Why United need to sign a defensive midfielder
The Manchester United squad return from vacation to pre-season training on Monday, but only one signing remains to be made after the forgettable 2021/22 season.
With five players already leaving the club as free agents, the team are currently expected to enter the new campaign with a weaker squad and an inexperienced bench.
There are a number of areas the board and owners need to address over the next two months, from the leaky defense to the void left by the departure of Paul Pogba, to the missing quality of a right winger scoring goals.
However, the lack of noise around the potential signing of a starting midfielder is a huge concern, an important department which has been completely ignored by the club.
Lack of options in defensive midfield
Nemanja Matic’s exit from Old Trafford means there are no natural defensive midfielders left in the squad.
Although Fred and Scott McTominay have been used in this role from time to time, the former has shown his qualities as a box-to-box midfielder and his skills would make him a liability if he constantly had to play right in front of the defense . .
On the other hand, the latter was an attacking player since his United academy days and plays as a centre-back for the Scotland national team. He’s not the type of player to use in the team’s most crucial role.
Of course, there have been unrelenting links for potential signing Frenkie de Jong, despite not being a full-fledged defensive midfielder. The Dutchman is generally known for his ability to advance possession of his own half into the final third of the pitch through his dribbling, decision-making and the types of passes he can produce.
Moreover, his blistering pace, intelligence and positioning on and off the ball make him one of the most complete midfielders in Europe.
De Jong is not a DM
The 25-year-old doesn’t naturally sit in one area of the pitch, as he likes to move forward on the ball, and he has a constant desire to press the opposition whenever he or his teammate lose possession. Based on this, playing him in a position where he will leave space behind him and create a big gap between defense and midfield would harm the overall performance of the team and his output.
The number six position is one of the most important roles in the modern era of football, as it provides stability to the team as the sole midfielder while helping the team progress through progressive passing between the lines.
When looking at the best players in this field in Europe, those that immediately come to mind are Casemiro, Fabinho and Rodri, all of whom have been a monumental factor in the success of their respective clubs in recent years.
Now back to United, who are currently going through a cultural reset off the pitch, which has caused a huge delay in player delivery for Erik ten Hag so far this summer.
The club are trying to fix the recruitment and negotiation policy, which led to the lack of recognized players such as Boubacar Kamara, Ryan Gravenberch and Kalvin Phillips for the midfield role.
Sangare a potential option
Nonetheless, there are always options on the market that are good enough for the club to investigate, but they can be difficult to find as the big clubs mainly want individuals who are well known or who play in the top five leagues in Europe.
Ibrahim Sangare is a player who fits into this category, someone who has been a regular starter for PSV Eindhoven for the past two years and has made more tackles and interceptions combined (169) than any other player in the club. Eredivisie last season.
Sangare is the type of defensive midfielder United and Ten Hag will want, a player who is technically composed in his own half and smart when it comes to doing the dirty work for the team. With few clubs currently interested in the Ivory Coast international, United might be able to complete a deal without focusing on snapping up de Jong.
On the other hand, Sporting Lisbon’s Joao Palhinha is a player who can be considered more proven and recognized, as he made almost 100 appearances for his club and had regular playing time for the Portugal national team in course of the last 12 months. Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo would surely make strong recommendations of his many qualities to the board.
The 26-year-old is seen as a pure destroyer, someone more known for his defensive abilities than what he can offer the team in the future and in the attacking phase. However, he is more than capable of distributing the ball with short passes and directing balls down the flanks, as well as using his physicality and positional awareness to dribble out of harm’s way.
Either man would solve a problem that signing Jong might not solve. And make no mistake, this is a major problem for United as the teams around them are getting stronger as they stagnate.
Without the presence of a natural midfielder in the starting line-up, Ten Hag will struggle to effectively implement his foundations in the team and the team will not achieve the consistent results they are looking to achieve.
The Red Devils will continue to fail to control and dominate games, leaving them to fail in their quest to challenge for the top four again and instead go through another embarrassing season without silverware.