Three players who could solve Manchester United’s midfield problem

Manchester United’s midfield issues have been well documented. Fans and pundits alike have pointed to the double pivot of Fred and Scott McTominay as United’s biggest weakness. Many hold the opinion that they are two players doing one player’s job.

Fred and McTominay have proven to be capable enough together to contribute to United finishing second in the Premier League 2020/21 season and also getting to the Europa League final. Fred is the more defensive of the two and his defensive stats show that. McTominay tends to push on more when United have the ball and contributes less defensively than Fred.

McTominay’s height, however, is a massive advantage in the middle too winning 2.31 aerial duels per 90 minutes. However, if United are to push on and become genuine title challengers, an elite defensive midfielder is something that the United hierarchy should look at.

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If United were to sign this midfielder, who would not need another defensive minded midfielder beside them in the double pivot, this would allow United to drop Paul Pogba back to a similar position to where he plays for France and thrives in. This in turn, would allow another place further forward for United’s array of attacking talent.

New signing Jadon Sancho has only been granted three starts so far this season in the Premier League, partly due to Pogba’s form on the left. Dropping Pogba further back allows Sancho to get more playing time and also opens up that left spot for the returning Marcus Rashford.

If dropping Pogba slightly further back and playing him in a double pivot is the plan, then United will want a defensive midfielder who will sit back, circulate possession, snap up loose balls and stop counter attacks. All as well as winning the ball back when United are without the ball.

Wilfred Ndidi is among the best defensive midfielders in the world and at the age of just 24, there is massive scope for him to improve and push on. The Nigerian sits back when Leicester City have the ball and allows those around him to do most of the attacking penetration. This allows Leicester to remain solid if they do lose the ball. Ndidi, this season, has been winning 3 tackles and 2 interceptions per 90. He has won 3.67 aerials duels per 90 with a success rate of 61.1%. He also has recovered 12 loose balls per 90 showing his proficiency in sweeping up.

Last season, he won 3.02 tackles per 90 and 2.56 interceptions per 90. Ndidi is comfortable lining up alongside another midfielder which he has done regularly done with Youri Tielemens. His ability suggests that slotting into the United side alongside Pogba would pose no problem to him at all. He is also Premier League proven, something not true of the other two midfielders that will be mentioned in this article. Ndidi is a low risk solution but likely comes with a very high cost. Elite players come at an elite price and Leicester would demand a very large fee for the FA Cup winner with three years left on his contract.

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Florentino Luis is another defensive midfielder with staggering statistics. The 22-year-old who plays for Getafe, on loan from Benfica, has long been spoken about as one of the best young defensive midfielders in the world and he looks to be beginning to fulfil his frightening potential.

Getafe are currently bottom of La Liga after nine games played however, Florentino has stood out. He has made five appearances so far, four starts and a half time introduction against Rayo Vallecano which was his Getafe debut, and has generally played in the centre of however many midfielders Getafe have decided to line up with. Florentino has averaged 3.11 tackles won per 90 and 2.89 interceptions per 90. This is the highest of any player to have played more than 180 minutes. Last season, on loan at Monaco in Ligue 1, he struggled for game time.

When he did play, however, he still managed 2.96 tackles won per 90. Florentino has recovered 11.1 loose balls per 90 this season and maintained a pass success percentage of 88.1%. This includes a staggering 86.7% success rate for long passes, the seventh best rate for players in Spain to have attempted more than 25 long balls. If the Portuguese underage international has a weakness, it is his aerial ability having won only 28.6% of his aerial duels this season. Florentino looks to be a shining light out of Getafe’s poor start to the season and if he keeps up this form, suitors will surely come looking for his services. It is understood that Florentino’s contract with Benfica runs until 2024 so prising him away may take a hefty fee but one that is unlikely to be close to a possible fee for Ndidi.

Dion Lopy is a 19-year-old Senegalese midfielder playing for Stade de Reims in Ligue 1. He made his Ligue 1 debut in April 2021 where he came off the bench against Stade de Rennais. The six foot tall midfielder has won 3.57 tackles against dribblers per 90 with a success rate of 62.5%. Lopy has won 7.14 tackles and interceptions per 90. He has also recovered 11.4 loose balls. He has only completed 1.4 90s this season so far but stats like these cannot be ignored, especially not alongside his 2.14 aerial duels won per 90 with a success rate of 60% and 88.9% long pass completion rate.

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Last season, he played 2.8 90s and this season looks like it could be his breakout season. Pape Matar Sarr was signed by Tottenham Hotspur last summer despite playing only 17.7 90s. Lopy particularly impressed where he started against European powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain in the second game of season where he made 4 tackles and maintained a passing accuracy of 92% while completing the most accurate passes out of any Reims player despite being substituted off after 71 minutes. Lopy has shone for the Senegalese u20 side, in particular, the u20 World cup in 2019.

Lopy likes to sit deep and win the ball and spray passes forward.  He would be a high risk transfer for United and being thrust straight into starting for United may be a step too far for the young man. His price is also unknown but Tottenham Hotspur were able to sign Pape Matar Sarr for a reported 15 million pounds and Lopy could be in and around that price depending on how he develops this season.

However, United could choose to go for Ndidi or Florentino and possibly look again at Tottenham’s Pape Matar Sarr signing where they signed him and loaned him straight back to Metz where he could continue getting regular game time.

These are three young midfield options for Manchester United, the oldest being Ndidi at 24-years-old, who could revolutionise their midfield and propel them to the level that their supporters demand. All three could fit into United’s side however the two more experienced players, Ndidi and Florentino, may settle in more easily due to this experience.

There are a multitude of other players that United could choose to go for, but these players are some of the standouts stats wise from the first few months of the 2021/22 season.

The Author

David Fenton

Republic of Ireland and Tottenham supporter.

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