Manchester United 2020/21 Season Loan Watch: Midfielders

by Colm Murphy

Following on from our previous feature covering Manchester United’s defenders who have spent the season on loan, we now take a look at the midfielders.

If you missed the defenders edition, you can find it here.

James Garner

After a successful 2019-20 season with the u23s, picking up the Denzil Haroun u23s player of the year award, Garner looked to continue his progression with a loan in the Championship.

Initially joining the newly relegated Watford, the award winner found himself among strong competition including full internationals Tom Cleverley, Nathaniel Chalobah, and Etienne Capoue.

The latter of the three will be coming up against United in the Europa League final, which speaks to the level of quality.

In a group of largely defensively-minded midfielders, young Jimmy was often deployed in a more unfamiliar advanced role.

Initially garnering high praise from Watford supporters, his lack of attacking output left them demanding more.

Disappointed with Vladimir Ivic’s very defensive style, fans wanted to see more creativity and flair from midfield, targeting James Garner for criticism. Unfortunately for the young midfielder, the lofty expectations of an unfamiliar role and style were understandably hard to meet.

Ivic’s negative style of play ultimately led to his dismissal, with Xisco his replacement. As mentioned in the last feature regarding Di’Shon Bernard, a change in manager can make or break a loan and Garner quickly found himself on the bench.

In response, United terminated Garner’s loan and found him a more fitting environment at Nottingham Forest.

Upon his signing Forest manager Chris Hughton said “James is a promising young talent in central midfield and that is an area where we’ve had injury problems and players missing in recent weeks.”

Making an immediate impact at his new club, Garner picked up the man of the match award on his debut.

After the impressive debut, Hughton was all praise saying “young James Garner, who came in for his debut, had an effect on the game. I’m really pleased. I think for for a young lad of 19, he showed maturity.”

The young midfielder did not look back, nailing down his spot with 19 starts in the remaining 20 fixtures.
Over his 20 appearances for the club, he scored four goals, as well as averaging two tackles, 1.7 interceptions and 1.1 key passes per game, resulting in Whoscored his ranking as Forest’s best performer.

Finishing off his successful loan, Garner’s agent has confirmed he has spoken with John Murtough about the midfielder’s future. Nothing has been decided yet but no doubt Ole will like to see him up close in pre-season before deciding if he is to remain or take another loan next season.

Aliou Traore

Having joined United from PSG in 2017, the French midfielder returned to his homeland to join Ligue 2 side, SM Caen. This came shortly after he publicly pleaded for senior football in an interview with RMC Sport.

The young midfielder’s time back in France got off to a rocky start when after two substitute appearances, he was dropped to Caen’s reserves, who play in the fourth tier of French football, due to fitness issues.

Subsequently, Traore also picked up an illness which kept him sidelined, with manager Pascal Dupraz explaining his absence as a “combination of a start to the season when he did not have any matches and an illness he had.”

Upon regaining full fitness, the French youth international returned to the Ligue 2 side with some appearances off the bench and the odd start. But it was his second start against Pau FC which left the Caen residents disgruntled.

One supporter asked on Twitter “Traore the new Pogba. But which one? Florentine or Mathias?” Traore’s work ethic was called in to question as well with a supporter stating “Traore loses all his balls and doesn’t make any effort behind. He’s a phoney.”

Unfortunately for the young midfielder, he was not able to sway the supporters opinions when a month later following a draw against Toulouse, fans vented their frustrations with him again.

Rating Traore’s performance, one supporter gave him a 3/10 and said he was “invisible and insufficient” and again questioned the midfielder’s effort saying “he walks more than he runs.”

Speaking about his lack of game time, the midfielder confirmed “the coach was not necessarily happy with my performance or my attitude in training.” Traore also admits to underestimating the demands of senior football saying “I didn’t expect it to be easy but neither did I expect it to be so hard.”

Ultimately, Traore’s loan spell did not go to plan. Ending the season with 21 appearances, and only seven from the start, he did not register a single goal or assist.

With his contract at Manchester United due to expire in June, Traore will be looking for a new permanent club this summer and finding one may rely on a change in attitude.

Dylan Levitt

The senior Wales international joined Charlton Athletic on loan to be managed by the experienced former midfielder Lee Bowyer.

Upon joining, Levitt was looking to follow in the footsteps of recent successful midfielder loans to The Valley such as Conor Gallagher and Josh Cullen.

Unfortunately, the midfielder’s time in the capital did not go as swimmingly as the aforementioned names. After his initial appearances, the diminutive midfielder’s physicality was called into question.

Lee Bowyer had to say “the thing for me was just the physical side, which will come in time for him.”

Despite not breaking into the team the manager was still full of praise when speaking to the South London Press stating “he is very good on the ball, a very good passer. Was it a little too early for him? I’d probably say it’s the league that was the problem – not him as a player. It was just the physicality of the league. Other leagues aren’t like that – the Premier League and international football.”

In the end, the physicality was too much for the youngster to overcome and along with spending time sidelined with Covid, his loan was cut short in January after just five appearances.

In response Levitt looked to the continent and with the connections of his Croatian agent, found himself joining NK Istra in Croatia.

During his time in Istra, Levitt picked up nine appearances with one assist to his name, mainly being used as a rotation option.

Initially hoping his loan spells would solidify his place in the Wales squad for the Euros, unsuccessful loans now put his spot in doubt for the as yet unnamed squad.

Going into next season with his United deal to expire in the summer of 2022, the young midfielder’s main goal will be to continue to increase his physicality and experience in the senior game with another loan, potentially to a less physical league.

Andreas Pereira

After the signing of Bruno Fernandes, minutes were hard to come by at United for the Brazilian international. With an exit looking necessary, Pereira joined Lazio on a loan deal with a €27 million option to buy.

With Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto being mainstays in the Lazio line up, Pereira found himself in a familiar position. Picking up 33 appearances for the Roman side over the season, only five of them were as a starter.

Contributing a goal and four assists in his limited time, Lazio supporters often wondered if he could produce more if given the chance, unfortunately for the Brazilian, those chances never came.

The lasting impression of Pereira in Rome is much the same as it is in Manchester, a talented player capable of producing quality who never fully pieces it together.

Lazio are extremely unlikely to take up their buy option, so as it stands Pereira is set to return to Manchester United.

However, the midfielder is ready to move on and is already searching for a new club for this summer.

Speaking on his future amid links to a return to Belgium, his country of birth, he said “the important thing is the will to play. Of course, if Kompany or Club Brugge call me… it will depend on the project they propose to me and what they have in mind. If it’s something positive that I also have in mind, why not?”

The MEN also reported ‘he would love to play in his native Brazil one day, especially for the club he supports: Santos.”

Wherever Pereira’s future lies, it looks certain a move is on the cards this summer.

Keep a look out for our final season loan watch feature which will cover attackers and keepers – out soon!

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