Kobbie Mainoo

What does Kobbie Mainoo bring to Manchester United's midfield?


Manchester United's 3-0 win over Everton at Goodison Park was their fifth in six Premier League games, and it looks like Erik ten Hag's side are finally turning a corner.

At least with results, if not the performances just yet.

Alejandro Garnacho's overhead kick was the standout moment - a strong contender for Goal of the Season before we've even reached Christmas - but teenager Kobbie Mainoo delivered big on his first league start.

The 18-year-old had a positive pre-season period cut short due to an ankle injury. He returned to first-team action at the end of October.

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Remaining an unused substitute against Fulham, Luton and Manchester City, Mainoo picked up where he left off in pre-season against the Toffees.

What can United expect from him and why is he already showing signs of being a key element of this side?

Easing United's control issues

Injuries or suspensions to personnel in midfield have meant that Ten Hag has had to shuffle the pack more than he would like.

Sofyan Amrabat, who was the main target this summer to add quality in-depth at defensive midfield, has more often featured at full-back.

Casemiro's levels have been in stark contrast to what he was like last season - age and an increase in pressing demands within Ten Hag's systems have led to a regression in quality from the Brazilian.

In recent weeks, Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen have kept the ship afloat. However, their own weaknesses in and out of possession make them untenable for the long-term.

This is where Mainoo comes in.

Mainoo's ability to turn and carry forward in possession adds great value.
Mainoo's ability to turn and carry forward in possession adds great value.

He stepped up to the plate against Everton and was exceptional with his composure in the middle of the park, tying things together in the build-up and being the connective tissue between defence and attack.

Splitting the centre-backs with his positioning, Mainoo always made himself available to receive.
Splitting the centre-backs with his positioning, Mainoo always made himself available to receive.

What makes the youngster stand out further is his ability to receive under pressure, make himself available for passes from the defence and then turn and carry away from pressure.

All of these things he brilliantly did in the early phase of the game, when United were in control of the clash.

Mainoo's willingess to receive under pressure helped United in tight situations.
Mainoo's willingess to receive under pressure helped United in tight situations.

Once they lacked that control, they never regained it in the first-half. Everton created chances totalling 1.43 expected goals (xG) at the break, whereas the visitors could muster just 0.09 xG.

This has been a common feature of United games this season where they have struggled to control the tempo of matches. Someone like Mainoo can make a difference.

Kobbie Mainoo pass map

"He has a lot of abilities and it was a really disappointing moment in pre-season when he got so badly injured, We prepared him properly but he did a great job and now he has to build on this," said Ten Hag, after the win at Goodison Park.

Mainoo does the simple things to a high standard which is vastly important. Circulating the ball in deeper areas or putting himself about with his defensive duties, the midfielder left no stone unturned against the Toffees.

Mainoo

Ten Hag's confidence in the youngster is quite telling and it's not the first time he has made a bold selection choice this season.

Ten Hag doing things his own way

Zooming out from Mainoo for a second, the Dutchman has made some interesting selections of late.

Raphael Varane has now effectively fallen down the picking order, with the Everton game being his fourth in a row on the bench.

Harry Maguire's return to the starting XI and subsequent return to form has contributed to that.

Furthermore, Ten Hag fielding him on the right and Victor Lindelof on the left feels like a way to resolve the ball progression issues that he has spoken about in the past with his centre-backs.

Manchester United defender Raphael Varane

Antony missed the Everton game due to a knock but even he was benched for Marcus Rashford on the right against Luton.

Garnacho's continued involvement with the side could make it difficult for Antony to return to the XI, coupled with the fact that Ten Hag genuinely sees Rashford as an option on the right.

Given the way Mainoo performed on his first start, it wouldn't be too tough for him to be in the XI again in the short-term. Ultimately, a partnership for him and Sofyan Amrabat feels like the ideal way forward.

Ten Hag's bold choices are paying off in the results, and the performances should improve once everyone gets settled in after these changes.

With big changes on the horizon at Old Trafford, these are good omens for the Red Devils.


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