The Paul Pogba problem
Manchester United have, so far, had a pretty solid 2021 summer transfer window.
Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane have been brought in to strengthen two previously weak areas of United’s team.
But, there are still a handful of positions Man United fans would probably like to see strengthened before the current window shuts.
The main one is likely to be defensive midfield. There are a couple of reasons for this, but the main one is so that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can actually play Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba in the same midfield three without being too exposed defensively.
Paul Pogba, for his part, is a quality player with the ability to win his side games via his searching through balls.
He has shown this on many occasions for France and against Leeds United last weekend. But, Pogba was largely deployed on the left for Man United vs the Whites.
And when he is used in his natural central midfield spot for Man United, we generally do not see the same level of quality from Pogba that we do both when he is out of position for United or when he is playing for his national team.
The main reason for this is because when he is used as a CM for Man United, he is forced to do more defensive work to make up for the Red Devils’ lack of a proper high-quality no.6-type player.
The issue with this, though, is that Pogba just isn’t a great defensive player. He would even come out an say so following a match with AS Roma last season:
"Just don't tackle. I don't know how to tackle - why should I tackle? That's my problem! I try to tackle and be the English guy. I need to practise more. I need to practise to tackle without arms. It's unlucky. I've been unlucky a lot this season with penalties.”
For France, meanwhile, his defensive duties are lessened as he plays alongside N’Golo Kante - arguably the best defensive midfielder in world football right now.
As a result, Pogba is given much more freedom and ability to express himself, leading to some top-quality displays for France.
So, the solution for Man United does seem pretty obvious. Sign a proper defensive midfielder who will do the majority of chasing and tackling, whilst Pogba can focus more on build-up play and creating chances.
And, at 101, we have picked out five players who we think can fulfil this role to give Man United one of the best midfields in England.
Yves Bissouma, Brighton
The first and arguably one of the best options to fill this role is Yves Bissouma of Brighton.
On paper, the 24-year-old seems like he would be the perfect final piece in Man United’s midfield.
He has plenty of Premier League experience, having now featured 87 times in the English top-flight for Brighton, so there should be no issue with having to give him time to adapt to the league.
Bissouma is also still only 24 years of age so, in theory, he is still yet to enter into his prime years.
Elsewhere, the Malian has already showcased he has the desired traits for the type of no.6 Man United need.
In the 2020/21 Premier League campaign, Bissouma ranked joint-second for the most tackles made in the division (114). 74 of those tackles led to his side winning the ball back, which was the second-most in the league last time out.
The midfielder also made the most combined tackles and interceptions of any player in the PL last term (174).
In comparison, Fred would make 135 tackles and interceptions in 2020/21, whilst Scott McTominay made just 99.
Wilfred Ndidi, Leicester
The next player Man United should target to complete their midfield is Wilfred Ndidi.
Ndidi is similar to Bissouma in many ways. He too is 24 years of age and also ranks pretty highly when looking at tackles and interceptions made – two of the main abilities needed in a no.6.
Ndidi would rank fourth in the PL for tackles made in 2020/21, notching 108. He also made the most tackles of any player in the midfield 3rd last seaosn (49).
And, he ranked fourth overall for most interceptions made and is the 2nd best midfielder on that list with 62.
The only potential issue with Ndidi, though, is whether Leicester would actually sell the Nigerian to a direct rival. And if they did, it would likely be for a huge sum of money, similar to the Harry Maguire sale several years ago.
Aurelien Tchouameni, Monaco
Outside of the Premier League, there are also a couple of defensive midfielders Man United should consider.
One of these is 21-year-old Aurelien Tchouameni, who currently plies his trade in Ligue 1 with AS Monaco.
Despite still only being 21, he now has nearly 70 Ligue 1 appearances under his belt, and has quickly become one of the division’s rising stars.
And he, much like Ndidi and Bissouma, are very defensively sound players whose main focus is disrupting attacks and winning the ball back.
This was demonstrated well in 2020/21, when Tchouameni ranked joint-first for the most tackles and interceptions made in Ligue 1.
Of course, there is the risk that the youngster will take some time to adapt to the Premier League, but his recent showings in Ligue 1 suggest that is a risk United should be willing to take.
Eduardo Camavinga, Rennais
At just 18 years of age, trusting Eduardo Camavinga to be Man United’s main defensive midfielder may be a slight risk.
But despite his tender years, Camavinga has already notched 84 appearances for Stade Rennais.
And, in those games, he has proven himself to be a serious talent with an incredibly bright future.
2020/21 would see the midfielder used in more of a box-to-box role, focusing on linking up play and creating space for his teammates.
However, Camavinga is also a workhorse and is excellent in tight spaces thanks to his close control and dribbling – traits useful for a defensive midfielder when his side are playing out from the back, like Man United often do.
It is also worth noting that in 2019/20, when Camavinga was used in a more traditional defensive midfielder role, he ranked fourth highest for the most tackles and interceptions made in all of Ligue 1, all at the age of just 17.
Declan Rice, West Ham
The final player Man United should target to be their new no.6 is Declan Rice.
Despite being only 22, he has already featured over 140 times for West Ham’s senior side, making him one of the most experienced players on this list.
Rice basically has every quality you could possibly want from a defensive midfielder.
He is a great leader and is already the Hammers’ captain, he presses very well, is excellent positionally, is a very capable tackler and is also calm and composed with the ball at his feet.
Rice is also, of course, already proven in the Premier League, unlike the two stars above.
However, Rice is also almost certainly the most expensive player on this list, with David Moyes of the opinion that the midfielder is worth ‘far more’ than £100m.
So, whilst Man United would no doubt love a player like that in their side, it is hard to see them being able to afford his fee this summer after spending over £100m on Sancho and Varane.
And even next summer a move for Rice doesn’t seem that feasible as the Manchester outfit will surely need to spend big on a new top-quality no.9 once an ageing Edinson Cavani’s contract expires.
All stats taken from FBREF.