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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