3 Options for Defensive Midfield for Manchester United

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrating with Bruno Fernandes (photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

A position that Manchester United have no choice but to strengthen in, the CDM position has been neglected by the club for many years. The last time United signed a player in that area was Nemanja Matić in 2017.

The CDM is a critical area that many top teams in Europe have put a lot of attention to.

For instance, Casemiro at Real Madrid sat at the base of their midfield three which allowed Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić to create play but also have balance in the defensive phase, as he would act as a destroyer, disrupting the opposition’s offensive transition.

This allowed Los Blancos to be incredibly dominant under Zinedine Zidane particularly during his first spell as manager.

Luka Modrić, Casemiro and Toni Kroos (photo by Helios de la Rubia/Real Madrid via Getty Images)

So for this upcoming transfer window, United ultimately need to buy a central defensive midfielder.

The defence this season has often been exposed by the lack of cover as a result of the two usual defensive midfielders, Scott McTominay and Fred getting dragged out of position, not being disciplined enough and not having enough quality defensively.

Further, on the ball those two are horrendous. Their ability to recycle possession is basic and they offer next to nothing from the standpoint of ball progression.

Now what United need in terms of a defensive midfielder, is someone comfortable playing as either a lone 6 or someone who can be the more defensive option in a double pivot.

This will give the team greater tactical versatility depending on the opposition and allow United to be more flexible in-game.

I’ve selected 3 options as to who United should target. All of whom are French and currently applying their trade in Ligue 1. Also, they’re all 22 years old, which allows for a long term solution and plenty of development.

Boubacar Kamara

Boubacar Kamara (photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

The 22-year-old was linked with a potential move to Manchester United during the January transfer window, however, the club strangely rejected the player, despite the midfielder being valued at a quoted price of £10 million.

My only hope is that the club chose to go down this route because Boubacar Kamara will be available as a free agent for this upcoming season and given that, he would be a super addition to the squad.

Kamara is a ball-winner in multiple forms — someone who excels with pressing, winning duels and intercepting frequently. But, he’s also as comfortable against the press as he is when pressing himself.

Typically in possession, he is Marseille’s deepest midfielder, as he is comfortable in drawing opponents in through ball retention, then bypassing them either through silky footwork or combinations with teammates.

A common trademark of his is diagonal balls from the left side of the pitch to the right flank.

United need a midfielder who excels with ball-winning, as Fred is statistically the only midfielder currently at the club who is similar.

An aspect that makes a solid defensive midfielder, is their ability on the ball, particularly with their passing.

When compared with midfielders in Europe’s top 5 leagues, the Frenchman attempts 75.69 passes per game, which places him in the 94% percentile. In terms of his pass completion % per game, it’s at 90.2%, which places him in the 95% percentile.

Defensively, he’s pretty solid although there is still some improvement to be made.

Tackles, interceptions, blocks, clearances and aerials won are key metrics when looking at how good a defensive midfielder is.

Below are his averages for those respective categories per 90 minutes as well as his percentile amongst midfielders from Europe’s top 5 leagues;

  • Tackles (2.62, 71%)
  • Interceptions (1.90, 67%)
  • Blocks (1.67, 60%)
  • Clearances (1.70, 66%)
  • Aerials won (1.44, 61%)

Now while those statistics may not seem as impressive, Kamara is still pretty raw and would require a top coach to help evolve his game.

Nevertheless, United’s top targets for the next permanent manager in Erik ten Hag and Mauricio Pochettino, all played big parts in developing some top quality defensive midfielders, with ten Hag having a large role in assisting Edson Álvarez and Pochettino with Mousa Dembélé.

Under either one of those coaches, Boubacar Kamara could reach the hype that’s surrounding him at this moment.

For me, given his contract situation, he’d certainly be worth a risk. He’s a young player who’s hungry to improve and develop. United probably need to shift away from buying big names and become a lot smarter with their transfer deals, so this particular deal would make sense.

Aurélien Tchouaméni

Aurélien Tchouaméni (photo by John Berry/Getty Images)

This player will be getting linked to a multitude of clubs during this upcoming transfer window and honestly, it’s no surprise.

The young French midfielder has been touted as a potential option to replace Casemiro at Real Madrid. I mentioned how important Casemiro has been for Los Blancos, so it’s no shock that the club are looking at Tchouaméni to replace him.

Equally capable of playing as a №6 or a №8, Tchouaméni is a beast in the middle of the pitch, with especially noteworthy defensive attributes.

Tchouaméni could be described as a robust and athletic defensive midfielder, as he is more than comfortable in driving forward with the ball into advanced positions once he wins it back, rather than passing it out like many others.

He’s not just a typical defensive midfielder, as he does more than just sit deep and protect the backline; he combines his defensive nous with one eye looking into the final third.

This can be seen with the number of shots he takes per game in 1.57, which is unusual for a CDM, which places him in the 88% percentile when compared to midfielders in Europe’s top 5 leagues.

I mentioned before that Tchouaméni is defensively unbelievable for his age. If you’re looking for a really solid ball-winning midfielder, he is your man.

Tackles, interceptions and aerials won is where he shows his physical dominance, which is a rather necessary quality for the Premier League, given how physically demanding the league is.

The 22-year-old makes 3.91 tackles per game, which places him in the 98% percentile. With interceptions, it’s even more impressive, as he makes 3.29 per game, this places him in the 99% percentile. As for aerials won, he averages 2.71 per game, which places him in the 93% percentile.

These numbers are crazy given his age and his potential.

However, there’s a slight catch. Multiple clubs are interested in Tchouaméni, including United, Chelsea and Real Madrid. His contract expires in 2024, which gives Monaco some leverage in terms of commanding a hefty price.

It’s been quoted that the French club is looking for around £70–80 million. Now, that is rather expensive for a CDM. However, it’s more than likely that his value will increase over the next few years given how breathtaking his potential is.

Maxence Caqueret

Maxence Caqueret (photo by Philippe Lecoeur/FEP/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

It genuinely has been remarkable how this player hasn’t been talked about that much in the modern game. Maxence Caqueret seems to have flown under the radar slightly amongst big clubs but this somewhat out of the box signing could prove to be a smart move for Manchester United to make.

Now, he may not be the most physically imposing defensive midfielder you’re ever going to see, with the 22-year-old weighing approximately 66kg with a height of 5’8ft, he makes up for this with his immense work ethic and determination.

When watching him play, he is seemingly everywhere on the pitch (almost like N’Golo Kante for Chelsea), running around tirelessly doing a bit of everything as an all-action box-to-box midfielder. One moment you might see him spearheading attacks and the next you might see him sprinting back to cover for his full-backs.

His football IQ can be seen not just through his ability on the ball but his anticipation and decision-making, which makes him so difficult to deal with as an attacker.

On the ball, Caqueret mostly thrives with progressive passes and dribbles completed. This isn’t a surprise given his main influence growing up was the iconic Barcelona midfielder, Andrés Iniesta.

When analysing the Frenchman’s progressive passes, he’s ranked in the 89% percentile amongst midfielders in Europe’s top 5 leagues, as he makes 6.02 progressive passes per game.

In terms of dribbles completed, he’s ranked in the 90% percentile amongst midfielders in Europe’s top 5 leagues, as he completes 1.47 dribbles per game.

Defensively though, this is where his reputation was built upon in Ligue 1.

Obviously, due to his physical disadvantages, aerials won will not be a statistic that portrays him in the best light. However, with pressures, tackles, interceptions and blocks made per game, this just highlights his intelligence as a defensive midfielder.

  • Pressures (26.34, 96%)
  • Tackles (3.43, 93%)
  • Interceptions (2.12, 80%)
  • Blocks (1.87, 74%)

Defensively, Maxence Caqueret is a really solid defensive midfielder, and that along with his ability to play as either a lone 6 or in a double pivot could give Manchester United more solidity going forward.

In terms of how much he would cost, he could be an absolute bargain given his contract situation at Olympique Lyonnais. His contract expires in 2023 and he’s currently valued at roughly £15 million according to Transfermarkt.

A very cheap deal for a very good defensive midfielder, United should strongly consider going for him.

Final Thoughts

The French market, especially when it comes to midfielders, has historically been incredible particularly for the Premier League and the three midfielders I’ve suggested have all had impressive seasons thus far in Ligue 1.

I’d honestly be contempt if United went for either one of these midfielders, as they all offer something different in terms of playing style but when it comes to being defensively solid, they’re really good.

I think United will try to rival Chelsea for Aurélien Tchouaméni and why not? He’s a super midfielder and someone who would benefit from the expensive price tag set on him.

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James Renton

James Renton

Huge Perth Glory fan. Manchester United greatly contributes to my irregular sleep schedule. You’ll find analysis, tactics and opinions usually on the Glory.