open up opposing defences.
Pereira has showed signs of having that elusive quality, and he should also return to Old Trafford battle-hardened by an exacting 12 months at Granada. It is thus that, while many of millions of pounds are being spent elsewhere, Pereira’s move back to Old Trafford could be one of the more intriguing — and maybe even important — elements of United’s squad this year.