Manchester United’s transfer missteps in the summer (and for the last few summers) have come home to roost this season. While the attack hasn’t really sizzled, our defending has been on the range of nerve-wracking and shambolic. Victor Lindelof has come into his own and there are signs who could go on to a success on the pitch. But his partner Chris Smalling, well, has been Smallingesque. Jose Mourinho wanted to sign one or two centre-backs in the summer.
But bickering over targets between him and the board led to the current shambles at the back. Mourinho is set to approach the January transfer window with the target of signing a centre-back (or backs). As with all windows, Manchester United have been linked with a raft of defenders. The club are looking at Serie A for solutions and some interesting and young names are said to be on their radar. I’ll be trying to present a tactical analysis based on statistics of three of those players. I’ll be trying to assess the viability of a potential move to Old Trafford.
I will be using Chris Smalling as a base to judge some of the defenders. I have strong views about the Englishman’s ability and he has played way too many games for Manchester United than his talent or development deserved. Sorry Smalldini fans!
Joining Inter from Sampdoria in the summer of 2017, the Slovakia international has emerged as one of the top centre-backs in Italy. He played a vital role in Inter returning to Champions League football last season. The 23-year-old has also looked at home in Europe’s premier club competition this year. The likes of Barcelona are believed to be keeping tabs on him. If the notorious Italian newspapers are to be believed, Manchester United made a verbal offer for him last summer.
Skriniar has averaged close to two tackles and one interception per game this season in Serie A. In both cases, his numbers are better than Smalling and Lindelof. The Inter defender also knows how to put his body on the line and averages 1.3 blocks per game in Serie A.
But for those Manchester United fans whose eyes bleed when Smalling is on the ball, I have got some good news for you. Skriniar has a pass completion rate of 93.9%, which is a good eight points more than Smalling. The Inter centre-back averages around 69 passes per game, which is close to 30 more passes than our favourite Manchester United defender’s rate.
The Slovak is the kind of defensive leader Mourinho would love to have in his back four. A ball playing centre-back, he can also be a top hard-nosed defender when his team need him to be one. At 23, Skriniar also has a good ten years left at the top level.
However, his price could be a huge stumbling block for Manchester United. Inter have been in work to extend his contract since the end of last season. But Skriniar’s wage demands are said to be a huge issue for the Nerazzurri. A January move is unlikely but the Serie A giants could consider offers to sell him next summer. According to the Italian press, it would need a world record fee for a defender to price Skriniar out of the San Siro.
Would Ed Woodward consider paying such a hefty fee for Skriniar? He is 23, so he is at the age bracket where Manchester United might look to spend big as the Slovak could have a huge resale value if he continues to develop at the current rate.
Manchester United have been scouting the Sampdoria centre-back over the last few months. The Dane is believed to be on Jose Mourinho’s radar as an option for the January window. There are rumours that Woodward has been reluctant to spend big on a ready-made defender such as Toby Alderweireld and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly could be difficult to price out in January. Therefore, Mourinho, in tandem with the club’s scouting network, has been looking at younger and cheaper options.
The Italian press has been reporting for a while that the 22-year-old Sampdoria man is on Manchester United’s watch list. Transfer market guru Gianluca Di Marzio confirmed last month that the Red Devils are indeed keeping tabs on the Dane.
At 22, Andersen is a year younger than Skriniar and is yet to reach that level. His tackling stats are comparable to Smalling’s at Manchester United but he seems a better reader of the game than the Englishman. His interceptions statistics are double than the Manchester United defender. A closer look at this defensive stats, it emerges he is a defender in the mould of Rio Ferdinand. A good reader of the game, with the ability to play the ball from the back. An 88% passing rate and an average of more than 61 passes per game in Serie A suggest that he is good on the ball.
Serie A giants Inter Milan are keeping tabs on Andersen and even Tottenham and Arsenal have been linked with an interest. But he signed a new contract with Sampdoria last month, which is expected to take his price up. Italian clubs are notorious negotiators and a few clubs following the Dane, it would take a considerable fee to price him out of Sampdoria.
It would also be very intriguing if Sampdoria agree to sell him in January. A new contract in November suggests otherwise.
When Manchester United appointed Jose Mourinho in 2016, they also got Duncan Castles in the deal. Known in the world of football media as the ‘Mourinho whisperer’, the Scot has shown more commitment and loyalty towards the Portuguese than Rui Faria. He had an interesting story on Manchester United’s January transfer plans in the Scottish Daily Record last week. According to him, Porto’s 20-year-old Brazilian centre-back Eder Militao has been added to Manchester United’s watch list.
Porto signed the centre-back from Sao Paulo last summer and the Brazilian club are said to have included a lucrative sell-on clause. The Portuguese giants paid just €4m but could make a huge profit on him if reports of Manchester United’s interest are true. But is he good enough?
A cursory look at his statistics would suggest that he is different from the kind of defenders Manchester United are scouting. He looks a much more combative defender in terms of tackling but can also read the game properly as well. Again keeping Smalling as the base, his tackling stats are comparable but he averages two interceptions per game. However, he is not as good as on the ball as Skriniar or Andersen with a pass percentage of 83.4.
It is clear Manchester United are looking for a more ball-playing centre-back in January so their interest in Militao is more long term. With Marcos Rojo mostly injured and question marks over Chris Smalling and Phil Jones’ futures, the club could be in for a more combative defender next summer.
Militao is yet to play half-a-season of European football. A move to Manchester United in January could be too much too soon for him. The club could also wait and watch Militao for a full season in Europe before trying to sign him.
Mourinho has confirmed that he is not confident about signing players in January. He did add that if any business is done, only one player would join Manchester United in the winter window. Looking at the wreckage we call our defence, that one player will be a centre-back.
Manchester United’s transfer dealings in recent years have seen more misses than hits. Eric Bailly, the shiny new first toy of Mourinho’s era, has turned into Cast Away’s Tom Hanks in the deserted island of our club. I don’t know who his Wilson is but my guess would be Andreas Pereira. Victor Lindelof has been our best player this season and seems to be emerging as a leader. It’s a shame he is now out for a few weeks.
There’s a logic behind Woodward’s reluctance to back Mourinho when it comes to bringing in a new and expensive defender. However, the Manchester United manager could legitimately complain that Pep Guardiola was allowed to waste money on Claudio Bravo and Eliaquim Mangala and still bring in Ederson and Aymeric Laporte for vast fees.
Regardless of who’s right, Manchester United need help in the January window and signing a defender should be a priority. Smalling and Jones have been offered new deals but they should not be considered as long terms options anymore. Rojo is perennially injured and Bailly has fallen out badly with Mourinho. In terms of numbers, we look well stocked in defence but in reality, we are not.
Now the question is whether we will go and sign the right player for the team’s need? It is literally a multi-million dollar question.