Neil Humphreys: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a midfield dilemma
Man United's best midfield trio of Pogba, Fernandes and van de Beek might not fit together in Paris test
As always, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer makes life difficult for himself.
The Manchester United manager gave his midfield dream team a Champions League dress rehearsal last weekend and the trio passed the audition, sort of.
When substitutes Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek joined Bruno Fernandes against Newcastle United, the Red Devils scored three goals and pinched a 4-1 victory.
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Three goals with the golden trio on the pitch indicate a cunning plan being devised for the trip to Paris Saint-Germain tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Solskjaer gave the new boy, the best boy and the French enigma a chance to establish a creative relationship before making their collective bow in Europe.
What could be simpler?
Well, as is often the case with Solskjaer, just about everything.
Van de Beek has earned a place in the starting line-up. The £35-million (S$61.8m) signing was heavily involved in Fernandes' crucial goal against the Magpies, dictating play on the left side of midfield.
But Fernandes often drifts to the left. Two into one doesn't go, but that's only part of Solskjaer's selection problem.
Fernandes, the most consistent and dominant midfielder in United's line-up, occupies the most advanced position. He has earned that accolade until an unlikely dip in performances proves otherwise.
But van de Beek's natural game is also moving forward. The Dutchman's eagerness to attack requires a safety net of sorts behind him. Against Newcastle, the safety net came in the shape of Scott McTominay.
After Tottenham Hotspur eviscerated the Red Devils a fortnight ago, Solskjaer wisely opted for a little gumption in McTominay and Fred, and removed the latter against the Magpies only when United were chasing victory.
Pogba doesn't do much defending at the best of the times. At the worst of times, he doesn't do much of anything, beyond leaking his love of Real Madrid to the media. But there were snatches of his undoubted talent during his late cameo against Newcastle.
With Pogba, Fernandes and van de Beek sharing the centre circle for the first time, the Red Devils scored three times in 10 minutes, which should alleviate Solskjaer's personnel concerns against PSG.
But there's a Spaniard in the works.
Just to muddy the waters further, Juan Mata was United's most effective creative outlet. The 32-year-old used his first English Premier League start in around eight months to conduct proceedings with an elegant, cerebral display.
Despite Solskjaer's insistence on snappy, counter-attacking, there was something enthralling, endearing even, in watching Mata's internal cogs turn before picking out one perfect pass after another.
He drifted where he pleased and brought Fernandes and van de Beek into the game. He made both of them look better.
Mata could be made for a slower, smarter night in Paris.
But there's no space left for him alongside United's quicker, muscular trio, let alone Anthony Martial. Something - or someone - has got to give somewhere, but defensive considerations remain paramount.
The Spurs debacle still stings.
A 6-1 defeat, at home, reads like an obituary for any manager not fortunate enough to poke in a Champions League-winning goal back in 1999. Residual goodwill remains for Solskjaer, but only just.
No more defensive collapses can be tolerated, surely. So McTominay presumably stays against PSG.
United's blistering recovery against Newcastle required McTominay's presence, just as he'll be needed for the dual threat of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in Paris.
There's still an awkward hole behind him.
Harry Maguire scored a fine header against the Magpies, but his personal Greek tragedy in pre-season still threatens to take on Shakespearean undertones.
The affable defender that once treated a World Cup like a knockabout with his pub mates at the park is still largely conspicuous by his absence.
Maguire improved against Newcastle. But he's still not quite his old self.
Solskjaer should mind the considerable gap between Maguire and Fernandes, which suggests his enforcers might get the nod ahead of more starry names.
Still, a manager supposedly schooled in the mythical "Manchester United way" caught a glimpse of the kind of midfield that once typified performances at the Theatre of Dreams.
Pogba's stature, Fernandes' artistry and van de Beek's obvious potential came together in a successful experiment, producing a little midfield alchemy that was genuinely uplifting.
There was even a splash of sorcery thrown in from Mata. It was a heady brew that leaves Solskjaer with a tricky decision.
He craves attacking football, but the persistent fissures in his back four remain.
The thought of unleashing his dream midfield in Paris must be an alluring prospect, but Solskjaer also knows the Spurs nightmare can never be repeated.