Five Players Manchester United Must Sign This Summer

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

It’s been an absolute disaster of a season for United. Essentially, it’s followed Murphy’s Law of “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjær got the inevitable sack, United were kicked out of the Carabao Cup, the FA Cup, the Champions League and are now more than likely to not make the top four. There have been a multitude of issues at United this season and it’s going to take more than just bringing Erik ten Hag to the club.

Manchester United, as a club that supposedly has the ambition to compete and win major pieces of silverware, need to start acting as a big club. At this present moment, our biggest rivals in Manchester City and Liverpool are lightyears ahead of us, while Chelsea, Tottenham and even Arsenal are getting stronger.

United are in a very unfavourable position and they only have themselves to blame for it.

But, if there’s any positives heading into the 2022/23 season, it’s that they can start to rebuild in a proper manner to get back to where they belong. One area that must be adhered to as soon as possible is the recruitment.

An issue where United historically have fluffed around and tried to rescue transfer windows by signing an overpaid galactico. Now, with Ralf Rangnick at the club, United should simply act as a sponge.

This man has incredible knowledge of the game and yet for some reason we’re neglecting to utilise him in a more appropriate manner, such as implementing him as the technical director.

But in relation to transfers ahead of the upcoming 2022/23 season, United should really look to sign players based on what qualities they would bring to the team and how the squad will benefit collectively.

Too often, we’ve signed players for ridiculous prices and they’ve not helped with the team’s progression nor themselves as a player. Harry Maguire is a great example.

Maguire was purchased for £80 million, which was not his fault by any means, however we as a club were wanting to play an aggressive brand of football, which meant implementing a high line. Now, with Maguire having zero speed on the recovery and a very poor change of direction, it’s no surprise the team has suffered and so has the United captain.

So looking ahead for next season, realistically there should be four positions that the club should look to invest in;

  • A centre-back
  • A number ‘6’
  • A number ‘8’
  • A right-winger
  • A centre-forward

In relation to the centreback issue, there’s two takeaways for me; Raphaël Varane is a great centreback, Harry Maguire is not. Pretty simple stuff.

Varane was an excellent purchase by the club and while his injury record has been slightly discouraging, everytime he’s played, he brings a sense of assurance and composure to United’s backline.

Now obviously we can’t sell Maguire as it just isn’t possible, but we need to look at replacing him.

There are a few qualities that a new centre-back coming into the club needs to possess:

  • Good distribution
  • Left footed
  • Quick
  • Defensively solid

I feel that the United fanbase would be in agreeance that these qualities are essential for a potential new signing at centre-back to have.

A slightly unknown yet quality defender in Nico Schlotterbeck might suffice.

Currently playing for Bundesliga side SC Freiburg, Schlotterbeck has been a standout for his team, making 27 appearances thus far this season.

When analysing what kind of player Schlotterbeck is, he is described as a defender who excels with ball carrying, is exceptional at driving into dangerous areas with the ball and that he’s got a decent build to be a solid yet mobile central defender.

He would be an ideal replacement for Harry Maguire due to where he’s situated on the pitch. Despite playing in a back three for Freiburg, Schlotterbeck advances with the ball into areas similarly to Maguire.

A simple comparison could be the two’s heatmap this season.

Harry Maguire’s heatmap from the 2021/22 Premier League Season
Nico Schlotterbeck’s heatmap from the 2021/22 Bundesliga Season

When looking at how Schlotterbeck has performed from a statistical point of view this season, it’s been nothing short of outstanding for a centre-back of his age.

So as mentioned before, Schlotterbeck is a ball carrying defender and this is backed up by the number of progressive passes and carries he makes per game.

Per FBref, the German defender ranks in the top 11% of defenders in Europe’s top five leagues for progressive passes (4.18 per game) and the top 17% for progressive carries (4.05 per game).

His ability to progress the ball via dribbling is substantiated by his dribbles completed per game (0.77), now here he ranks in the top 2% of defenders in Europe’s top five leagues.

Defensively, his statistics have also been impressive. His best areas are his tackling (2.68 made per game, top 5% of defenders), the number of interceptions he makes per game (2.81, top 12% of defenders) and the number of aerial duels won per match (3.75, top 12% of defenders).

So already he’s got the potential to be a top centreback, but as alluded to before, he’s pretty quick too.

Despite his 1.91m frame, the German international reached a top speed of 33.38 km/h in the Bundesliga this season.

This will allow United to be more assertive and agressive when playing, as the team could now adopt a high line and not be as vulnerable if the opposition attempts to transition with speed by breaking in behind.

Signing Nico Schlotterbeck is a realistic proposition for United, as not only does his contract expire in 2023 but he’s valued at just under £25 million (per Transfermarkt).

It’s been a while since United made a smart signing. Schlotterbeck would be an excellent signing for a very good price.

The next signing that has to be made without any questions has got to be a number ‘6’.

Fans have been crying out for the club to sign a defensive midfielder as United haven’t purchased one since Nemanja Matić in 2017.

The player that Manchester United have got to sign for this position is Aurélien Tchouaméni.

Signing Schlotterbeck would more or less be a straightforward deal, however with Tchouaméni, United could expect some fierce competition, notably from PSG and Real Madrid.

Capable of playing that number ‘6’ role, 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.

His athleticism can be seen with his heatmap from this season:

Aurélien Tchouaméni’s heatmap from the 2021/22 Ligue 1 Season

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 1.55, which is unusual for a CDM, placing him in the top 13% of midfielders in Europe’s top 5 leagues.

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 aerial duels won is where he proves 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 3.17 tackles per game which places him in the top 11% of midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues. With interceptions, it’s even more impressive, as he makes 3.27 per game. This places him in the top 3% of midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues. As for aerials won, he averages 2.55 per game, putting him in the top 10%.

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 £50–60 million, so there’s definitely a deal there for United to go for and they have to, given how imperative it is for the club to sign a CDM.

The next position Manchester United will need to look at would be a central midfielder.

It’s about as inevitable as night and day that Paul Pogba will be leaving the club at the conclusion of this season, which is sad but ultimately, the player has been nowhere near his best nor has he been consistent enough during his time at the club.

In a dream world, Frenkie de Jong would be ideal to replace the Frenchman, However, that doesn’t seem possible at this moment, so instead United could go with the second-best option, Spanish midfielder Fabián Ruiz.

Possibly a name unfamiliar to a large portion of United fans, the midfielder has had a great season for Napoli in the Serie A, scoring 6 goals and grabbing 3 assists. What fans could expect from Ruiz should he move to Old Trafford is a midfielder who advances beyond an opposing midfield to break the last line of defence from which he demonstrates a highly impressive passing range.

His heatmap this season has shown him operating in multiple areas across the midfield third.

Fabián Ruiz heatmap from the 2021/22 Serie A Season

In his more attacking role he can break defensive and midfield lines with a single pass — he favours low, driven balls towards those making runs in beyond and, more than anything, possesses exceptional composure.

But what he can also offer from his vast passing range is lofted balls behind opposing defences, mostly seen to those making blindside runs from wide positions and moving behind the relevant full-back and/or when passes along the ground are unlikely to succeed in a congested area of the pitch.

Ruiz is certainly someone who United need, a player to give the side more quality and vision when going forward, because we’ve shown that we can’t just rely on offensive transition or Bruno Fernandes to create something from nothing all the time. Statistically, his numbers show that he is exactly the player that United need to partner Bruno.

Shot creating actions, which are the two offensive actions directly leading to a shot, such as passes, dribbles and drawing fouls, is an area where the Spaniard ranks in the top 9% of midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues, where he averages 3.20 per game.

His passing ability is also elite in many aspects as he attemps 80.02 per game (top 3%) and completes 89.1% of them (top 12%). When looking at how well Ruiz can progress the ball, he’s effective from either passing it progressively, averaging 5.73 per game (top 13%) or progressively carrying the ball, as he averages 6.46 per game (top 8%).

With his contract expiring in 2023, this could give United the upper hand in negotiations, as he is currently valued at roughly £45 million.

Moving onto the penultimate new position that needs rectification, United need to bring in a top right-winger.

Unfortunately, Marcus Rashford has seen an incredible decline this season. Some fans have suggested he should be dropped, others have suggested it’s a loss of confidence or interest, while a few have suggested he should be sold.

Whatever the case is, United need a right winger, as over the last few weeks Jadon Sancho has found his place in the team on the left flank.

With news of Erik ten Hag’s arrival at the Theatre of Dreams, Manchester United should look to bring in 22 year old Brazillian winger, Antony.

Antony is an incredibly exciting player and one that has really stepped up for Ajax this season, grabbing 12 goal contributions in the Eredivisie.

Antony is an inventive and intelligent player. His most notable attributes are his acceleration, speed, his dribbling ability in 1v1 situations and his crossing capabilities from deeper positions. We can see that he likes to cut inside onto his left foot from his heatmap this season.

Antony’s heatmap from the 2021/22 Eredivisie Season

Statistically, there have been multiple areas where Antony has flourished in this campaign.

His creative ability from the right is a key quality of his and this can be seen through his assists. This season, he averages 0.73 assists per game, putting him in the top 1% of attacking midfielders and wingers in Europe’s top five leagues. This is no surprise given his ability to progressively manipulate the ball.

Antony ranks in the top 8% for progressive passes (5.53 per game) and in the top 2% for progressive carries (11.34 per game).

Also, when looking at progressive passes recieved, which are ‘completed passes that move the ball towards the opponent’s goal at least 10 yards from its furthest point in the last six passes or any completed pass into the penalty area’, the Brazillian ranks in the top 1% as he makes 12.21 per game.

With his contract expiring in 2025, the deal could be slightly tricky however with ten Hag likely to become United’s next manager, perhaps a deal could be reached for roughly £40–50 million.

Finally, the striker position. Clearly with Cristiano Ronaldo ageing and Edinson Cavani leaving the club come the season’s end, United will need a long term replacement.

Many names have been thrown around, but Darwin Núñez is undoubtedly the best shout right now.

This guy is a superstar and the fact he’s only 22 shows that he’s got even more levels to reach. In the Primeira Liga, the Benfica striker has scored 24 goals and registered 3 assists in 24 games.

Now, regardless of what people think about the standard of Portugal’s top division, scoring that number of goals in that time frame is a sensational achievement.

Darwin Núñez is the kind of striker who can operate as a lone number ‘9’ but tends to drift to areas to the left where he can bend a powerful strike into the far corner.

Darwin Núñez’s heatmap from the 2021/22 Primeira Liga Season

When looking at the type of player Núñez is, he’s reminiscent to Erling Haaland, in that he is a big and powerful striker, where he can utilise his speed and dribbling to lead counter attacks or use his change of direction to get past defenders.

His spatial awareness for his age is decent, as he usually makes good decisions when moving relative to the ball, space, teammates and the opponents.

He’s also very good when it comes to occupying multiple defenders, by making lots of sharp runs across the defensive line, which causes defenders to follow him, getting dragged out of position and thus creating indecision elsewhere.

Now Núñez will be a difficult purchase due to a large number of clubs in the running for him but fortunately United are one of the frontrunners.

Núñez will be available for around £65–75 million. However, the value at which he could reach in the next few years would make the investment worthwhile.

Plus, he can learn from one of the best in Cristiano Ronaldo, who can assist him with perfecting his craft and adding new elements to his game. The club can’t miss out on this player.

Final Thoughts

It’s critical that Manchester United not only bring in the right manager but that they also back that manager with players who will effectively contribute to the team.

Too often, the scattergun approach with recruitment has made player and team development practically impossible.

These signings that have been suggested are all realistic options and senior board member’s should encourage the club’s entourage to strongly consider making those moves. This could really help the club not just in the short term but also the long term.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store