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Better Call Saul? Man United’s Midfield Conundrum

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The transfer window isn’t even open yet and the current season hasn’t even finished, but Manchester United have already been rumoured to a whole host of names over the past few months. One of the most recent names to have been resurrected is Saul Niguez, who has been intermittently linked with the club for the past few years.  

The latest in his situation is that although many believe Atletico Madrid might need to sell, given the financial impact of coronavirus, the reported cut-price may now be out of the question.

READ MORE: Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho Update

Whilst there seems to be no issue surrounding wages, there is a £135m release clause in Saul’s contract – it is up to United to decide whether to go big, or divert their attention elsewhere.

Shades of Ander

So, what is he like as a player? Well, first off, I have long been an admirer of Saul – in fact, upon the departure of Ander Herrera (an extremely ill-advised decision, in my opinion), the Atletico midfielder was one of the first names that popped into my head, and there is plenty more correlation between the two.

Like Herrera, Saul is a player I would describe as absolutely everywhere: he is just as good at breaking up play as he is creating it, and it is this duality that reminds me of him.

When he arrived at United, Herrera was very much brought in as an attacking midfielder, but under both Louis Van Gaal’s and Jose Mourinho’s regimes, he dropped into a deeper, more defensive role. He excelled in this capacity too, the best example of which being his iconic man-marking job against Eden Hazard in 2017.

Mercurial Man

This is one of the first comparisons to be drawn with Saul, as although he technically operates as a more defensive midfielder, you still see plenty of moments when he unleashes his innate, attacking flair. He is an extremely dynamic player: more of an amalgam of a six and eight than any outright sweeper or box-to-box midfielder. This is mainly down to Diego Simeone’s extremely tactical setup.

Although the base of the formation has largely been a 4-4-2, they combine compactness and well-drilled defending, with adaptability; they are adept at switching approaches mid-game and Saul is at the heart of it. Whilst he may not be quite as dogged and, perhaps, old-school as Herrera, he certainly gives off the same kind of tenacity.

Moreover, whilst I thought Herrera was always excellent at reading the game and dictating the tempo, there is no doubt that Niguez has those qualities and, arguably, more than his Basque counterpart.

The most exciting aspect of his game is his dribbling ability – a thrives in picking up the ball from deep and running at players at full tilt—sometimes to his detriment. Regardless, even with the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba (for who knows how much longer), United still need a midfielder that is willing to drive with the ball and take risks, and you only need to see a few of his solo slaloms to know he ticks that box. 

READ MORE: Bad News For Diogo Dalot’s Future

What’s more is, he does all of this at a greater pace than Herrera and with more frequency. Aside from a few extra goals for Atletico B and during his loan spell at Rayo Vallecano, Saul has notched 38 goals and 18 assists since 2013. These might not look like astronomical numbers, but it’s still an impressive tally from a defensive midfielder who didn’t cement his first-team spot until 2015.

Too many cooks spoil the broth

There is no doubt Saul would bring a great deal of talent to the table, the problem comes in rotation and United’s, still, somewhat unclear squad size at the start of the 2020/21 season. Of course, I am all in favour of competition for starting places – something United haven’t truly had a healthy version of for some time – but should we sign the likes of Grealish and Pogba decides to stay, a number of players would have to be dropped.

For instance, Fred and Scot McTominay, two of United’s best performers this season, would effectively default to fourth, fifth, maybe even sixth choice, depending on the system. Once again, strength in depth is key, but this level of competition over what is just one or two central/defensive midfield positions, seems rather unsustainable. This only gets more complicated when you take into account the forward line and the prospective arrival of Jadon Sancho

It seems to be every Red’s dream to have a front three of Rashford, Martial and Sancho. However, that would most likely be in a 4-3-3, meaning there would be even fewer spots than, say, a diamond, that might better accommodate a sudden wealth of midfielders. Therefore, the dilemma is whether to change systems just for the sake of squeezing new additions, or simply shoehorn new players at the expense of others who many might feel have more than earned their starting spot.

Like so many things at United these days, a lot of this depends on Paul Pogba. One moment the club are hopeful he will sign a new contract, the next he is still Real Madrid bound. Whatever the truth may be, I believe the outcome of this deal will hinge on his future and, should both manage to sign contracts at United, I fear it might cause more problems than solutions. 

READ MORE: Manchester United CB Targets

To summarise, whilst this move would be fantastic if everyone was prepared to fight for their spot every week, in reality, I think it is one too many players battling over too few positions to keep happy. Once again, squad depth and rotation is great – especially when you’re stretched across multiple competitions – but I think this situation might involve too many marquee signings and too many egos to remain tenable. As much as I love Saul, I think Sancho and Grealish would be plenty.

Agree? Think someone else should be on United’s list of targets? Let us know in the comments.

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Man United Receive Saul Niguez Transfer Boost

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Atletico Madrid could be willing to sell Saul Niguez for a cut price this summer, according to Spanish news outlet AS.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, football clubs across the globe have found their main sources of revenue come to a streaking halt. Inevitably, such an economical crisis will have a devastating impact on this summer’s transfer window.

READ MORE: Man United Interested In Kai Havertz

Manchester United’s plans appear to be going ahead though (via MEN), and they could take advantage of Atletico’s situation. The La Liga side could reportedly be forced into selling one of their key stars, as they face the proposition of failing to qualify for the Champions League.

To make up for the shortfall of such revenue, the Wanda Metropolitano outfit will need to recuperate money from transfer fees to help rectify their financial troubles.

It was reported earlier in the year by The Sun that United sent scouts to watch Niguez in action, with AS’ latest report adding more fuel to the transfer story.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is looking to bolster his options in the middle of the park, with the Spanish international fitting the bill rather nicely. Saul is a well-rounded midfielder, excelling in pressing the opposition but also carrying the ball forward.

The 25-year-old is experienced in operating down the channels within a midfield three, similar to how the Red Devils are shaping up under Solskjaer’s new system. He is regarded as one of the top performers in Europe, and would be an excellent addition to any Premier League side.

READ MORE: Will Paul Pogba Stay at Manchester United?

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Manchester United Transfer Plans Revealed

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mike Phelan have already settled on the three areas of the Manchester United squad that needs strengthening in the next transfer window, according to the Evening Standard.

The above report cites the three positions in being a new right-winger, central midfielder and a striker, with the club’s transfer plans being agreed upon last September.

More specifically, United have instructed their scouts to identify targets that are ‘humble and arrogant, with an X factor’.

Unsurprisingly, Jadon Sancho has emerged as one of the club’s top priorities, with the Borussia Dortmund winger ticking all the necessary boxes. The Bundesliga side are sticking to their guns with their valuation of the player though, and it will take a bid in the region of £100m to acquire the Englishman’s services.

The Red Devils have rarely been linked with another alternative wide-man, with all the reliable reports citing Sancho in being their top target. Agreeing personal terms with the player doesn’t look to be an issue, it simply comes down to agreeing on the transfer fee.

In terms of a central midfielder, Jack Grealish is the name being prominently linked to Old Trafford, but Saul Niguez also appears to be on the club’s radar. There are more options when it comes to the middle of the park, with United looking for a creative figure that is able to operate on either side of a midfield three.

Last, but not least, Solskjaer is also keen to bolster his options up-top. Odion Ighalo could potentially fill this void on the cheap, with the striker wanting to turn his loan deal into a permanent transfer. Should big money be distributed across the other two positions, this would be an efficient piece of business for the club.

Not many other strikers have been rumoured to arrive at Old Trafford, other than Erling Haaland. Given the current economic climate though, three big money arrivals does feel a little unlikely this summer.

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Man United Willing To Pay £80m For Transfer Target

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Manchester United are willing to pay £80m for Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez, according to Spanish news outlet AS.

The above report cites that Ed Woodward is not willing to trigger the Spaniard’s release clause, which is upwards of £130m, but he is ready to try and negotiate a deal for the in-demand star.

Reports linking United for Saul’s signature have been strong, with the club being keen on bolstering their midfield options this summer. Paul Pogba is continuously being speculated with a move away, fuelling such prominent rumours.

Regardless of whether the Frenchman stays or gos though, Saul would no doubt be an excellent addition to the squad. The 25-year-old is regarded in being one of the best box-to-box midfielders in Europe, due to his all-rounded style of play.

Saul enjoys breaking forward with the ball at his feet, whilst also flourishing at tracking back and setting up in a resilient defensive shape. There aren’t many players that boast the ability to balance such duties, making the Spanish international quite the unique talent.

Woodward appears to be a fan of the player, with the reliable AS reporting that he is prepared to fork out £80m for the dominant midfielder. The only question that remains, is whether Atletico Madrid would accept this sum.

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Man United Linked To Atletico Madrid Midfielder

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Manchester United are interested in Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez, according to the Daily Express.

The report cites that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes the player would be a perfect fit for his midfield, with the La Liga side valuing the 25-year-old at £135m.

Saul’s reputation has soared over the last two years, after establishing himself as a key cog in Diego Simeone’s industrious side. He is a consistent starter for Atletico, operating as a box to box midfielder down the left channel. 

Fans saw just how effective the player can be over Madrid’s two legs against Liverpool, with Saul not shying away from his defensive duties. He is experienced in pressing high up the field, a trait that could spark some resilience into United’s midfield three.

It won’t be a straightforward deal to conduct though, due to his importance to the Spanish side. However, should Paul Pogba leave United, Saul looks to be the ideal replacement for the Frenchman.