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Three ‘Utility’ Bundesliga Players Man United Should Consider

Before there was enough money in the game to buy multiple players in the same position and teams could build second, even third squads, some of the most valuable yet unsung heroes of the best sides were utility players.

They might not have had the most flair or scored the most goals, but they were willing to come on and do a job whenever and, most importantly, wherever necessary.

Manchester United have been fortunate enough to have had some of the best utility players a club could ask for: Phil Neville, John O’Shea, Ji Sung Park; Wayne Rooney certainly played in his fair share of positions and there’s even a case to be made for the likes of Darren Fletcher and Daley Blind.

Whilst this kind of player may have been phased out somewhat in recent years, there are still a fair few in modern football who have been key in helping title-winning sides across the line: Fernandinho and James Milner come to mind. Now, for obvious reasons, these two players can be taken out of the equation, so I’ve drawn up a shortlist of three individuals United should consider.

Alphonso Davies

The first name on our list is coming off the back of his highest profile season yet, after making his big move to Bayern Munich: Alphonso Davies. The 19-year old is Ghanaian-born but holds after Canadian citizenship after his family arrived in the country fleeing civil war in Liberia.

His story has always garnered attention and admiration, but so has his talent, having been touted as one of the MLS’ most exciting prospects for some time. His best season came in 17/18, when he racked up eight goals and ten assists, and it was this return that sealed him his major move to Bayern in November that year. Now, at one of the biggest teams in Europe, his ability is being showcased on the world stage.

Davies main position is as a left-back, although he truly is more of a wing-back – a playing style that has led to comparisons with his fellow teammate, David Alaba. Not only has he deputised in both full-back positions, but his lightning speed and agility down the left flank has also seen him play as an out-and-out winger on occasion.

According to Sky Sports, United have been interested in Davies since the age of 15, when he made his Vancouver Whitecaps debut to become the youngest player to feature in MLS history. So, with him already being on the club’s radar and his ability more evident than ever after an impressive first season at Bayern, I can see that interest being renewed.

He is still early in his career and yet to fully establish himself as a first-team player – not to mention the left-back position at United is still up for contention. The prospect of joining a young team, where his attacking intent will be nurtured and a clear starting position to try and compete for, this might be enough to coax him to Manchester.

Tyler Adams

We’re staying in the Bundesliga for this next option and although he may currently be the least well-known on the list, like so many utility players, this only further adds to an underrated reputation. The man in question is Tyler Adams, the 21-year old American who is proving extremely functional in Julian Nagelsmann’s dynamic RB Leipzig system.

Adams is typically considered a defensive midfielder, but given the frequency with which the team transition from a 3-5-2 to a 3-4-3, his role in the midfield can range anywhere from a sweeper to box-to-box and everything in between. Moreover, depending on the movement of players around him, Adams often finds himself plugging the hole at wing-back.

Like so many players today, his importance in games can often go overlooked because his output doesn’t come in the form of direct goals and assists. Instead, his contribution is better described as a dogged pressing of the ball, breaking up passing lanes and intercepting the ball before moving it on to other players to progress.

This is not to say that he doesn’t get involved in attacking moves – he certainly moves the ball quickly and closes players down with great aggression – but it is his workhorse mentality that often starts off the plays, rather than finishing them. He is a player that covers an awful lot of ground and is almost fluid in position, which is why I think he encapsulates so much of what makes a utility player; he isn’t just willing to play everywhere, he does it in most games.

Achraf Hakimi

The last player on this list is a fairly hopeful one: Achraf Hakimi, the 20-year old Moroccan, also playing in the Bundesliga at Borussia Dortmund. Originally born in Spain and only currently on loan at BVB, Hakimi is actually a product of Real Madrid’s academy, but has made a huge impact at the Signal Iduna Park in his two-season spell by being a jack of all trades.

Operating primarily as a full-back, Hakimi has favoured the left flank mostly, but has played plenty at right-back and, like Davies, has recently been filling in on both attacking wings. This more advanced position has not only seen his assists increase from last season, but he has also begun to add goals to his game more regularly. With seven goals and ten assists in all competitions, Hakimi has been one of Dortmund’s best performers this season and even has the most Champions League goals in the side.

The problem with Hakimi is that I simply don’t think he’s available. Not only is he an instrumental part of Favre’s Dortmund, but given he is on the books at Madrid and the level of performances he has been putting in this season, especially, I don’t see either letting him slip away easily. For most players, Los Blancos would be the end goal: having proved himself in a top-flight team, in the Champions League and at such a young age, no less, staying is likely his best move.

Furthermore, although Hakimi’s flexibility might qualify him as a utility man, in truth, he has more than cemented himself as a first-team player. Although the left-back position is by no means secure, Shaw still has the potential to finally kick on in his United career, and Brandon Williams is showing plenty of promise regardless, so it might be premature to bring in someone who would expect to start every week. That being said, should he struggle to fight through Zidane’s star-laden squad, he would be my first choice in a heartbeat.

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Solskjaer and Nicky Butt’s Thriving Success With Manchester United Academy

Youth courage success. These were the three words marketed heavily by Manchester United in the summer.

It was an indication towards the fresh new approach that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was implementing at the club, with year one of the manager’s project revolving around the rebuilding of his stagnated squad.

Not only have we seen the Norwegian adopt this policy to the identification of transfer targets, but through the integration of academy players into the first-team too. This was always going to be a option to help bolster the squad’s options, as whilst seven senior figures have departed United since Solskjaer took the reigns, only four permanent replacements have come through the door.

The likes of Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams are the perfect examples of youngsters capitalising on such an opportunity. Both players have been more granted more minutes than what would have been projected at the start of the season, but to quote the notorious Sir Matt Busby, ‘If you are good enough, you are old enough.’

Solskjaer is no doubt placing the club’s tradition of trusting the youth at the top of his priorities, as we have also seen through the contract extensions of Tahiti Chong, James Garner, Axel Tuanzebe and Timothy Fosu-Mensah.

This has all no doubt been part of a elaborate and systematic plan, as we have seen similar progressive developments in the lower ranks of the academy set-up too. At the start of the season, Nicky Butt was handed the position of ‘Head of First-Team Development’, a role established to help younger players transition into Solskjaer’s squad.

As we have seen through the above names, the academy restructure is working wonders, with policies being put in place to make sure this path remains a secure one.

Since Butt assumed his new position, the club have invested significantly into the U18 setup. Hannibal Mejbri is the first name that springs to mind, with the 17-year-old joining for £9m in the summer. Such a lucrative fee tends to be a rarity at this level, but the French talent was simply seen as too good of an opportunity to pass up on.

When analysing the transfer activity of the academy, this price tag is an anomaly, but it’s clear that money is being invested with the objective of creating and maintaining one of Europe’s most promising environments for youth players to develop in.

Mateo Mejia, Björn Hardley and Dillon Hoogewerf further highlight this mindset, with United recently adding Joe Hugill and Radek Vitek to the ranks too. It’s a continuous building process when it comes to a club’s academy, with the Red Devils currently thriving in such a department.

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Manchester United Players Looking Up To Bruno Fernandes

No other Manchester United signing in recent memory has made quite the instant impact like Bruno Fernandes has.

The playmaker was welcomed with open arms from fans in January, as the side has been starved of creativity in the middle this season. Given Paul Pogba’s prolonged absence, any new arrival would have been seen as a bonus, but not even the most optimistic United fan could have predicted just how good Fernandes would be.

Three goals and four assists in his opening nine games highlight just how effective the Portuguese international has been, but his arrival has sparked so much more than just a few extra goals on the field. Belief and rejuvenation are the two words that come to mind when analysing United, post Fernandes.

The former Sporting Lisbon captain has injected some leadership qualities into the side, as we have seen through his vocal instructing of players around him. Whilst everyone has rushed to praise his technical abilities on the ball, we must also recognise that Fernandes has imposed his presence in the middle of the park too. He has averaged two tackles per game in the Premier League so far – only Fred and Aaron Wan-Bissaka boast better in this department.

As the popular Twitter account UtdArena also highlighted, United’s collective press improves significantly with Bruno in the side (2.24% to be precise). Playing in that advanced role, he is one of the team’s leading indicators to push forward, squeezing and limiting the space for opponents to play in.

Daniel James has been one of the latest figures at the club to praise Fernandes’ impact, speaking to NBC Sports he revealed:

“He’s 25 but we already see him as that senior player, having that character, he speaks to a lot of players about how they can improve, not to be harsh on them but to help the team improve. He’s been a great player since he’s coming in but it’s about his character as well.”

Man United Players Look Up To Fernandes

Such comments will be a breath of fresh air to the Old Trafford faithful, who have been calling for the recruitment of such a figure for many years. Every successful United team in the past has always boasted a strong presence in the middle of the park, with Fernandes helping establish just that for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

We may be early on in the 25-year-old’s career in Manchester, but he already looks destined to play an integral role for the club over the coming seasons.

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Five Manchester United Wages That Need Clearing Out

As part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s rebuilding job, departures have been just as important as new recruits in the transfer market.

Since January 2019, as many as seven senior figures have left the club. The Norwegian has been rightly ruthless with his removal of players since taking charge, clearing out stagnated names that were simply haltering the progression of the side.

Whilst the manager has been successful in putting in such foundations to help improve the squad, there is still work to be done. We’ve had a look into five players and their reported wages (fees via Manchester Utd Latest News) that need to be moved on.

Alexis Sanchez – £350,000

Arguably the club’s worst signing in the 21st century. Although there was next to zero transfer fee involved, Alexis Sanchez has been swallowing up a large chunk of United’s annual wage bill over the past eighteen months.

The Chilean has epitomised everything wrong with Ed Woodward’s transfer recruitment in recent years – trying to shoehorn star names into a starting XI, as opposed to the current systemic approach that was successfully adopted last summer. Sanchez’s wages have made the player a difficult figure to move on, with the club still paying a large percentage during his loan spell with Inter Milan.

His time in Italy has been overshadowed by injuries, associating more frustration around the seemingly lost cause. Given that Solskjaer has found success with his more youthful, hungrier attackers, coinciding with his long-term vision, it would be best for all parties if the club just cut ties altogether with this failure of a signing.

Juan Mata – £160,000

Naturally, Juan Mata has transitioned into a squad player over the past eighteen months. Such a role compliments the Spaniard’s skillset, whose legs have gradually deteriorated during this time.

The midfielder just recently celebrated his 32nd birthday though, and one has to wonder whether these should be the last set of candles he receives at Old Trafford. His lack of attacking impact on the side has been highlighted by fans this season, having contributed to just eight goals in total.

Whilst we doubt that the Spaniard will actually be moved on, the club do have young talents like Angel Gomes and even James Garner that could occupy his position in the middle.

Marcos Rojo – £80,000

Marcos Rojo is currently entering the final year of his United contract, with the club having the option to extend. Given that he has spent this year loaned out to Argentinian club Estudiantes de La Plata, we highly doubt the chances of the latter.

The 30-year-old has recently been in the headlines for breaking lockdown rules (via BBC) too, having been captured with a group of friends smoking. Such actions have not exactly gone down well with the club, who are surely lining Rojo up out of the door.

He hasn’t featured ten times in the league during a single season, since 2016/17. Does anything else need to be said to justify his name on this list?

Chris Smalling – £70,000

Although Chris Smalling has impressed for Roma this season, his Manchester United future was all but decided last summer. Solskjaer opted to loan the Englishman out over Phil Jones, whilst also investing heavily into new captain Harry Maguire.

The latter has predominantly been partnered with Victor Lindelof, with Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe waiting closely in the wings. For the first time in a long time, the club look well equipped at the back, with B/R Football even reporting that United want another defensive option this summer.

Roma manager Paulo Foseca has recently publicly announced his desire to keep Smalling at the club (via Metro), in a deal that would suit all parties involved.

Phil Jones – £75,000

Whenever Smalling’s name is mentioned, Jones is never too far behind. Just like his fellow Englishman, Solskjaer’s plans have pushed the latter so far down the pecking order, his cards have simply been dealt for him.

The defender has featured just twice in the Premier League this season, and it hasn’t been injuries keeping Jones on the sidelines this time. Simply put, the team has superior options to the 28-year-old. There are four senior figures currently ahead of him, with Teden Mengi slowly emerging as a new contender for first-team football.

Time has now caught up with Jones, who has never hit the heights laid out to him when he joined the club nearly a decade ago.

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Are Manchester United Lining Up A Marquee Striker?

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Despite these economically challenging times, Manchester United look set to strengthen this summer.

Whilst doubts have been placed over big money signings, even by CEO Ed Woodward himself (via BBC), the club appear committed to investing in the next transfer market.

As per the Manchester Evening News, United remain confident in securing Jadon Sancho, with the player seemingly on top of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s wish-list. The same outlet also cites Jack Grealish in being another priority, with there also being a desire for a new forward this summer.

This news won’t come as a surprise to fans. United never re-invested the Romelu Lukaku money into a direct replacement, with Anthony Martial occupying the side’s starting role as a number nine. Mason Greenwood has shown glimpses of his quality, but the club are utilising the teenager in a pragmatic fashion, hence the loan signing of Odion Ighalo.

The Nigerian arrived back in January as emergency cover, with Marcus Rashford’s injury highlighting the severe lack of depth in quality the club have in the final third. Although the striker has played his part, the permanent signing of a 30-year-old does not exactly match Solskjaer’s rebuilding criteria.

The MEN report that United are exploring other options, having had a look into Timo Werner’s situation. The German reportedly has a £52m release clause this summer (via Metro), a more than fair price tag for a 24-year-old with twenty-seven goals to his name this season.

Whilst Liverpool appear the favourites for his signature, the monitoring of a player of this pedigree does fuel speculation that the club would be prepared to invest heavily in this department. Alluding back to the lingering doubts over big money transfers this year tough, United fans cannot realistically expect more than two marquee names to walk through Old Trafford’s doors.

If Sancho is one, can we expect a striker to be placed above Grealish? This all seems to depend on Paul Pogba’s situation. The Frenchman’s future has yet again been called into question, but the MEN report that United are ‘relaxed’ over his future.

Like the Aston Villa captain, Pogba prefers to operate down the left channel of a midfield three, placing doubts over whether both players can function in the same starting XI. When fit, the Frenchman will not be content with sitting on any bench, making the potential splashing of £60m+ on Grealish a rather conflicting move.

Should Pogba stay, there’s every chance that United will opt to invest heavily in a new forward over a midfielder, given their more bolstered options in the latter.

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Stats Show Fred Is Manchester United’s Most Important Midfielder

fred-man-united-stats

Whilst it remains to be seen whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be celebrating his first full season as Manchester United manager with a piece of silverware, there have been other causes for celebration.

The Norwegian has instilled a new identity at the club, making serious strides forward in re-building the stagnated squad, with many players taking to the new regime very well.

One player who epitomises such progression this season is Fred. The Brazilian has transformed from liability to integral member of the team, having started in United’s last twenty-two Premier League games.

Operating a little deeper alongside a central partner, with an advanced playmaker pushing on, Fred has excelled in Solskjaer’s newly found system which is comprised of a midfield three. His duties have switched to a defensive focus, with the 27-year-old standing tall as the squad’s most effective midfielder.

This is purely based on the stats, to which Fred excels his midfield partners in near enough every department. Averaging two tackles per game, only Aaron Wan Bissaka ranks better in the entire squad. Such a statistic correlates with Fred’s average of 1.4 interceptions, again placing him above any other United midfielder.

These two stats highlight just how effective the Brazilian has been, flourishing in his responsibility of breaking up opposition’s play. He has gained a reputation for doing such, and it’s been refreshing to see a midfielder at Old Trafford put his body on the line and impose himself in the middle of the park.

On the ball too, Fred has developed into a much more composed figure, showcasing glimpses of his former self at Shakthar Donestk. One of the major reasons behind why the club shelled out £50m for the midfielder was due to his ability to break the lines, an area of his game we have seen more of this season. On average, Fred averages 1.4 key passes per game, with only the creative names of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba boasting more.

His pass accuracy of 87% is better than anyone else throughout the entire squad (accounting players with 10+ starts only), again highlighting his progression from last season. Scott McTominay matches the Brazilian in terms of dribbles per game (1.5), with both players preferring to operate that role as the mobile deep-laying playmaker.

Even if you aren’t a stats man, there can be no denying the strides forward that Fred has made this season. He is currently one of (if not the) the most trusting figures in Solskjaer’s squad and he will play a key role in delivering any silverware that the manger experiences during his time in charge.

All stats credit to WhoScored.

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Opinion: Man United Should Test Their Luck With Gabriel Martinelli

Gabriel-Martinelli-to-man-united

One of the drawbacks of being the biggest club in the world is that with so many young talents knocking at our academy doors, it’s impossible to spot every potential star, let alone give everyone a chance.

So, unfortunately, sometimes young players don’t make it all the way through the age groups and sometimes slip through the cracks altogether.

One of those players, and one that I believe United should return to and do their utmost to give a second chance, is Gabriel Martinelli. The 18-year old Brazilian was signed by Arsenal from Ituano last summer and has made an electric start to life at the Emirates. But before whetting the appetites of Gunners, Martinelli had trials at United on four different occasions between 2015 and 2017, training for around fifteen days in total before being turned down by the club.

Stellar Start

As well as bursting on to the scene as one of the Premier League’s most exciting young talents, Martinelli has lit up the Europa League in particular, notching three goals and three assists in seven games, playing just 424 minutes in total. This impressive ratio per 90 can be accredited to his straightforward, poacher playing-style – the type of goals United don’t score enough of – and his overall game is complemented by a good deal of pace and the occasional moment of trickery too.

Aside from his obvious goal-scoring instinct, there are a number of reasons why I believe Martinelli would be an excellent addition to the United squad. The first is his dynamism: not only does he enjoy the role of an out-and-out striker, but he has played all across Arsenal’s front three, and such versatility could benefit United’s frontline, where necessary. 

Although his favoured position is off the left-wing, liking to cut inside and get a shot off, I also think he could be deployed on the right, putting in natural, in-swinging crosses from his preferred foot.

Despite the right-wing having been an issue for many years now, the club have had some recent success with Daniel James taking on this role in his debut season. Should we fail to secure Jadon Sancho though, it’d be exciting to see these two sharing this position – not unlike the days of ‘4-0 FC’, when either one of Martial or Rashford would start and the other would come on to replace him. 

Mason vs Martinelli?

Furthermore, whilst there seems to have been a ‘Mason vs Martinelli’ narrative created among the likes of Arsenal Twitter, who says their relationship needs to be adversarial? There’s no doubt that they are two of the most exciting young players in the league, so, should United get a second bite at the cherry, the prospect of these two teenagers pushing each other and battling it out for regular starts in the first team would be invaluable to their development. 

As alluded to in our piece on next season’s midfield trio, a healthy amount of competition for places is essential for any top team. With both Greenwood and Martinelli still at such a young age and not expecting to play every week, this is the perfect opportunity to create this dynamic – one that United have lacked for some time and one that could push their respective potentials even further. Like the Brazilian, Greenwood has flourished in the Europa League this season, and they would be a more than sufficient strike-force when playing alongside each other in a rotated side.

Of course, there is no guarantee that Martinelli would consider an offer if United came back with their tail between their legs after rejecting him at such an early age. According to FourFourTwo, his future remains firmly at the Emirates, however, if Pogba’s re-signing has taught us anything, it’s that United still has the appeal to bring players back. Moreover, if Arsenal continue in their faltering fashion, who says we couldn’t see another Robin Van Persie situation, where he has to leave to win silverware? I feel confident United will soon be a place player’s where come to do that again.

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Opinion: Wilfred Ndidi Better Suited For Man United Than Declan Rice

Wilfred-Ndidi-to-man-united

Why pay £70m for Rice, when you could have the full dish instead?

As per The Telegraph, Manchester Untied are interested in West Ham’s Declan Rice, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanting to bolster his midfield options going into next season.

Whilst Jack Grealish has been the name predominantly linked with a move to Old Trafford, the club are also assessing defensive midfielders. This was reported by the ever-reliable David Ornstein earlier in the month, who claimed that some of his sources believe the club are in fact focusing on the latter.

However, whilst Rice is an exceptional talent, there seems to be another standout player that meets the profile that United are currently looking for.

Anchoring the middle

Should the Red Devils opt for a defensive midfielder, this would all but confirm Paul Pogba’s future. Bringing in a new, top quality figure to sit in-front of the back four is the necessary step in solidifying an effective partnership between the Frenchman and Bruno Fernandes.

Mike Phelan recently admitted that 4-3-3 is the best formation for United, creating a rather straightforward blueprint in the middle. With a new anchor, Fernandes can advance forward into the pockets of space in the final third, with Pogba occupying the no.6 role. Many argue that such a position limits the latter, but it’s one he can be efficient in, with his new partner in-front.

When focusing on a new CDM then, defensive assurance has to be the number one criteria on the list. Whilst Rice puts up solid numbers across the department, Wilfred Ndidi stands taller in nearly every regard. The Nigerian averages more tackles and interceptions per game in the Premier League, with no other midfielder boasting better stats.

At just 23-years-of-age, he holds the sole responsibility in screening Leicester’s defence, with his partners of James Maddison and Youri Tieliemans pushing further up the field. Whilst he does have the luxury of operating in a stronger side to Rice, it could be argued that nobody does his job better in the Premier League.

The Foxes boast the third best defensive record in the division this season, with much credit being placed on Ndidi’s shoulders. Whilst he has room to develop, his experience in anchoring a midfield three, would see him slot in nicely in at Old Trafford.

Distribution to be considered?

In the modern game, particularly at the top level, you cannot get away without possessing technical ability on the ball. We have seen a larger emphasis be placed on holding midfielders in this regard in the past decade, with the role of the ‘deep-laying playmaker’ becoming much more popular.

However, my case for Ndidi to join United is on the basis of Pogba staying at the club – as Grealish and a new CDM will not be secured in the same window. There is no denying that Rice is the more accomplished distributor of the two, but the Nigerian’s defensive strengths need to be priorities over such. Figures like Pogba and Fernandes require defensive security to dictate the tempo of games, something Ndidi would provide.

That isn’t to say that the midfielder is unable to recycle the ball though. In fact, his pass success percentage of 84.1% is only slightly behind Rice’s (86.2%), despite averaging more passes per game. When it comes to accurate short passes, Ndidi is more polished in this department, whilst only being 0.3 behind the Englishman when it comes to accurate long passes.

The Nigerian holds more experience in playing in a side that is more comfortable in possession too, feeding his side’s attacking front-men that hold a high position in the final third. In fact, Ndidi just edges Rice in averaging more ‘key passes’ per game, a trait that Solskjaer will be keen on.

Like Leicester, United operate with a quick focus on their attacks, breaking up opposition’s play and hitting the flanks on the break. Based on the stats, the Foxes’ couldn’t operate in such a fashion without their reliable man in the middle of the park. It’s a system that is very similar to the one at Old Trafford, making the potential transition a particularly straightforward one, for the league’s best defensive midfielder.

Check out WhoScored for more stats on both players.

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Opinion: The Odion Ighalo Predicament

Odion-ighalo-transfer-news

Not many could quite the believe the sight on January 31st – Odion Ighalo standing there with the Manchester United jersey in hand.

The Nigerian had become a familiar name amongst Premier League fans following his three years at Watford, before then departing for China back in 2017. Like many who make the shift over to East Asia, Ighalo became a forgotten man in Europe, despite maintaining an impressive goalscoring record.

READ MORE: Jadon Sancho Transfer Remains On

This all quickly changed though, when United moved in the final hours of transfer deadline day to secure the loan signing. The forward was brought in as emergency cover to Marcus Rashford, due to fears of the latter missing the remainder of the season after suffering a double back stress fracture.

Ighalo has done more than merely make up the numbers though, scoring four goals in his first three starts. After such a prolific start to life in Manchester though, why the hesitancy to make the switch permanent?

Youth, courage success were the three words marketed by United last summer, and unfortunately, Ighalo only ticks two of these boxes. The Nigerian is set to turn thirty-one in June, with his profile not exactly fitting the blueprint of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s signings so far.

The Evening Standard reported earlier in the month that the club were working through a shortlist of strikers this summer, with all of the reported targets being under the age of twenty-four. Recruiting younger talents has been the way forward under the Norwegian, who wants to implant a new fresh core to the squad.

READ MORE: Predicting Manchester United’s 20/21 Midfield Trio

Names like Erling Haaland, Timo Werner and Moussa Dembele have been cited, but one has to question whether such players will be attainable this year. Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish remain the priority targets (via MEN) for Solskjaer, thus placing heavy doubt over the club’s ability to secure three pedigree names, in one window.

Ed Woodward has recently suggested that big money signings should not be expected this summer, due to the lack of projected revenue that clubs have been struck with. Whilst it seems that a younger forward would be the preference, United may find that a permanent deal for Ighalo would be the most pragmatic option available.

Anthony Martial will no doubt re-occupy the starting role next season, but the Nigerian would provide good depth, without haltering the ever-promising Mason Greenwood. The latter has impressed this campaign, but the club are hesitant to place too much responsibility on the 18-year-old’s shoulders.

Ighalo’s experience has been beneficial for United, as his hold-up play offers the side a different dimension to their attack. £15m is the reported fee (via Daily Mail) necessary to make the loanee a permanent figure in the dressing room, a fair price tag given what the club could get from his services.

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Predicting Manchester United’s 20/21 Midfield Trio

pogba-bruno-fernandes-man-united

Heading into next season, Manchester United could potentially boast quite the selection of midfield options at their disposal.

Bolstering such an area is evidently on top of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s wish-list this summer, with Jack Grealish being the prominent name mentioned. Should the Aston Villa captain arrive though, this creates quite the predicmant as to how United’s midfield would shape up.

READ MORE: Grealish and Sancho To Join This Summer

Luxury would perhaps be the better way to describe it, as the team would have at least six options to consider, for just three starting positions. We’ve taken a look into which trio could work out best.

Solskajer’s ideal setup

As highlighted through United’s improved defensive record this season, Solskjaer likes to set-up with quite a rigid structure, laying down a blanket of defensive security for his attacking front three.

Neither full-back tends to push too high, but if they do venture forward, they have two sitting midfielders covering. Solskjaer has predominantly opted for a pivot in the middle, with an advanced figure pushing just in-front. Such a shape would fall under the 4-2-3-1 formation, but this ‘3’ includes the wide-men maintaining an offensive position in the final third.

Operating with two holding midfielders, we have seen Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic enjoy successful campaigns this season, with the three figures compromising the squad’s top five spots for average tackles made per game in the Premier League.

Each midfielder flourishes in their defensive duties, breaking up play and screening the space in-front of the backline. It’s a role that each individual has played on a solo basis at some point in their career, so with a similar partner next to them, their duties become simplified with just one channel to be responsible for.

Although McTominay and Fred do often like to bring the ball forward, their main duties lie with distributing the ball from deep. Holding that position in the middle, the side rarely opt to recycle the ball, but instead, hit it down the flanks and start attacks quickly. It’s a role that all three can perform rather safely, offering their services on a consistent basis.

Only one space for the reliable three?

Given Paul Pogba’s prolonged ankle injury this season, the above trio have all featured regularly. Matic’s appearances have prominently come since the turn of the new year, but his strong form has been rewarded with a new contract extension, meaning he remains in Solskjaer’s plans.

Whilst the Frenchman’s future remains in doubt, there is every chance that he will still be at Old Trafford come September. Should he still be wearing the jersey, he will be expecting to re-occupy his favoured LCM position. It’s a role that Pogba tends to thrive in, spraying balls from deep but also carrying the ball forward when possible.

So far this season, no player in United’s squad has averaged more key passes or through balls, per game in the league. His passing range was missed over the Christmas period, with his absence in the team highlighting the lack of creativity in the middle.

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Grealish has also been heavily rumoured with a move to Old Trafford, suggesting that Solskjaer is keen to bolster options in this department. The Englishman likes to operate down the same channel as Pogba, driving forward inside from the left, creating chances for his fellow attackers.

Even if just one of Grealish or Pogba is at United next season, their creative attributes will likely give them the nod on the left side, over the more defensive options.

Bruno’s spot a given

No player in recent memory has managed to deliver quite an instant as Bruno Fernandes.

He’s scored three goals and assisted four in his opening nine games for the club, transforming the side’s attacking with devastating fashion. Operating as the ‘no.10’, the Portuguese international has been granted a free license to drift into the final third and act as the link between midfield and attack.

Fernandes has taken to his role as the playmaker quickly, offering a type of creative source that United have been deprived of for many years. His tally of three league assists places him joint third in the squad, despite playing just five games. He has also managed 2.2 key passes per game (only Pogba has averaged more), with his creative skills becoming integral to Solskjaer’s XI.

Whilst there are options up for grabs in-behind the attacking midfielder, Fernandes’ position in this team has been quickly cemented. Fans will debate who should compromise the ‘ideal three’ next season, but not many would entertain the thought of dropping Bruno.

How successful would this blueprint serve for United?

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