Six Defensive Midfield Options for Manchester United
19th July 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
Manchester United have already spent well over £100 million this summer on the captures of Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelöf.
The Belgian striker arrived from Everton for £75 million as the Red Devils pipped Chelsea in the race to sign the 24-year-old, and cultured centre-back Lindelöf was brought in from Benfica for £31million to bolster the backline.
But United’s spending won’t stop there. José Mourinho is intent on making two more key additions. Croatian winger Ivan Perišić has been earmarked as the man to add natural width to the Old Trafford side and the 20-time champions of England are currently locked deep in negotiations with Inter Milan for the player.
The other area of his team which Mourinho has identified for strengthening is in central midfield, where he is believed to be seeking a disciplined destroyer to protect the defence and free up record signing Paul Pogba to unleash his full potential.
However, finding a suitable candidate for the position is proving tricky for the former Real Madrid and Porto boss. United have seen a bid rejected for Eric Dier with Tottenham Hotspur refusing to countenance the England player’s sale at any cost, while Chelsea, still stinging from missing out on Lukaku, are reportedly refusing to allow Nemanja Matić to move to the red side of Manchester.
As Mourinho faces frustration in the pursuit of his two top defensive midfield targets, here are six players who United should consider switching their attention to.
Capped five times for his country, 21-year-old Borussia Dortmund pivot Weigl is seen as the natural heir to Toni Kroos in the German midfield.
The former 1860 Munich playmaker signed for BVB two seasons ago and has since established himself as one of the finest midfielders in the Bundesliga.
Sitting deep in midfield, Weigl orchestrates play with the maturity, anticipation and tactical sensibility of a much more experienced player. The young Dortmund star completed 89.5 per cent of his passes in the German top flight last season – an average only Juan Mata (89.9 per cent) could beat of all the United players with more than five appearances to their name.
Making an average of 75.5 passes per 90 minutes – by way of comparison, Michael Carrick made 70.9 and Pogba 75.1 — Weigl showed that he is happy to take responsibility for constructing his side’s attacking manoeuvres.
Although he stands at 6ft 2ins, Weigl is not the typical kind of destroyer Mourinho tends to favour – he is not especially physical and his gifts lie in his ability with the ball rather than his aptitude for recovering it.
But the Daily Mail reported recently that the gifted German midfielder is under consideration at Old Trafford, where he would be the perfect long-term replacement for Carrick.
If Weigl represents somewhat of a departure from the typical style of anchor man Mourinho usually goes for, Fabinho is a compromise between an out-and-out destroyer and a deep-lying playmaker.
Converted from a right-back, the 23-year-old Brazilian starred in central midfield for Ligue 1 champions Monaco last season alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko, who has just signed for Chelsea.
Strong, athletic, disciplined and commanding, the Brazilian ticks all of the boxes from the “Mourinho player” point of view. But he is also extremely intelligent, technically proficient and capable of conducting play from deep. This means he could take the deep-lying playmaker mantle from Carrick, bridging the gap between what Manchester United fans have become accustomed to of their defensive midfielders and the direction in which the manager is looking to take the team.
Italian journalist Gianluca Di Marzio reported last month that United had made a €50million offer for Fabinho, but all seems to have gone quiet in respect of the Red Devils’ interest in the player.
Most UK-based reports suggest that United are not considering a move for the Monaco star. The Independent claim that Fabinho is indeed on Mourinho’s list of potential targets, however they say Portuguese tactician sees the former Real Madrid loanee as a right-back option rather than midfield.
Another player who could bring a degree of organisation and composure to the United midfield is Napoli playmaker Jorginho.
The Brazil-born Italy international is metronomic in the way he dictates his team’s tempo from the base of midfield and is always clean, effective and intelligent in his use of the ball.
Jorginho completed a 90.9 per cent of his passes in Serie A last term and averaged more passes per 90 minutes (a staggering 110.9) than any player in Europe’s major leagues.
The 25-year-old, who joined the Partenopei from Verona in 2014, also demonstrated his ability to spilt opposition defences and create chances with incisive forward passes by averaging 1.6 key passes per 90 – more than Carrick (0.7) and Herrera (1.3) managed for United in 2016/17.
Former Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City midfield general N’Zonzi’s appearance on this list might come as a surprise to any Premier League fans who are not avid La Liga viewers.
But the towering Frenchman has been outstanding since joining Sevilla for just £7 million in July 2015. So much has he impressed, in fact, that he was rumoured to be a Barcelona target at one point.
At 6ft 3 ins and adept at using his frame to protect the ball in a way reminiscent of former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira, N’Zonzi satisfies all of the physical requirements that are a pre-requisite of Mourinho’s midfielders.
Yet he also has tremendous quality on the ball, capable of stringing intricate passing moves together with colleagues and bursting forward to launch attacks from deep, completing 89.9 percent of his passes last season and averaging 0.9 dribbles per 90 when breaking the lines of the opposition with his surges.
At 28 and with Premier League experience already under his belt, N’Zonzi could slot straight into the United midfield with little need for an adjustment period.
A Napoli team-mate of Jorginho, Diawara is regarded as one of the hottest prospects in Europe in his position.
Still only 20, the Guinean midfielder, who joined Napoli from Bologna last summer, demonstrated his big-game temperament and overall quality with a pair of mature and composed displays in the Champions League against Real Madrid in 2016/17.
Positionally disciplined and technically sound, Diawara has all the tools to become one of the best holding midfielders in the game in the next few years. Capable of disrupting opposition attacks and dissecting teams with his incisive forward passing, he would be an asset to United should Mourinho decide to move for him.
However, it remains unlikely that the Portuguese boss would pursue a player of such relative inexperience for a role he considers so crucial.
The longer United go without securing a defensive midfielder, the more Paris Saint-Germain’s Krychowiak could start to look like an attractive prospect.
The Polish international was outstanding for Sevilla during his two seasons at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, winning two Europa League titles and earning a move to PSG when former Rojiblancos coach Unai Emery took the reins at the Parc des Princes last summer.
But things haven’t gone to plan for the 27-year-old, who has struggled to adapt to life in Ligue 1, with his form suffering as a result.
Part of his issue with acclimating to Paris has been the fact that he is much more comfortable in a double pivot within a 4-2-3-1 formation, and is less at home in PSG’s customary 4-3-3. This could also be an issue were he to move to Old Trafford, where it is widely considered that a midfield three is required in order to maximise Pogba’s talents.
However, the Parisians are reportedly looking to sell Krychowiak during the current transfer window and it is claimed they are looking for just €18 million for the player, which would represent a steal and a minor risk well worth taking for the Red Devils.