Three Options for a Paul Pogba Replacement

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It’s virtually impossible Paul Pogba will stay at Manchester United after his contract expires.

His move to Old Trafford in 2016 was a blockbuster signing. A promising young player who had a successful stint with Italian powerhouse, Juventus returned to United with a point to prove.

Coming through the ranks at Manchester United, there was clear potential in Pogba. As an academy product, he had a few opportunities to test himself under legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

In search of more game time, the Frenchman declined to renew his contract in 2012 and made the move to Turin a few weeks later.

Almost 10 years later, Pogba’s second stint at United has been a disappointment. The term inconsistent had been popularised around Paul Pogba, as everyone knew of his potential however it was rare to see him deliver on a consistent basis.

Now with Erik ten Hag coming in, he has identified that central midfield will be a priority position.

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Pogba departing will leave a significant hole there however, there are three options that I feel United should explore.

Frenkie de Jong

(Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

The message is pretty simple for Manchester United; go big or go home.

It was an incredible turn of events when reliable journalist, Gerard Romero, reported that there was a 95% chance de Jong could make the move to United.

Now, while many don’t share Romero’s views, the signing if completed would be a gargantuan deal.

Frenkie de Jong is without a doubt one of the best central midfielders in Europe and Erik ten Hag has identified him as a critical piece of the jigsaw at Old Trafford.

The two had spent time together had Ajax for a few years and it’s no surprise as to why ten Hag wants de Jong.

The Dutchman is a very intelligent and tactically gifted midfielder, capable of protecting, maintaining and advancing possession.

He is effective in all three major areas of the pitch, whether it is in the build-up phase, creatively in the midfield third or by assiting attacks in the final third.

His ability on the ball, whether it is progressive carries (7.06 per game, top 5% of midfielders) or progressive passes received (4.63 per game, top 5% of midfielders), he deserves to be in that elite category of midfielders.

This season for FC Barcelona perhaps hasn’t seen him set the world on fire however he has been relatively consistent.

Some of his personal top statistics in La Liga this season include:

  • 8th for Passes into Final Third Completiton, 84.02%
  • 8th for One-Touch Passes Completion, 84%
  • 10th for Expected Goals in the Build-Up (xGBuildup), 19.44
  • 14th for Expected Goal Chain, 27.47

The 25-year-old still surprisingly has some improvements that can be made in his overall output however if Erik ten Hag could find newer levels in de Jong, United fans would be in for a treat.

However, the downside is that Barcelona, despite their financial situation, won’t sell de Jong for anything less than €80–85 million according to Fabrizio Romano.

The hope is that United have ten Hag on their side along with Barcelona’s dire state financially. There is a chance this deal could be done, however let’s be cautiously optimistic.

Sergej Milinković-Savić

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Now I know there are a few Manchester United fans that don’t want Milinković-Savić at the club and I respect that.

But, in saying that, I do feel that the Serbian international would be a terrific signing for the Red Devils.

In 2018, United were linked with a move for Milinković-Savić when José Mourinho was the manager however a fee could not be agreed.

Now with the 6’3 midfielder’s contract expiring in 2023, it’s clear that Lazio will most likely have to sell him.

Operating as a right sided box to box midfielder under Maurizio Sarri, Sergej Milinković-Savić has had a sensational season for Lazio.

In 36 appearences in Serie A, the Serbian international has scored 11 goals and registered 11 assists.

His stamina, athleticism and physicality are admirable traits and would see him suit the Premier League to a tee.

He’s got the cabability to perform defensive actions in and around his own box but also make lung bursting runs into the opposition’s penalty area and get on the end of crosses.

His distribution has been one of his key elements this season, as he ranks in the top 1% of midfielders in Europe’s top 5 leagues for progressive passes received (6.22 per 90).

Below are some of his top statistics from the Serie A this season:

  • 21st for Goals scored, 11
  • 16th for Shots on target, 30
  • 24th for Big chances, 37
  • 41st for Expected Goals (xG), 6.75

For me, the 27 year old could really transform United’s midfield and provide terrific physical and technical qualities that could see the Red Devils make the charge into the top 4 next season.

When looking at how much he might cost, Fabrizio Romano has reported that Lazio would like at least €70–75 million.

United do need a Pogba replacement and Sergej Milinković-Savić possesses many of the qualities the Frenchman had.

Fabián Ruiz

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When looking at technically gifted midfielders, there aren’t too many better in Europe than Napoli’s Fabián Ruiz.

This season, he’s had quite an impressive hitout scoring 7 goals and grabbing 4 assists.

Ruiz is the type of midfielder who advances beyond an opposing midfield, to break the last line of defence (as he is in a withdrawn role) from which he demonstrates a highly impressive passing range.

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 wide passing range are 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.

His passing clearly is one of his best attributes, as he ranks in the top 3% of midfielders in Europe’s top 5 leagues for passes attempted (81.38 per 90).

Below are some of his top statistics in the Serie A this season:

  • 4th for one-touch pass completion, 86%
  • 7th for shot conversion outside the box, 62.5%
  • 7th for pass progression value, 0.71
  • 15th for tackles, 124

Due to the Spaniard’s contract situation, United could have the upper hand in this deal.

It’s likely that a deal could be achieved for roughly €55–65 million. Given the quality this player possesses as well as how crucial he could be for Erik ten Hag’s midfield, United should do their best to get this deal done.

Who should United go for?

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Maybe a very unpopular call but I feel Sergej Milinković-Savić should be the main target for Manchester United in central midfield.

Frenkie de Jong would be an excellent signing however, I feel that the deal would be too difficult for United to complete given the circumstances at hand.

As for Ruiz, he is a decent player who would offer a very technical option in the midfield.

But for me in the end, Milinković-Savić possesses a blend of physicality, technical prowess and tactical flexibility that would benefit the midfield massively.

The Serbian has been linked with a move away from the Italian capital for some time and United have been after this player for a few years.

I think he could do very well in an Erik ten Hag midfield and offer both the Dutchman and the club a different but possibly successful avenue going forward.

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