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Defensive Midfielder: The Key to Bringing Success Back to Old Trafford?

The most important position on a football pitch is highly debatable, some say goalkeeper, others will say in the modern game its fullbacks, whereas I feel the most important position in the team is defensive midfielder. A defensive midfielder acts as a shield to the defence, intercepting counter attacks and trying to provide stability to the midfield. Without a defensive midfielder, often midfields can be imbalanced leaving their defences exposed or on the contrary too heavily covered and thus restricting the creativity in the team.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been heavily criticised for his preference of Scott McTominay and Fred in a double pivot in the midfield. This is seen by many as too defensive, which hinders the teams attacking output. This is as a result of the movement of the passing. The key to a good midfield is the ability to pick the ball off the defence and transition it quickly into the final third for the forwards to attack.

The criticism of McTominay and Fred is both of them are not naturally gifted at passing nor ball control thus when they transition the ball its often too slow as they take many touches and pass side to side as they aren’t comfortable passing forward with great intent. This was seen in the Liverpool vs United game in the backend of last season in May when United lost to their bitter rivals 4-2. Liverpool traditionally under Klopp play with a high press attempting to put the oppositional team under pressure and win back possession high up the field leaving the defence vulnerable and open to chances.

Liverpool used this gameplan and to great effect as they pressed United high and in the title of the Manchester Evening News article for the player ratings, stated; “Fred and Scott McTominay Terrible.” The pair in midfield gave the ball away countless times which inevitably led to Liverpool’s goals. Often, their weak passing can be hidden due to teams sitting off, but when United are pressed their weaknesses become very evident. Furthermore, this although not as prominent an issue but still a weakness is a concern for United when playing teams like Burnley who try sit in and make it difficult.

The lack of creativity in the midfield when using Fred and McTominay means breaking down these resilient teams can be a nightmare. Therefore, the use of Fred and McTominay when playing the weaker teams has become a major criticism of Solskjaer’s from the fans. As a result of Solskjaer’s preference for Mctominay and Fred, this has forced Paul Pogba onto the left wing where he arguably isn’t as effective. This debate is of the essence right now due to Pogba’s phenomenal performances for France in Euro 2020.

Despite being knocked out, Pogba was one of the best players at the tournament playing as a midfielder for France rather then out on the wing. His defence splitting passes, strong tackling and boisterous power in the midfield has led fans to demand Solskjaer moves Pogba back into his ‘best position’ for the start of the 2021/22 season. With the arrival of Jadon Sancho from Dortmund as an exciting winger, this could force Solskjaer to play Pogba in midfield as he’s likely to start Rashford on the left, Sancho on the right and Martial through the middle. 

The effect of a Defensive Midfielder for Manchester United

As seen with France, Pogba looks far more comfortable with a natural defensive midfielder next to him and so with Solskjaer potentially looking at a midfielder in the summer transfer window, the freeing up of Pogba could finally happen. Pogba’s best form recently came when he played next to a natural defensive midfielder in Matic. Matic covered the defence giving Pogba license to go forward. Matic is now 32 turning 33 in August and so is no longer fit enough to play two to three games a week leaving United without a first-choice defensive midfielder.

The emergence of James Garner could solve this in the future but for now United need a world class defensive midfielder to dictate games. For the summer transfer window, I feel this should be our biggest priority as with a good defensive midfielder we will be able to transition the ball far better giving the ball to our more attacking players like Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani quicker so they have more space to attack and exploit the defence.

As mentioned, it will mean Pogba can go forward with more freedom and most importantly if possession is lost there will be a player who can read the play and anticipate and intercept the oncoming attack, and therefore avoid any counterattacks going right through the midfield leaving the defence exposed. Therefore, this would let United dictate and control more games which United have struggled with in recent years letting winnable games slip by to late equalisers like against Everton last season and Southampton post-lockdown.

In addition, all the best teams in the world have a world class defensive midfielder; Manchester City have Fernandinho, Liverpool have Fabinho, Bayern have Joshua Kimmich and Real Madrid have Casemiro. In the last couple months, we’ve seen Fabinho be moved to centre half to deal with their injury issues. Immediately, Liverpool’s defence looked so much weaker as they didn’t have a defensive midfielder Infront of them to shield leaving them incredibly vulnerable.

Furthermore, in the Champions League final, Guardiola tried a midfield without a defensive midfielder. Chelsea used this to their advantage and carved right through City’s defence, and their ‘world class’ defensive partnership of Rúben Dias and John Stones looked completely lost and weak. Therefore, this shows that when these great teams no matter how good they are play without a defensive midfielder they look that much worse. So, if United had a proper defensive midfielder I feel United would improve astronomically and could be the difference between getting to finals and winning titles. 

The main name many fans want is Declan Rice, but some other options include Wilfred Ndidi and Manuel Locatelli. Declan Rice has been an impressive midfielder in West Hams resurgence in the 2020/21 season which has led his value to being of an absurd £80 million due to him being an English midfielder playing in the Premier League. This has led to many feeling that United should avoid Rice as paying £80 million is overpriced. Ndidi is a Nigerian midfielder playing for Leicester. He has good strength and brilliant tackling. These attributes could create great stability in the United midfield but the main issue is price.

Leicester City has an incredibly efficient transfer system meaning they buy for cheap and sell for very high. In the 2019 summer transfer market, United were forced to pay a huge upfront fee of £80 million for Maguire from Leicester. Therefore, Ndidi would cost around a similar fee which in a covid market isn’t realistic. Locatelli who has shone for Italy in the Euros is 23 years old playing for Sassuolo in Serie A. He’s got an eye for goal, as well as great passing ability and tackling which would enable him to progress the ball very well and put some crucial tackles in. His price would be around the region of £30-40 million.

However, Locatelli looks likely to go to Juventus so therefore, United should make a move for Eduardo Camavinga who is an 18-year-old French midfielder playing in the French league for Rennes. He’s highly rated with a special future and would probably cost around £50 million. This may seem extensive for someone so young, but his high ability at 18 means he could be moulded into a world class defensive midfielder in future creating a good relationship with Paul Pogba.

In Conclusion, I feel United must go all out to get a defensive midfielder this summer as a proper defensive midfielder could take United to the next level and bring trophies back to Old Trafford with Camavinga being my first choice if Locatelli goes to Juventus.

Written by Ethan Bents

Manchester United eye Wilfred Ndidi as Nemanja Matic replacement – reports

Manchester United have apparently added Leicester City defensive midfielder Wilfred Ndidi to their transfer wish list ahead of the summer transfer window opening, according to reports. This is not the first time the Old Trafford club has been linked to the Nigerian International, who is consistently one of, if not the best defensive midfielder in the league.

The 23-year-old had previously caught the attentions of Paris Saint-Germain and a whole host of other European clubs, including Real Madrid before the coronavirus pandemic suspended world football. The Express has now claimed that United ‘are taking more than a passing interest’ in the player this summer.

Ndidi replaced N’Golo Kante in Leicester’s squad three years after he joined Belgian club Genk and has been a crucial player at the club, which are currently third in the Premier League and will resume their season in Saturday’s first kick off away to Watford, seeking to keep their chase on UEFA Champions League football.

United handed Matic a one-year contract extension at the Old Trafford club but will need to seek a replacement sooner rather than later. The player has risen his form for United at stages this season, especially when injuries in the squad were rife, which was a great time to do just that. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have been pleased with that.

United have been linked with Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek and Bayern Munich midfielder Corentin Tolisso and reports suggest that Ndidi could be on the list should United fail to sign either Van de Beek or Tolisso this summer with the second unlikely based on comments from the player’s agent.

This season, Ndidi has made a total of 29 appearances for Leicester, playing in the Premier League, Carabao Cup and the Emirates FA Cup, scoring twice and assisting one more. He signed a new contract at the club in 2018, meaning his current contract will not expire until the summer of 2024, giving Leicester total control in this transfer.

Manchester United joined by Paris Saint-Germain in the race to sign Leicester City midfielder – reports

French champions Paris Saint-Germain have joined Manchester United in the race to sign Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, according to reports. The Foxes defensive midfielder is expected to be hot property this summer after another good season in the Premier League playing in Brendan Rodgers side.

It is not the first time that United have been linked to the Nigerian, who is one, if not the, best defensive midfielder in the Premier League. The 23-year-old will have spent two and a half seasons at Leicester when this season, which has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, eventually comes to an end.

During the 2019/20 season, Ndidi has played 29 times for Leicester, playing in the Premier League, the Carabao Cup and the Emirates FA Cup. The Nigerian has scored two goals and one assist, all in the league, playing a total of 2,224 minutes of football. Leicester were third in the league at the time football was suspended, sitting five point clear of Chelsea.

His dominant displays in midfield for Leicester has left to reports suggesting that United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would make a move for the Nigerian at the end of the season. This has also been backed as former United captain, Rio Ferdinand, urged Solskjaer to make a move the Ndidi so the player could add steel to his squad.

However, ESPN has reported that United’s interest in the player will be challenged with PSG now entering the race for the player. The Qatar-backed club who has been known to flaunt the cash is seeking a midfield enforcer this summer, which may give United a battle to win the race for the Nigerian, a player that would help complete this United squad.

The French champions have reported added Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey and Monaco’s Tiemoue Bakayoko as potential targets this summer, should they not be able to sign Ndidi. Leicester have the player secured to a contract until the summer of 2024 after the player signed a new contract in the summer of 2018 – not long after he signed for the club.

Leicester signed £17 million Ndidi from Genk with the agreement coming in December 2016 and the player moving to Leicester as soon as the transfer window opened in January 2017. If they are to be interested in selling the player this summer, especially after United paid £80 million for Harry Maguire, a high fee will need to be paid for Ndidi.

It is reported that £45 million might seal the deal for the player this summer but because of the coronavirus pandemic, the value of players may decrease, however, with four years remaining on his contract, Leicester will hold all the cards. Ndidi recently stated his desire to remain at Leicester, which might be a blow for both United and PSG. He said:

“We are doing well and I am enjoying myself here. I still have a contract with Leicester.

“I am learning and trying to improve myself every day and I am doing okay here so no need to go anywhere.”

Leicester have done well this season but will need more reinforcement to take on the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City in a bid to win the Premier League for the second time in the clubs history. United, sitting in fifth place at the time the league was suspended have even more to do to gain ground on their rivals. Ndidi’s arrival could help them achieve that.

copyright: JW