Moussa Dembele – Martial’s Replacement or Partner?

Moussa Dembele

Recently, it has been widely reported that Manchester United have agreed a deal with French club Lyon, where Anthony Martial (in depth look at his season here) started his career at 16, for the transfer of their 23 year old striker Moussa Dembele, for a reported fee of around £62 million. With us already having Martial and Greenwood at the club as relatively young strikers, some fans have seen it as odd we are chasing the signature of a player like Dembele, instead wanting us to go for a more experienced player like Ighalo who we have on loan at the moment. We have another group of fans who welcome the pursuit of such a player, as they deem Anthony Martial to not be up to United quality and would like to see him replaced. So in this article we will have a look at how good Dembele is, if he would suit our team and how he even compares to our current number 9, Martial.

Basic League Stats 19/20MartialDembele
Appearances2327
Goals (per 90)11 (0.52)16 (0.66)
Assists32
Pass Accuracy80.2%74.0%
Shot Creating Actions per 903.172.02
Goal Creating Actions per 900.480.29
All statistics courtesy of FBRef.com and understat

Firstly, we will take a look at some of the more basic numbers that we will often look at when comparing strikers. This season in the league, Dembele has scored 16 goals in 27 matches (24.3 90’s played), this total places him 3rd in the division, behind only Mbappe and Ben Yedder, who both sit atop the rankings with 18 goals a piece. He is an excellent finisher, shown by the fact he has scored this number of goals with a total xG of 11.40, so is outperforming his xG by 4.60! Further to this, for players to have at least 10 goals this season, he is 3rd in the top 5 leagues in Europe for conversion rate at 31.4%, behind Vardy and Icardi. This all speaks to his biggest strength, putting the ball in the back of the net. For comparison, Martial has scored 11 goals this season in 23 games (20.8 90’s played), which puts him 12th in the Premier League (keeping in mind his 2 month injury early in the season). At first look, it seems Dembele is a more proficient goalscorer, with his 0.66 goals per 90 to Martial’s 0.53 per 90 in the league. However, one aspect we have to consider is penalty duties. At Lyon this season, Dembele has taken 5 penalties in the league, scoring 4 of those. If he was to join United, one would assume Bruno and Rashford would continue taking the penalties for the side. So when they are taken out of the equation to look at open play goals, his scoring rate comes down to 0.50 per 90, just slightly below what Martial’s sits at (0.53). The percentage of their shots on target isn’t wildly different between the two, with Martial hitting the target with 47.5% of his shots, and Dembele striking the target at a rate of 41.2%. Despite this, Dembele has been the more efficient goalscorer comfortably this season.

Radar graphs comparing Martial (Blue) and Dembele (Green) courtesy of understat, 19/20 league stats only

When it comes to creativity and build up play, Martial is generally clear in most of the statistics, which could be very important as Ole looks to play with a striker that involves himself in the build up play more often than not in the majority of the matches. Dembele averages less assists and expected assists per 90, plus his xGBuildup and XGChain90 are both significantly less than Martial’s. Anthony is much more involved in the play leading up to the teams goals. Martial also averages over double the through balls per 90 (0.19) and progresses the ball by his passing per 90 nearly double to what Dembele does (60.1 yards to 30.2 yards). This isn’t necessarily something that all strikers have to do as some, like Dembele look to play as more of a poacher and be on the end of balls, but with Ole looking for his centre forward to drop almost into the attacking midfield and help create, Martial suits this style more. This can be seen again when looking at goal (GCA) and shot creating actions (SCA). They are defined as “The two offensive actions directly leading to a goal/shot, such as passes, dribbles and drawing fouls. Note: A single player can receive credit for multiple actions and the shot-taker can also receive credit.” Using this statistic, we can see when players are directly involved in a goal whether they played a pass or made a dribble, whereas assist numbers look only at the final passer. With this in mind, Martial averaged 3.17 SCA per 90 and 0.48 GCA per 90. Dembele on the other hand, averages 2.02 SCA per 90 and 0.29 GCA per 90. This difference is one which can be considered significant. Over the entirety of the season, Anthony will be involved in more shots and goals than his counterpart.

Moussa Dembele

Next we will briefly look at some dribbling and defensive numbers before looking at Dembele’s style of play and where Moussa likes to make his mark on the field. Per 90 minutes of football, Dembele attempts 2.06 dribbles at a success rate of 46.0%, whereas Martial attempts 3.61 dribbles and completes 62.7% of these, he is a better and more willing carrier of the ball. This further emphasised when looking at the progressive distance travelled per 90, where Martial carries the ball towards goal a total of 115 yards per 90, with Dembele doing it for 75.9 yards per 90. This is advantageous as Martial is more adept at taking the ball past opponents and bringing the ball forward up the field when receiving it, again key to our style of play. When it comes to pressing the opposition, both players are quite good in this regard. Contrary to popular belief, the numbers portray Martial as a forward who is more than willing to put in a shift and press the opposition. Dembele attempts 12.0 presses per 90, whereas Martial presses 14.8 times per 90. To put this into context, Marcus Rashford attempts 14.4 pressures per 90. In addition, Dembele wins 26.4% of these pressures, a respectable figure sandwiched just above Rashford and below Martial’s rate of success.

As shown by these heat maps, both players like to operate in similar areas. Dembele spends more time in the opposition box but will often drift into the left half space (between the wing and centre of the field), as he looks to try and get on the ball more. He possesses very good off ball movement, and is adept at using this to fool defenders and lose his marker, but despite his willingness to make these runs, he has only been caught offside 0.45 times per 90, showing good awareness constantly of his position on the field. This different and more traditional approach to the striker role would provide a different dimension to our attack should Dembele join, as he looks to stay more central and advanced. One way we could utilise him would be in an asymmetric front 2 alongside Martial, with Anthony pulling deeper and slightly wide with Dembele holding the line and having Martial to play off. This could work well, but with the rumoured pursuit of Sancho, it seems unlikely we would utilise a front 2 much. Whether the reports of Dembele joining are true or not are unknown to us as of yet, but were he to sign, he would be an efficient goalscorer who would provide a different type of threat to our attack.

Is de Gea being unfairly criticised?

Over the course of the 2019/20 Premier League season, there has been a certain level of criticism aimed at David de Gea, and many questions have been raised as to whether it is time to let Dean Henderson have a run in the number 1 spot when he returns from Sheffield United. At the Blades, he has impressed massively and has seemingly become a leading goalkeeper in the league. Does he deserve to have a shot at being the number one stopper at United? Or is de Gea being undeservedly scapegoated for his performances?

Over the course of this season, David de Gea has played and started in all 29 of Manchester United’s Premier League outings. In those 29 games, he has conceded 30 goals, which of all the goalkeepers to have played at least 18 matches places him 7th out of 18 keepers. Dean Henderson is 2nd with 22 goals conceded but has played 27 matches instead. Then when it comes to save percentage, de Gea’s is 71.3% whereas Henderson’s is 75.8%. On the face of this, it would seem that Henderson has definitely been the better goalkeeper. However there is a glaring issue with this statistic. It doesn’t take into account the quality of shots being faced. So where de Gea is saving shots at a slightly lower rate, he could be facing much more difficult shots. Thankfully, there is a statistic that can try and help us remove some of this uncertainty; Post-Shot Expected Goals minus Goals Allowed. Working in a similar vein to how Expected Goals can be used but using only shots on target as these are the only shots the keeper interacts with, by using post-shot expected goals, we can see how many goals the goalkeeper should have conceded based on the quality of shots the player has faced. For the rest of this article, I will refer to Post-Shot Expected Goals as ‘PSxG‘.

de Gea with the Premier League trophy in 2013.

Over the course of the entire season, de Gea’s PSxG was 28.9 and Henderson’s was 28.4, so de Gea would have been expected, on average, to concede 0.5 more goals over the entire season, so barely any difference in that regard. Another way in which we can look at this by adjusting PSxG per shot on target. This then adjusts for the number of shots on target each keeper faces. For Henderson, his PSxG per shot on target is 0.32 and de Gea’s is 0.29, so there isn’t much difference at all in the quality of each shot being faced. Remembering that David de Gea has played two more games, adjusted to per 90 metrics, de Gea has faced shots that should equate to 1 (0.9966 to 4 d.p.) goal per 90. Henderson on the other hand, should’ve conceded 1.05 goals per 90. Not a massive difference between them at all, but Henderson has conceded 8 less goals than de Gea, which suggests that Henderson has performed much better than the Spaniard, even when taking into account quality of shots faced. When we look at the number of goals conceded compared to expected, Dean outperforms by 6.4 goals whereas David is -0.1. This means Dean has saved his side just over 6 goals this season, where de Gea has performed completely in line with how the model would expect the average to be.

Dean Henderson on loan at Sheffield United.

We will now look at aspects other than shot-stopping, as today more so than ever, being a goalkeeper is much more than being able to save shots well. Firstly when looking at their passing stats, we have to take into account the vast difference in how each keeper is instructed to distribute the ball. Where at Manchester United, the keeper looks to often play short and keep possession, at Sheffield the keeper will look to play long, whether from open play or goal kicks. With this in mind let’s take a closer look. Of David de Gea’s attempted passes, 35.6% of his passes were longer than 40 yards; in comparison Dean’s percentage was 78.0% of his total passes! Of these launched passes though, David actually completes them at a higher rate of 36.9% to Dean’s 28.0%, some of this will be down to how each team plays and the opposition, but nonetheless, de Gea completes them at a higher rate. However, because Manchester United tend to attempt these style of passes much less (which can be seen by our average goal kick distance being 36.4 yards to Sheffield United’s 76.1 yard average goal kick) it is more pertinent to look at the closer range passing. For passes between 5 and 25 yards in distance, David completes them 99.1% of the time and Dean 98.7% of the time, so no significant difference whatsoever. So whichever keeper plays in goal next season, we would likely not lose or gain much in terms of passing. When looking at command of area with crosses, both players have faced a similar number of crosses (David – 222, Dean – 203) but Dean has successfully stopped 7.9% of the crosses into the penalty area, compared to David’s 3.6%. As a comparison to these two players, Liverpool goalkeeper Allison stopped crosses this season 7.0% of the time. This suggests that Dean is commanding in the box and has no fear contesting crosses. Also this season, de Gea has made 2 errors leading to shots compared to Dean with 0. Finally, we look at the number of defensive actions each keeper makes outside of their penalty area as the sweeper keeper role becomes more and more prevalent in the sport. Per 90 minutes David has completed 0.31 defensive actions outside the are compared to Dean’s 0.48 (for context Allison has made 1.19 per 90). The United loanee completes slightly more per 90, but both men don’t come close to the Liverpool stopper.

David with his golden glove trophy in the 2017/18 season.

The shot stopping stats suggest that Dean is the clear choice to be our number 1 from next season. However, football is never as simple as just statistics. We have to remember David is a keeper, who only a few seasons ago was the best in the world, and in 2017-18 had one of the best seasons as a goalkeeper we have ever seen, both statistically and using the eye test. The question which is more important is has de Gea not done enough to deserve more time and patience from the club? Some people would argue we have to act quick before the rot develops even more, I’m not so sure he’s finished just yet.

Bruno Fernandes – Our Portuguese Magnifico

On the 29th January of 2020, Manchester United confirmed the signing of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon for a fee of £47 million, with a potential £21 million in add-ons. This was a big transfer outlay for January, even in the case of a club the size of United. It was a move that was forced upon the club, as the season threatened to slip away from the team. With a lengthy five-and-a-half-year contract signed, the attacking midfielder made it quickly known in his initial interview that he had one main goal that he was striving for at United; trophies. He made his debut only days later against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and wowed the fans with a showing that displayed his eye for goal, his great tactical awareness, and his bravery in attempting dangerous passes into the final third. Over the next games, it was quickly becoming apparent just how good the Portuguese man was, and our results quickly began to improve with him in the side.

Bruno Fernandes with manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the day of him signing for Manchester United.

Just days before Bruno signed for the club, I went to Old Trafford to watch the team face Burnley who were visiting us. I had hoped that he would have signed by then so I could watch him myself, but it wasn’t to be. As that game wore on, it was again obvious exactly why we were in for a player of his profile. Just as with many games we had played this season, we walked out of the ground knowing we could have, and should have, performed much better against opposition considered weaker than us. We had blown the chance to go within 3 points of 4th placed Chelsea, which in hindsight would now have left us in 4th place during this break in football. Fast forward to the 1st of February and Fernandes was lining up for his debut against Wolves, just days after he had joined. In that game there were some very promising signs. He made 64 passes at an accuracy of 82.05%, with 39.74% of those passes being forwards which is very high as a proportion of total passes. He also attempted 18 passes into the final third, and 7 passes into the penalty area, showing great intent and confidence in what was only his debut. Alongside these passing numbers, he also took the most shots that game with 5 total shots with an accuracy of 60%. He also won 8 duels and made 3 ball recoveries in the opposition half. It was an all action display from the midfielder which won him his first Man of the Match award for the club. He also showed his tactical versatility, where in the first half he played as the number 10 in behind the striker, then in the second half he dropped to a right sided defensive midfielder to help regain control of the midfield.

Bruno Fernandes Statistical Highlights vs Wolves

“We feel we’ve added some X factor and quality with Bruno, he likes to task risks, which a Man United player should do.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the signing of Bruno Fernandes, 2020

He has been a bright spark consistently since he came into the side, whether that be his long range strike vs Everton to earn a draw, or his quick thinking and cheeky assist to Martial vs Manchester City in our win against them. On top of this, his leadership traits have been on show for everybody to see. Whether that be him screaming at Dalot to make the overlap when the young right-back was daydreaming, instructing Lingard on how to move within the oppositions midfield or his interviews where he constantly backs up the need to win every single game with 100% effort. His impact on the side cannot be understated. In the 9 games before he joined, we had won 4, drawn 1 and lost 4. Since his debut we have won 6 (including wins over Chelsea and Manchester City) and drawn 3 games, with no losses. This isn’t entirely down to Bruno of course, but he helped propel the team in this moment of good form. Possibly the most exciting aspect of all this, is he is still yet to line-up alongside Rashford and Pogba due to their injuries. The prospect of Bruno being able to play with Rashford making runs ahead of him, with Pogba sat behind him as a deep lying playmaker helping dictate the play should excite any United fan. It could be a very exciting side to watch once they are all fit.

Appearances (Sub)9(1)
Goals (per90)3(0.38)
Assists (per90)4(0.51)
Pass Accuracy72.52%
Progressive Runs per 901.92
Key Passes per 902.69
Duels Won per 906.91
Interceptions per 903.07
Presses per 9020.4
Dribble Success81.8%
Shots per 904.22
Passes into Penalty Box per 906.91
Stats for Manchester United across all competitions, courtesy of WyScout

Assuming that United were to only make the one signing this summer, Jadon Sancho, United could look to continue to setup in Solskjaer’s preferred 4-2-3-1 next season. With Jadon coming in on the right wing presumably (though I imagine Sancho and Rashford would be instructed to swap flanks regularly), Bruno will continue to operate as an attacking midfielder in that 3 behind Martial. Pogba, if he stays, would sit in a pivot behind that, with license to create and cause trouble from deep alongside a more defensive midfielder. With this side, we would likely not catch up with Liverpool yet without a few more signings, in the first XI and on the bench, it would become a very creative side with a lot of youth, so only with room for improvement.

How United could line-up next season if they sign Jadon Sancho and Paul Pogba stays.

The big question that often hangs over Fernandes is simply why we didn’t try and sign him in the summer. It is often suggested that the club stated he gave the ball away too much to be a midfielder for us. However, the sluggish start to the season forced them to move their hand in January, and from what we’ve seen so far, we may have found our next star for the years to come.

Which Defensive Midfielder Target Should we Sign?

For this upcoming transfer window, it has been reported that United are looking to sign a right winger, a striker and a central midfielder. With the right wing target looking likely to be Jadon Sancho (especially after the latest reports) that the club will try to sign, and the striker probably being Odion Ighalo’s loan deal being made permanent, a question mark still hangs over who the club will look in to bring to reinforce the midfield. The rumour mill has churned out the name of Jack Grealish recently, but with us signing Fernandes in January, one would think there is a less urgent need for another attacking midfielder of his ilk, unless Lingard and/or Pereira were to depart the club this summer. Most people seem to think the role of a defensive midfielder is a more urgent matter at the moment.

Despite Matic’s resurgence in the latter part of this season, he is not getting any younger (turns 32 this August) or more mobile and neither McTominay nor Fred have the ability to really play as a lone anchor man, which would allow the other midfielders to push forward. If Pogba stays, logic dictates that Bruno will play in the number 10 role just off of Martial, and Pogba would play in a double pivot with either Fred of McTominay. The issue we have is that if the full backs push forward alongside Pogba, this will leave the other man of the pivot alone to cover the wings and help protect the centre backs. This is one of the reasons many people believe we need to search for a defensive midfielder this summer, more of a specialist who revels in this role. Someone who is able to screen the centre backs, help cover the attacking full backs but also someone, preferably, who still offers something on the ball. In this break down, I will take a closer look at 5 defensive midfielders that we have been linked with a lot this past year, plus a bonus player that I think would suit our style of play that we haven’t yet been really linked with, and go through their stats, strength and weaknesses and how they would fit into the system that Ole looks to play his team in.


Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City)

All data in bold indicates the highest statistics amongst the players in the article

Passing Accuracy87.7%
Long Passes2.03
Dribbles Completed0.62
Total Duels Won12.3
Interceptions7.22
Possession Losses(In own half)8.5(4.28)
Ball Recoveries(In opp half)12.06(4.18)
Aerial Duels Won2.55
Defensive Duels Won6.20
Key Passes0.38
Progressive Runs0.4
Final Third Passes4.62
Forward Passes(% of total)12.33(21.66%)
League Stats Only, stat names highlighted you can click on to read more about
All statistics courtesy of WyScout and are per 90

Top 10 Rankings amongst PL midfielders, >15 league app (data courtesy of WhoScored)

  • 1st for Successful Tackles
  • 1st for Interceptions
  • 2nd for Passes Blocked
  • 3rd in Clearances
  • 4th for Crosses Blocked
  • 4th for Aerial Duels Won
  • 9th for Goals in Penalty Area
  • 37th of 43 for Ball Losses due to Bad First Touch

Our first Premier League midfielder we have been linked with, Wilfred Ndidi currently plays for Leicester City, often as the lone anchor man in the 4-1-4-1 they have played this season. At 23 years old and standing 6ft, his market value is currently £32.4 million, though would likely cost more considering he plays for a Premier League club. He has played 23 matches this season, with 22 of those being as a defensive midfielder. The Nigerian is regarded as the best and most consistent ball winner of any Premier League midfielder, and it can be seen why as this season, he ranked 1st in tackles and interceptions across the division in his position. He is very used to playing as a lone DM and not in a pivot, so if Ole decided to play a 4-1-2-1-2 for example, with two more advanced midfielders, Ndidi would be very accomplished in this role. Wilfred is excellent at covering the space left behind the attacking full backs to help prevent counter attacks. When it comes to one-on-one defensive scenarios, he has great lateral movement and is very good at holding up attackers and winning the ball to prevent the counter. He is not flat footed in this scenario, so the forwards find it very hard to get past him. He is very good at recycling possession, as he looks to win the ball high up and then pass it to teammates to start a new attack. When it comes to reading the oppositions play, he is outstanding, and this shows as he has managed to make 7.22 interceptions per 90 this season. Over the seasons at Leicester, he has improved his ability to switch the play with long balls to the opposite flank. Despite this, the biggest weakness in his game is the lack of creativity from a deep position, he lacks the vision to regularly make line-breaking passes and produce much himself from deep. With this considered, you would need to make sure to include other creators in the midfield e.g. Pogba if he stays, to make up for this lack of creativeness. He is a competent dribbler, at just over 50% and will use this to get out of sticky situations; he does possess good tight ball control which can allow him to turn easily out of an aggressive press, hence why he loses the ball less than most midfielders in the Premier League via a poor first touch. In the air he is very strong too, ranking 4th in the league for aerial duels won in his role. In conclusion, he would be a great signing if Solskjaer was looking for a player to fit the destroyer mould, someone who would be able to play as part of a double pivot and then allow the adjacent player more freedom to roam forwards in possession, he would preferably be paired with someone who could play the role of a deep lying playmaker, which would help us break down blocks ahead of the team, ideally from the current squad this would be Pogba, as he is the midfielder with the range and vision to create from deeper against low blocks, also allowing Pogba to operate as a mezzala or roaming play-maker if needed to as well. Likewise, if Ole was looking to play a lone DM, like in his 4-4-2 diamond, he would be ideal in this role as he is already adjusted to the role and possesses excellent concentration allowing him to manage the defensive duties well. His only real downside is the lack of creativity on the ball, but if he was not signed with this being the hope for his role, he would excel at United as a ball winning midfielder or anchor man.

“I’m not surprised, no. We know we are a better team with him in it, there’s no question.”

Brendan Rodgers when asked about their bad form stopping once Ndidi returned from injury, 2020

Declan Rice (West Ham United)

All data in bold indicates the highest statistics amongst the players in the article

Passing Accuracy88.5%
Long Passes2.08
Dribbles Completed0.96
Total Duels Won8.82
Interceptions5.11
Possession Losses(In own half)6.46(3.46)
Ball Recoveries(In opp half)10.32(3.48)
Aerial Duels Won1.22
Defensive Duels Won4.54
Key Passes0.29
Progressive Runs0.89
Final Third Passes4.89
Forward Passes(% of total)9.62(27.50%)
League Stats Only, stat names highlighted you can click on to read more about
All statistics courtesy of WyScout and are per 90

Top 10 Rankings amongst PL midfielders, >15 league apps (data courtesy of WhoScored)

  • 2nd for Successful Tackles
  • 6th for Interceptions
  • 35th of 43 for Ball Losses due to Bad First Touch

The second midfielder we have been linked with a fair amount is West Ham United’s, Declan Rice. The 21 year old English midfielder stands at 6ft 1in, and has a market value of £44.55 million, which would in reality be a higher transfer cost due to him playing in England and counting towards the homegrown quota. He has played 29 league matches this season, with 6 being at central midfield, and the other 23 at defensive midfield. Having formerly been a centre back, he possesses very good natural defensive instincts, as can be seen by the fact he ranks 2nd in the division for successful tackles per 90 in his position, only behind the aforementioned Ndidi. Overall, he is vastly improved upon the previous season. Whilst defending the counter attack, he has become very good at being able to hold the advance up and then being able to win the ball off of the attacker. When it comes to on the ball, he is a neat and tidy passer, completing 88.5% of all of his passes, and then 63.7% of his long passes. He doesn’t have elite vision on the ball and this can be seen by his 0.29 key passes per 90, not a vast number of chances being created. Usually when playing, he has been deployed as either a lone anchor man, or as part of a two man pivot. When part of a pivot, he has played on either side, however I believe he is more comfortable on the left of the two. This is because it is more natural to him, being right footed, when he plays cross field balls, left to right. When he is on the right and tries cross field balls to the left wing, he often struggles slightly as he has less angles on his right boot from that side. His passing range has improved whilst in the side, with his switching of play from left to right being his particular strong point. Back to him playing as a lone DM, he has good concentration in the game and is has strong awareness of his position, so can position himself well for opponent counter attacks. On the ball, when he pushes further up the field, he does struggle on the ball in tight spaces under pressure, especially when the ball is bouncing or when he is required to make a quick change of direction off of his first touch. Due to his height, he is a good aerial presence, even in the opponents box, often being a target for the sides corners. If United are looking to sign a DM with Pogba staying, he could be a good signing as Pogba would play the deep lying playmaker role alongside him, yet he may need to work on his right to left switch as Paul would probably play on the left. However, if Pogba is sold, then playing Rice alongside McTominay or Fred in a pivot could work against big sides, but would probably lack the creativity to regularly break down low block sides due to his lack of on ball creativity. If I was the club, Ndidi would probably be a better purchase than Rice as they have similar attributes, but Ndidi does them slightly better.

“In my mind he is arguably the best holding midfield player in the country and the best thing about Declan is he will get better.”

David Moyes on Declan Rice, 2020

Thomas Partey (Atletico Madrid)

All data in bold indicates the highest statistics amongst the players in the article

Passing Accuracy86.1%
Long Passes3.61
Dribbles Completed1.34
Total Duels Won10.47
Interceptions5.05
Possession Losses(In own half)7.78(3.01)
Ball Recoveries(In opp half)10.70(3.38)
Aerial Duels Won2.22
Defensive Duels Won4.26
Key Passes0.69
Progressive Runs0.88
Final Third Passes7.88
Forward Passes(% of total)14.91(32.63%)
League Stats Only, stat names highlighted you can click on to read more about
All statistics courtesy of WyScout and are per 90

Top 10 Rankings amongst La Liga midfielders, >15 league apps (data courtesy of WhoScored)

  • 2nd for Successful Dribbles
  • 4th for Interceptions
  • 4th for Shots from Outside the Box
  • 5th for Goals from Outside the Box
  • 7th for Successful Tackles
  • 9th for Clearances
  • 9th for Total Passes
  • 10th for Accurate Short Passes

For our first midfielder outside of England, we take a look at Atletico Madrid man, Thomas Partey. The Ghanaian is 6ft 1in and is 26 years old, his current transfer market value is £36 million but has a release clause of £43 million. This would provide great value to the transfer, especially considering the figures of some recent transfers. During this league campaign, he has played 24 games, with 14 as a central midfielder, 9 at defensive midfield and even one as an attacking midfielder. He is regarded usually as either a box to box or ball winning midfielder. Over the past 2 seasons, he has developed into an elite level midfielder with many strong assets to his game now. Defensively, he is very good at reading opposition passes and closes the lanes very well, leading to his high 5.05 interceptions per 90, 4th in La Liga for midfielders. When opposition players have a pass coming into them, he presses very quickly, either winning the ball himself, or forcing the opposing player into a rushed action, often forcing a mistake out of them. On the counter, he is very good at covering for each full back (he even has played right back before) and this could be seen against Liverpool when he stopped both Salah and Mane on each wing at points to cover for his full back. Usually, when playing as a defensive midfielder, he has operated as part of a double pivot. He is equally comfortable on the left or the right of the midfield. In the first leg of the Champions League tie against Liverpool, he played on the right, and in the return leg played on the left. He was extremely impressive in both ties, and had a monstrous performance in the second leg as Madrid’s best outfield player. When it comes to looking at him on the ball, he has vastly improved, particularly on his long balls, which he utilises to initiate attacks and switch play from one side to the other. He has a great first touch, and even though capable of executing one touch passes, often goes for a two touch pass. He is very press resistant as when pressed he has excellent composure, uses feints, shields the ball well and will either pass or dribble his way out of trouble. This is evident as he has completed the 2nd most dribbles for a midfielder this season. When it comes to movement, he has elite ability to create space for himself and make himself available for passes, and he is also brilliant at using his movement to create space for his teammates. His only possible weakness is probably his slight lack of incisive passing, but despite this, he has vastly improved his line-breaking passes over the last few seasons. This is evident as in the big games, he is often tasked with progressing the ball, as seen earlier in the season against Real Madrid. He was the player making the passes through the Real Madrid block to the Atletico attackers. It was an incredible performance from Partey, and one I would recommend to watch to see how he plays. To conclude, Thomas Partey would be a fantastic signing for United. He has the versatility required to play either as part of a 2 man pivot on either side, to play as either a box to box in the pivot like Fred, or strictly as a ball winning midfielder similar to Ndidi if needed in specific scenarios. In the 4-4-2 diamond we sometimes use, he has the ability to play in front of the lone DM on either side, or as the DM if needed to as well. The main problem with his signing would be convincing him to leave Atletico as there is no indication he wants any move, despite all the reports.

“If he had come from an English or German team, he would be [lauded] but he’s from the academy so he’s just Thomas.”

Diego Simeone when asked if Thomas Partey is underappreciated, 2019

Denis Zakaria (Borussia Mönchengladbach)

All data in bold indicates the highest statistics amongst the players in the article

Passing Accuracy89.40%
Long Passes1.09
Dribbles Completed1.92
Total Duels Won10.50
Interceptions5.05
Possession Losses(In own half)5.66(2.52)
Ball Recoveries(In opp half)9.75(2.97)
Aerial Duels Won1.00
Defensive Duels Won5.18
Key Passes0.44
Progressive Runs1.31
Final Third Passes3.91
Forward Passes(% of total)9.27(27.82%)
League Stats Only, stat names highlighted you can click on to read more about
All statistics courtesy of WyScout and are per 90

Top 10 Rankings amongst Bundesliga midfielders, >15 league apps (data courtesy of WhoScored)

  • 2nd for Successful Dribbles
  • 4th for Blocked Shots
  • 4th for Goals in 6 Yard Box
  • 5th for Passing Accuracy
  • 5th for Shots in 6 Yard Box
  • 6th for Blocked Crosses
  • 7th for Goals in Penalty Area
  • 8th for Successful Tackles
  • 8th for Blocked Passes
  • 9th for Shots Outside Box
  • 9th for Total Goals
  • 10th for Interceptions
  • 10th for Total Shots
  • 10th for Shots in Penalty Area
  • 19th of 23 for Ball Losses due to Bad First Touch

Now we will take a look at a rising star in the Bundesliga we have been reported to be interested in, Denis Zakaria. The Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder is 23 years old, stands 6ft 3in and is a Swiss national. His market value is £32.40 million. This season he has played 23 games. 16 of these have come as a defensive midfielder, 4 games at central midfield and 3 as a centre back; this shows great versatility for Zakaria. He is a very athletic player and looks to often dominate his opponents physically. Denis has mastered being able to position himself between the body of the opponent and the ball and using his strength to win the ball back in this way. He will often press to block passing lanes throughout the game in the centre, forcing teams to play the wide option which makes it much easier for his side to press and contain them. When his side are out of possession, he looks to recover the ball very aggressively and win back possession as early as possible. Linking from this, he is very difficult to beat in one-on-one situations, this is seen as he wins 71% of his defensive duels in the league. Due to his good acceleration, pace and stamina, he is very capable of defending opposing wingers and full backs that attack the flanks vacated by his own full backs and will often be seen doing either this, or tracking runners from their midfield. When playing as a defensive midfielder, he usually either plays as a lone anchor man, or on the left of a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1. In this deep role, he will often come deep to collect the ball, making himself always available to the centre backs to pass to, a great asset for a team trying to build from the back. Then when on the ball, he has excellent decision making. He often will make lots of simple passes to maintain possession for the side, shown by him ranking 5th in the league for pass accuracy from midfielders. He does like to switch play to exploit any available space on the opposite flank, and then will usually move over to that side of the midfield to provide passing options to his teammates. When his team are on the ball, he will sit outside of the opponents defensive block so that the side will always have a safe option for a pass should they run into trouble. By him spending lots of the game behind the ball, it maintains that link to play the ball back to and also means his position is maintained to halt any counter attacks. When it comes to dribbling, he is very accomplished (ranking 2nd in the division), and if he is shown open space, he will not hesitate to take advantage and drive into the open field and break the lines. When he does venture forwards, he displays a good IQ and will often sniff out and position himself in any spaces in the defence. Sometimes, he has even had to play as the centre of a back 3, such is his versatility and defensive prowess. the only criticism you could maybe aim at him, is the lack of aerial duels for his height. If United were to sign Zakaria, they could use him in either a double pivot in the 4-2-3-1 alongside Pogba if he stays and because of his own creativity, allowing Paul to play as a mezzala or roam centrally more, or alongside Fred if Pogba leaves. If wanted, he can also easily operate as a lone holding midfielder in a 4-4-2 diamond and be able to screen the back line comfortably, whilst remaining an option for all of the attacking players ahead of him. He doesn’t really have any significant weaknesses.

“He is a very complete footballer who still has a lot of development potential. He has incredible dynamics, understanding of the game and is not yet at the end of his development.”

Marco Rose when asked about Denis Zakaria, 2019

Boubakary Soumare (Lille OSC)

All data in bold indicates the highest statistics amongst the players in the article

Passing Accuracy90.8%
Long Passes2.01
Dribbles Completed0.97
Total Duels Won6.81
Interceptions3.27
Possession Losses(In own half)6.81(2.78)
Ball Recoveries(In opp half)7.78(4.72)
Aerial Duels Won0.77
Defensive Duels Won2.57
Key Passes0.81
Progressive Runs1.18
Final Third Passes8.41
Forward Passes(% of total)11.41(24.73%)
League Stats Only, stat names highlighted you can click on to read more about
All statistics courtesy of WyScout and are per 90

Top 10 Rankings amongst Ligue 1 midfielders, >14 league apps (data courtesy of WhoScored)

  • 7th for Accurate Short Passes
  • 9th for Total Passes

For the last midfielder that we will look at that we have been linked with, it is Lille’s Boubakary Soumare. At 21 years old, he is the joint youngest of the prospective signings. He is 6ft 2in and has a current market value of £22.05 million. All things considered, he is probably the most raw of the players, but with great potential to grow into. He often plays on the left of a double pivot, as many of these players do, with vast skill on the ball. During the game, he will try and get on the ball as much as possible as most of the teams build up goes through him as he is very comfortable playing balls all over the field and is very composed on the ball. When the team is in possession, he often will roam around the field in search of space to get on the ball. He regularly drops between the centre backs to receive the ball and then advance the play by bringing it up himself or passing between the lines. When he is pressed, he is very calm under the pressure and will use his build to hold the player off and make a pass or dribble past them. His vision is excellent and is very comfortable making the line-breaking passes into the attackers, and dribbling from deep to join them. He ranks in the top 10 in the league for both accurate short passes, and total passes, emphasising how much he dictates what goes on during his sides. Defensively, he is a very good tackler, and if people get past him he is great at recovery slide tackles. His defensive positional awareness is also good for how experienced he is, and will improve with age. He makes more progressive runs than most of the other options as he looks to get forward so much. He doesn’t make as many tackles and interceptions compared to the other players, but he can improve in these departments as his defensive IQ is solid. What he lacks in this department, he makes up for in flair and creativity. To conclude, he has huge potential but in all reality probably more as a central midfielder as opposed to a defensive midfielder. If he were to join, he would be best suited to playing on the right of a pivot alongside a more defensive minded player like McTominay or Matic, giving him the freedom to play as a roaming playmaker more.

 “He has an incredible talent for me, in his age category, he is one of the best talents in Europe.

Gérard Lopez, President of LOSC when asked about Boubakary Soumare

Florian Grillitsch (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim)

All data in bold indicates the highest statistics amongst the players in the article

Passing Accuracy89.3%
Long Passes2.78
Dribbles Completed0.74
Total Duels Won9.73
Interceptions5.33
Possession Losses(In own half)7.84(3.29)
Ball Recoveries(In opp half)9.97(3.15)
Aerial Duels Won1.02
Defensive Duels Won4.50
Key Passes0.83
Progressive Runs1.25
Final Third Passes6.4
Forward Passes(% of total)10.76(20.32%)
League Stats Only, stat names highlighted you can click on to read more about
All statistics courtesy of WyScout and are per 90

Top 10 Rankings amongst Bundesliga midfielders, >15 league apps (data courtesy of WhoScored)

  • 1st in Accurate Free Kicks
  • 4th for Total Passes
  • 4th for Accurate Short Passes
  • 4th for Passing Accuracy
  • 5th for Accurate Long Balls
  • 5th for Assists
  • 6th Most Fouled
  • 7th Most Accurate Crosser
  • 8th for Successful Dribbles
  • 8th for Long Key Passes
  • 9th for Crosses Blocked
  • 10th for Successful Tackles

For the final midfielder, we take a look at someone I haven’t seen us been linked with this season, but after looking in detail, he would be a nice fit for our side; Florian Grillitsch of Hoffenheim. The 24 year old Austrian is 6ft 2in and has a market value of £18 million with a £22 million release clause. This season he has played 23 matches; 16 as a defensive midfielder, 6 as a central midfielder and one as an attacking midfielder. He usually plays as either a lone defensive midfielder almost as a regista, or as the right man in a double pivot. He has an excellent first touch, which is hugely advantageous in helping him break the press, alongside his accomplished dribbling skills. His style of play is very similar to that of Carrick’s, even in the way that his impact on his team is often underrated. One of his noticeable traits is his ability to start attacks from deep after receiving the ball from the centre backs. He often slots in between the 2 centre backs when the team are being kept in their own half, and will then help the team play out from the back. He has a high level of game IQ, and uses this to decide whether to maintain his position deep or move forward, depending on the in-game situation. In the Hoffenheim side, he is the most mobile midfielder, so uses his pace to defend the opposition wingers on the counter attack, and he is not scared to use his physical prowess to dominate them. He started out as a ball winning midfielder only as a younger player, but has slowly matured his play-making abilities, all whilst keeping up the defensive numbers, headlined by his impressive 5.33 interceptions a game. He will rotate through the midfield, to find space to get on the ball, beating the oppositions press by positioning himself between the oppositions midfield and attacking lines. He is a very accurate passer, at 89.3%, with most of his passes being short, simple ones. However, if there are long passes, often switches, he will make them, averaging 2.78 completed per 90, or by making passes into the final third, breaking the defensive lines. If he was to join United, he would be best used as the right man in a double pivot, where he can perform his deep lying play-maker role and stay deep as opposed to the partner in midfield, probably Pogba, who could then surge forward on attacks as a mezzala or roaming play-maker role that he would suit. Grillitsch could then stay behind to cover the back line, and protect the space in behind his full backs, similarly to how he currently plays for his club. In the games where a 4-4-2 diamond is preferred, he would be more than able to play as the lone DM in a number roles, protecting the back line and progressing the ball from deep.

“Florian is an exceptionally gifted footballer.”

Hoffenheim Sporting Director Alexander Rosen, when asked about Florian Grillitsch

Conclusion

To round out the entire discussion, there is no right or wrong answer as to who the correct player to go for is. Thomas Partey, despite being a fantastic player and a great fit, looks an unlikely move as he nears a new contract at Atletico. If United want a player who is purely a destroyer and ball winner, then Ndidi will be the man. He is Premier League proven, and has some of the best pure defensive statistics across Europe. However, if they want someone who could operate on the ball more, and be more involved in the build up, whilst still keeping up the defensive numbers, the Zakaria or Grillitsch would be the way to go; Grillitsch if Pogba stays, and Zakaria if Pogba leaves the club this summer, only because of the sides they naturally play on. Soumare has an abundance of talent, but is probably not what we need at the moment in a holding role. Declan Rice remains the wildcard, after massively improving this season, as he would be a shrewd purchase, despite not quite matching up to the other players here, as Ole could sway Declan’s way as he continues to try and bring English players in, despite maybe lacking some of the on ball ability in comparison to his peers.Lots of our transfer activity does depend on what Pogba decides to do. All in all, there are a few very strong candidates that we are being linked with, some more suited to our style than others, and even some midfielders better equipped and cheaper than the ones being rumoured.

Let us know in the comments or on twitter who you think is the right man for United!

Jack Grealish – How would he fit in?

Throughout the length of this season, Manchester United have been constantly linked with Aston Villa’s attacking midfielder Jack Grealish. He has consistently impressed with his performances in trying to keep Aston Villa up in the Premier League, contributing 7 goals and 6 assists in 26 league appearances. One of his strengths is his versatility in playing positions.

PositionAppsGoalsAssists
Left Forward1363
Central Midfield602
Left Midfield310
Number 10201
Centre Forward100
Left Attacking Midfield100
Jack Grealish’s stats across the PL in 19/20 in all of the positions he has played in, courtesy of WhoScored.

As we can see from the numbers, he has primarily played on the left of a front 3 this season. Aston Villa have set up mostly in either a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-3 this season, which has seen the Villa captain play on the left side of the attack, where he will often cut inside to central areas so that he can get on the ball more frequently. When Villa have set up in a 4-2-3-1, he has started in his much more preferred number ten position, which is his most natural position to play in. This allows him the freedom to influence all over the attacking third. The tactics of the side are often to get Grealish on the ball as much as possible, as he is by far their most potent creative threat in the side. Due to his impressive ball retention qualities and his attacking output, he has become a bit of a mix between a 2020 midfielder and a ‘number 10’ as we would know it. Most sides are moving, or have already moved, to midfield 3’s, so don’t utilise the traditional number 10 anymore. By looking at his xGChain90 – 0.60, we can see how much he influences his sides attacking play, as he is heavily involved in the shots taken by Villa. He also averages 2.70 key passes per 90 as he is very capable at picking out runners and is on his way to mastering the through ball.

Aston Villa attacking midfielder Jack Grealish

Now, when we look at United, it might not be glaringly obvious where he would fit in the side. At the moment, we usually line up in a 4-2-3-1, and this seems to be the formation that Ole is going to stick with for the majority of our matches, for the foreseeable future at least. With the recent signing of Bruno Fernandes, he now occupies the number 10 role in the side that we so desperately needed as Ole has said in interviews, in Bruno he now has his long term number 10, so Grealish would not presumably usurp him. This also means, that if Grealish was to join, it is highly unlikely he would get many plays in his preferred position. On the left wing, Rashford has that spot more or less solidified in stone, so again, not much chance for Jack on that left side. That either leaves him as a bench player, to rotate for Rashford and Bruno, or for him to play a role deeper in midfield. Now in this situation, if Pogba stays, a Bruno, Pogba and Grealish midfield is extremely attacking and would most likely struggle, especially against the bigger sides. A better scenario, for Grealish, would be for Pogba to leave and then for him to operate in a midfield pivot with either Matic or McTominay (assuming no other midfield signings take place this summer). Either of these midfielders would be able to operate the holding role in front of the defence much better, and cover for Grealish’s lack of defensive prowess. Grealish is press resistant to an extent as dribbling and holding on to the ball are some of his strongest qualities, as he completes 2.3 dribbles per 90, so would definitely help us with our creativity from midfield and moving the ball into the attacking third. This is all assuming he could carry over his skills from further up the field, and bring them to this deeper role he would have to take up. Most likely, and probably the best scenario, is that he is a replacement for Lingard and/or Pereira wherein he doesn’t play all games but plays quite a few positions to a high level, so plays quite a few games filling in for other players to get a rest.


Many of the reports that are linking the Red Devils to Jack Grealish are suggesting a fee in the region of £60-70 million, which is a steep price considering his market value of around £35 million; but is to be expected with a young, English player playing in the Premier League. This valuation from Villa could change if they get relegated, but at the moment we are not exactly sure how this season will end. For the price being quoted, there are other signings who either fit the teams style better, or are a lot cheaper as they don’t carry the British premium. Despite this, if we do end up buying the Villa captain, it could still be a signing that works out for us, but would require some moving around of current players and maybe even tactical tweaks.

Who is the Player of the Season (so far, maybe)?

As the season looks to come to an early close due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, we are not sure as to when, or even if, the season will start up again. With this in mind, we should look at some of our best individual performers over the course of our up and down season. Who impressed? Who vastly improved? Let’s have a look at 5 players who could be debated as player of the season…


Fred

Appearances39
Starts33
Minutes Played3,087
Goals2
Assists4
Stats across all competitions 19/20

26 year old Fred has made huge strides this season to become one of the most popular players at the football club. Statistically, he made improvements in nearly every single category; in the league he was up from 1.7 to 2.2 for tackles per game. He attempted 0.28 less dribbles a game (1.55) yet completed 0.34 more dribbles a game than last season with 1.17 completed per 90, meaning his dribble success rate rocketed from 45.5% to 75.5%! This suggests that he has become much better at deciding when to initiate one of his dribbles. Interceptions have also been on the rise, up to 1.63 per 90. Despite his increase in tackles, his fouls went down from 1.94 per 90 to 1.63 per 90, ironically his yellow cards per 90 nearly doubled. Even going forward, Fred made 1.25 key passes per 90, up from 0.89. One part of his game that does frustrate fans is his shooting, this season he shot 23.6%, not great, but much better than his 8.7% last campaign! 30 of his 37 shots were from outside of the area, a problem where he still needs to shoot less from distance. xGChain is the total team-adjusted xG earned by the team on possessions in which the player participated, where Fred’s was 0.45 per 90, meaning the possessions he was a part of directly should have resulted in around half a goal a game. When he was playing, our goal difference was 1.49 greater per 90 than when we played without him. Just using the eye test, it was easy to see that this season, Fred was brimming with much more confidence than last, he has been tenacious, hard working and much more relaxed on the ball. A very good season overall from the Brazilian.


Harry Maguire

Appearances41
Starts41
Minutes Played3,642
Goals2
Assists2
Stats across all competitions 19/20

This season, Maguire has come into the club, become the captain, and has had a quietly ever improving season throughout his stay so far. Averaging 1.7 interceptions and 4.4 clearances a match, he has been a dominant force at the back, leading the side very well. With 141 final third passes (3.48 per 90) this gives him the second highest total at the club (only behind Fred), this stat gives us an insight that despite being a centre back, he is great at progressing the ball forwards rather than keeping it deep. Whilst playing, United’s goal difference was 4.29 greater per 90 than when he was off the field! He has averaged 0.96 shots a game as he has consistently posed a threat from set pieces, if anything slightly under-performing, missing 2 shots of greater than 0.45 xG. 18 of 22 of his 26 shots were from set pieces, showing his aerial presence. There is room for improvement, particularly in the tackling department, but he had a very good United debut season and long should it continue.


Marcus Rashford

Appearances31
Starts27
Minutes Played2,364
Goals19
Assists6
Stats across all competitions 19/20

This season, Rashford made huge strides towards being one of the leading wingers in the Premier League. Despite having his season ended early by injury, his hard work before hand has to leave him in consideration for player of the year. With 19 goals by January, he had a very good chance of hitting 30 goals in all competitions by the end of the season. Whilst playing, he combined with the other attackers brilliantly, finishing chances from James and linking with Martial beautifully at times. He had 1.56 shots on target per 90 whilst dishing out just over 1 key pass per 90. His dribbling success rate was pretty much identical to the previous season, however it was at a much higher rate this time around, with 4.56 attempted per 90 compared to 2.95 last season. This shows the level of confidence he had this season when going forward. This is further shown by him completing 9 nutmegs, the cheek! His xGChain per 90 was 0.61 showing he was heavily involved even when not being on the end of the play himself. Of his 74 league shots, 32 were from outside of the box with 0.06xG per shot, suggesting he may be better to shoot a bit less from distance, especially when his shots from within the penalty area had an xG per shot of 0.30, much better chance of scoring. Despite this, he was a brilliant spark in our season, and much deserving of a nomination for player of the season.


Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Appearances34
Starts34
Minutes Played3,051
Goals0
Assists2
Stats across all competitions 19/20

As recently mentioned in our article “Aaron Wan-Bissaka – Becoming the right back we need?“, our right back has been brilliant for us this season, and has been improving throughout it. Averaging 3.4 tackles a game at a success rate of 80.4%, he has been a brick wall for opposing wingers coming up against him, with his ability to make a last ditch tackle having been showcased many times this season. With 1.9 interceptions and 1.8 clearances per 90 as well, Aaron has proven that defensively, he is one of the best full backs in world football. Going forward, he has attempted 2.71 crosses per 90 alongside his respectable dribble success rate of 67.1%. With 0.71 key passes per 90, he has become increasingly involved in attacks as the season has progressed, with his confidence slowly growing and the coaching teams insistence on repetitively practising attacking scenarios with him. The recovery speed he possesses has also proven crucial at times this season, with him racing back to halt counter attacks often. It is not common for a signing to come in and make the impact on a team that he has, but he has done this exceptionally.


Anthony Martial

Appearances34
Starts30
Minutes Played2,526
Goals16
Assists5
Stats across all competitions 19/20

This season, our number 9 has been asked to lead the line as a centre forward for the first time, and has taken to the task like a duck to water. With 0.53 goals (excluding penalties) per 90, the Frenchman is scoring just over once every other match from open play. With 0.43 goals per shot on target, he is finishing as clinically as ever, even in the face of much criticism at times this season. With an xGChain per 90 of 0.67 (one of the highest at the club), his role as a “false 9” this season can be seen as he drops deeper to help link up play for other players. This was particularly notable during his absence with injury, in that period the rest of the attack struggled to score, then on his return exploded into action again. This can also be seen as whilst on the pitch, the team’s goal difference is greater by 1.66 per 90 than when he is absent. Once again, as with all his seasons at United, he is outperforming his xG as he continues to put away difficult chances; in fact only Greenwood at the club has outperformed his xG in more impressive fashion than Martial. With a dribble success rate of 62.8%, he continues to excel in tight areas as seen with his goal against Watford. When all things considered, particularly how the side struggled without him, he definitely deserves to be in the conversation for player of the season.


The 5 players I discussed, I feel, all have strong shouts to be considered United’s Player of the Season. Do any of these players stand out from the other? Did I miss out anyone that should’ve been considered? Discuss in the comments, would love to hear everybody else’s opinions.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka – Becoming the right back we need?

When we signed Aaron Wan-Bissaka in July of 2019, we all knew we were getting a fantastic defensive right back, one of the best in the world at stopping the opposition. Despite this, there were many questions being asked of his offensive output, last season in 35 league appearances for Crystal Palace, he accumulated 3 assists with 14 key passes over the entirety of the season. It was not known as one of his strong points, but to many United fans, this didn’t matter; they were just elated to finally have a top, young right back for the foreseeable future.

PlayerWan-Bissaka
Appearances34
Goals0
Assists2
Tackles115
Interceptions61
Tackle Percentage80.4%
Crosses per Game0.3
Stats for all competitions (except Crosses per Game which are PL only) as of season suspension.

Over the course of the season, our number 29 has more often than not performed very well and consistently put in solid performances. His tracking back and inch perfect slide tackles have been incredibly valuable to the side. His tackling percentage of 80.4% is excellent, especially considering he is such a high volume tackler, attempting 4.22 per 90 minutes this season (his highest per 90 attempts of his career). When taking into account tackling accuracy and tackling volume, Wan-Bissaka ranks as the best tackling player in Europe’s top 5 footballing leagues! He is excellent defensively, and a simple eye test tells us that much. We’ve seen how he has dominated the duel against City’s world class winger Raheem Sterling in their match ups this season. How is he going forward though? Has he improved since he joined United?

Wan-Bissaka tackling City’s Raheem Sterling.

Last season at Crystal Palace, Aaron averaged 1.76 crosses per 90 minutes of football, whereas this season this has increased to 2.71, an increase of very nearly 1 cross per game. On the surface, this gives the impression he has at least partly improved upon his attacking game. However, looking at just crossing statistics doesn’t tell us the full story. This season, United have often set up with an inside forward on the right wing, a player who will spend much of the game cutting inside and utilising the centre of the field, meaning Wan-Bissaka has had to often patrol that flank on his own. This has brought about its own difficulties. Often, when pushing forward, he would become quite isolated on the ball as he wouldn’t have many passing options to play off of. Often, this leads to him either losing the ball, or turning around to pass backwards. Some of the fan base grew impatient with watching the right back struggle going forwards, even though it wasn’t strictly his fault with the lack of support from the right winger being a major factor in his struggles. This is one of the reasons that it has been widely accepted that we needed to purchase a right winger this season, hence the strong Sancho links (click here to read how he would fit in our side).

According the The Athletic, Wan-Bissaka has been partaking in individual attacking drills recently, where Carrick and McKenna have been putting him up against Fosu-Mensah and Teden Mengi with the objective of beating his man. This has been fruitful, as since we started 2020, Wan-Bissaka has created 11 clear cut chances (11 clear cut chances in 2 months, where he created 9 in the nearly 4 months prior to this). To put this figure into perspective, creative Liverpool full back Alexander-Arnold has created 10 clear chances in that same period of time. We saw his new attacking intent many times against Manchester City in our last league fixture before the league was suspended. We saw him slalom between defenders to create crossing opportunities, as he completed 4 dribbles against them; the second most made on the field only to Joao Cancelo! When you compare this season to last, he has almost doubled his key passes per 90 from 0.36 to 0.71, very encouraging.

“It’s just repetition, they set up a zone and he’ll get used to receiving the ball and seeing the picture that appears in front of him. He is encouraged to go forward, which is the United philosophy. They’ve been doing the same with Brandon Williams as well. At the moment it’s about getting into the space and getting the ball delivered.It will take a while to come out properly. You can’t set something up on a training ground, do it for two hours, and think it’s going to happen in the next match. It’s two, three months of work.”

A source close to the player – The Athletic UK

It was only a few weeks ago, when playing against Chelsea where we saw more glimpses of this when he played a sumptuous cross in the box for Anthony Martial to meet for our first goal that night. By no means is he at his full capacity yet going forward, there is still room for improvement for the young full back. Despite this though, we have seen a definite improvement even in this season alone, partly due to his own increase in confidence, and some will be in part down to the coaching teams insistence on placing him on the individual drills. Let’s hope this can continue into the rest of this season if it continues, and if not, then into the 2020/21 season!

Manchester United 2 vs 0 Manchester City – Match Review

McTominay celebrating United’s second goal against Manchester City.

Three victories over Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City side since the start of December for Ole. Who thought that would have happened, even only a few months ago. With a very resilient defensive performance, and some quick, instinctive thinking from some players, United managed to run out as relatively comfortable victors in this match-up.

Manchester UnitedManchester City
Possession27.7%72.3%
Shots127
Shots on Target64
Passing Accuracy73%89%
Tackles1915
Corners211
Manchester United vs Manchester City Match Statistics courtesy of WhoScored

From this match, United had an xG of 1.74 whilst having an xGA of 0.59 (for a more detailed idea of what xG is, click here). This is fantastic as it goes to suggesting that we actually created much clearer cut and better chances than City did, something they characteristically do very well, whilst we usually struggle with it. Only 33% of our total shots were from outside of the box, a drastic decrease from our recent struggle of a performance against Everton; a great sign. Usually, the greater the proportion of shots from within the penalty area indicates they are creating chances better as they are shooting closer to goal, something backed up by the xG numbers. I have written and run a quick bit of code, using all the individual xG values for each shot of the game. When entered in, if the game was played 10,000 times with those exact shots, United would win 7,230 times, with 485 losses and 2,285 draws in the simulation. A 72.3% win percentage. This shows it wasn’t a fluke that United won 2-0, they were comfortably the better side.

Martial celebrating with Bruno after opening the scoring.

United had a PPDA of 15.03, compared to City’s 5.84. This shows us that we didn’t necessarily press very hard, allowing City a lot of time on the ball, hence their 72% possession throughout the game. The Blues also held the majority of the pitch territory with 25% of the match played in their third of the field. Despite this, they created nearly half the shots United did, as the Red Devils took advantage of their vulnerability to attacks on the break. Daniel James, despite making a few poor decisions on the ball, was a fantastic outlet throughout the match, using his pace to get in behind the back line and cause issues. Only 5% of City’s possession based attacks resulted in a shot, their lowest percentage ever in the PL (since the metric began in 2016) which further shows how well the team did to nullify their advances forward. One player who excelled defensively was Wan-Bissaka; 8 tackles and he was dribbled past 0 times. This season he has performed brilliantly when up against Sterling, proving his is an elite full back for the club.

Wan-Bissaka tackling City’s Raheem Sterling.

Bruno Fernandes put in another great performance for his side yet again. 25 total passes with 13 of them being forwards, over half! As previously discussed, this is an incredibly high proportion of passes being forward, up there with the best in the world. He won 10 duels, had 4 interceptions, 3 key passes, 3 shots and 1 very clever assist to Anthony Martial; quick thinking and Tony being on the same wavelength allowed United to get ahead 30 minutes into the game. It was a brilliant chipped free kick, which Martial volleyed home first time before the defence could even react. This means in 5 league games, he has 5 direct goal contributions; our Portuguese magnifico! Brazilian midfielder Fred linked up with Bruno again more than any other player, and had a very good game in his own right once again. Shaw also continued his resurgence of form as a left centre back of the back 3; at the same time though, Williams struggled again as the left back, he was dribbled past 6 times and then in the second half was targeted as nearly two-thirds of City’s attacks came down his flank. McTominay also came off the bench to score a fantastic opportunistic goal. Ederson threw the ball out to open space in the dying moments, but no players in blue got on the end of it; McTominay hit it first time from 30 odd yards out into an empty net to send Old Trafford into raptures. His effort had an xG of 0.15!

United’s average positions over the match.

We started in a 3-5-2, but above we can see it wasn’t completely rigid. From the average positions, it is evident Bruno played high throughout the game, even ahead of James. This could be seen throughout the game, as he would surge forward to instigate a high press and stifle their attempts from playing out of the back. Another highlight to note is how high Williams’ average position was, which could have contributed to him being caught out so many times throughout the game, he could’ve done with dropping slightly deeper nearer to Shaw. All in all though, it was an excellent game. The game plan from Ole was spot on, despite criticisms of him this season, he gets the big game tactics spot on.

Match Ratings (5 being the base, out of 10)

Manchester United 3 vs 0 Watford – Match Review

A masterful display from United number 18 Bruno Fernandes propelled the club to a convincing 3-0 win over the Hornets on Sunday afternoon. Our new Portuguese magnifico pulled all the strings and had a hand in all 3 goals, one expertly taken by himself. After a very shaky first 15 minutes, which included a multitude of errors from numerous players, the team eventually began to settle down and gain possession of the ball, even if they didn’t dominate territory on the field for a vast majority of the game.

Manchester UnitedWatford
Possession58%42%
Shots217
Shots on Target92
Passing Accuracy80%74%
Tackles2115
Corners35
Manchester United vs Watford Match Statistics courtesy of fbref

For the game, United had an xG of 2.3 to Watford’s 0.3, suggesting it was a comfortable win for United due to the chances they created. The Red Devils were attacking a lot down the left hand side of the field, with actually 50% of them from that flank. This was due to Fernandes and Martial often drifting over to that side to create an overload alongside James who started out on that wing. I don’t think it can be overstated enough just how important Bruno was to the whole performance of the team. He was so progressive on the ball, looking to play forward at all times. 45.9% of his total passes were forwards! This is very high, even for an attacking midfielder, such a positive mindset showed on the rest of the team, and it is no coincidence that Daniel James had his best game for months. Another positive is how close Bruno Fernandes was throughout the game to Martial, which meant the striker was not as isolated as he usually is. This showed as the pass that created Martial’s goal was directly from Bruno as he played a lovely through ball for the Frenchman.

Bruno Fernandes and Anthony Martial

Another thing that was a marked improvement on the game was the location from where the shots were being taken. This season, United have taken nearly half their shots from outside the box, which generally are low chance shots. In this game however, 71% of their shots were taken from within the 18 yard box. Despite this domination of both possession and chance creation, they gave up territory of the pitch. Only 22% of the game was played in Watford’s third of the field. United were able to exploit the space in behind of Watford who played with a very high line, with all three of their goals coming from fast break opportunities; in fact United had 5 counter attacks, 4 of which resulted in a shot, a first since the Louis van Gaal days. Watford’s high press caused United all sorts of problems in the first 15 minutes, the pinnacle of which resulting in a mix up between Maguire and Matic which let Deeney through on goal, to only be expertly stopped by Luke Shaw, who himself had another excellent performance.

Victor Lindelof tackling Gerard Deulofeu of Watford

As we can see from the players’ average positions, all of James, Martial and Fernandes were playing on the left hand side of the pitch for a lot of the game as they overloaded on that side. Interestingly, Greenwood’s average position was very deep as he looked to get on the ball a lot, particularly in the first half. In the second half though, it seemed as though Solskjaer instructed Mason to hold out wider to the touchline, and this brought the benefit of allowing Bruno some more space centrally as less United bodies were occupying the space.

Overall, it was a good win for United, and aside from the first 15 minutes, it was quite a convincing performance from the Red Devils, with plenty of chance creation and good counter attacking sequences. Luke Shaw had another excellent game as he had a resurgence in form, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka was quietly consistent as he has been all season. Hopefully, we see more of this on Thursday!

Match Ratings (6 being the base, out of 10)

Manchester United vs Watford Preview 23rd February 2020

Luke Shaw battles Watford striker, Troy Deeney for the ball.

In the aftermath of United’s 1-1 draw with Club Brugge, it looks like Ole has decided on some changes already, well before kick off. Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira both seem to have been left out of the matchday squads with no sign of injuries. This could be a result of both of the players poor performances earlier on in the week. Here is a predicted line up for United, based on the managers recent comments he has made and recent choices of players.

Predicted lineup for Manchester United vs Watford

We are likely to see the team start in a 4-2-3-1, with the relatively successful 3-5-2 formation having been reserved for away games only recently. After being rested midweek, it would be no surprise to see James back in the mix alongside Bruno, who impressed on his short cameo on Thursday. With United likely to maintain a lot of possession today, Greenwood will look to get on the ball on that RW and make plays with Martial and Fernandes. However, to beat Watford, this is the lineup I would go with instead.

Our preferred lineup vs Watford

There are not many changes from the predicted lineup to this one, the only changes being Williams in for Shaw at left back as he will provide more attacking impetus against a team that will look to sit deep. Also, Martial drops to LW with Ighalo upfront, this is done again with the idea we will have much more possession than Watford throughout the game, and Martial possesses more creativity than James so we would be wise to try and get the Frenchman on the ball as much as possible; then upfront Ighalo will not have to drop deep for the ball with Martial and Fernandes behind him, so he can concentrate on fulfilling his role as the lone striker. McTominay has returned from injury, but will likely start the match on the bench after 2 months away injured.

Manchester United players celebrating Anthony Martial’s goal vs Chelsea earlier in the season.

Watford’s style of play is predicated on a high proportion of long balls (16%) being played, so United will have to be wary of that when coming up against them. They have only scored 1 goal from a set piece this season, with the vast majority (71%) of their goals coming from open play. They are likely to match United with a 4-2-3-1 formation that will probably look something like this.

United will likely look to their new signing Bruno to provide much of the creative threat up against Watford, but it will need to come from more than just him if United hope to beat the Hornets, with the Red Devils struggling to break down lower table sides this season. They will want to avoid a repeat of the opposite fixture only 2 months ago, where Watford came out 2-0 victors.

Prediction: Manchester United 3-2 Watford