Jadon Sancho is predictably the most prominent subject of the current transfer window.
Manchester United’s interest in Borussia Dortmund’s rising star is well known and with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side securing the prestige and riches that come with Champions League football next season, a strong offer is inevitable.
It’s likely to be a transfer saga that drawls on for the length of the summer with the Bundesliga outfit determined to stick to their €120m valuation despite the economic climate owing to the impact of COVID-19.
Sancho is widely regarded to be top priority for United in this window but given how the team has operated at the business end of the season and what they owe their success to, perhaps there’s another position that deserves their attention.
And it isn’t one that other widely speculated targets like Jack Grealish or Gabriel Magalhaes can fill either. In fact, there’s no obvious candidate that immediately stands out because of the specific skillset it requires.
Jadon Sancho in 2019/20 all comps 📋
27 Games 🏟
19 Goals ⚽️
18 Assists 🅰️
The sky is the limit for the 20-year-old 🔥 pic.twitter.com/zFAyvODhbH
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Nemanja Matic is currently doing the job in that crucial holding midfield role that’s proved so influential to the way United have operated of late. He’s been paramount to the team, evidenced by the fact that he’s failed to start only two games since the restart; the first match back against Tottenham and the FA Cup quarter-finals at Norwich which saw Solskjaer field a much weakened side.
Following the 1-1 draw at Spurs, much was made of how Paul Pogba’s introduction impacted the result to salvage a point for United but Matic was pivotal to their ability to turn the screw in the closing stages as he picked the ball up deep and progressed it up the pitch quickly from where they could attack Jose Mourinho’s side.
The Serbian has done that brilliantly of late; dropping into the back-line alongside the two centre-backs and building play from there. His progressive passing through the lines, something Michael Carrick has reportedly worked with him on, makes it possible for someone like Bruno Fernandes to shine.
The Portuguese has been largely credited for United’s turn in fortunes and deserves the plaudits coming his way but Matic has been a big part of the foundation behind him. He’s anchored the midfield superbly, dictating the team’s build-up play before the likes of Pogba and Fernandes take over further up the pitch.
Matic’s experience and ability to read the game largely compensates for his declining levels of mobility as he still manages to cover ground well and offer United security ahead of the defence. Such has been his form recently that he’s been rewarded with a new three-year contract.
However, the midfielder is 32 and has never been particularly quick as it is. There have been instances when quality opponents have bypassed him far too easily. With Champions League fixtures to play next season, Solskjaer can’t afford to use Matic as liberally as he has during this campaign’s run-in.
A position that’s proving so integral to how United function demands an elite player in his prime. Not many fit the bill though.
Essentially, this team requires a Roy Keane or even a Carrick. Frenkie de Jong has all the tools and talent but is obviously committed to Barcelona. Wilfried Ndidi has enough qualities to allow him to thrive in the role but Leicester City will not let him go cheaply and the same applies to Marco Verratti at Paris Saint-Germain.
Sandro Tonali has shown great maturity for his age but even with Brescia relegated, he appears destined to remain in Italy with one of the Milanese outfits. Meanwhile, Eduardo Camavinga has also displayed great signs but has signed a new three-year deal with Rennes, which is perhaps best for the 17-year-old’s development.
Declan Rice is one that comes to mind. The young England international ticks a lot of boxes for Solskjaer but may not have the supreme passing range required or the nuances that come with playing this particular position. United might be better served affording Scott McTominay more opportunities but it seems clear that the academy product isn’t quite ready to perform the role with the kind of authority that Matic does.
The Red Devils may have to be a little inventive and take a chance on Hoffenheim’s understated pass master Florian Grillitsch for instance or at least secure back-up for Matic with someone like Frankfurt’s Sebastian Rode. Former Dortmund anchorman Julian Weigl has always had potential to be great but the 24-year-old would be something of a gamble owing to his injury history while he only recently signed with Benfica on a permanent transfer.
Finding the right player for this position isn’t easy but it’s clear that the reward would be significant for United. Other areas still need strengthening but at a fundamental level at which their current system operates, none is more critical.
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