Manchester United have a lot of attacking players who play the game with a lot of flair and panache. If the club sign Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho, whom they look eager and destined to do so, Manchester United would be well-stocked in the forward areas.
However, it is in defensive midfield, which is a specialist position, where they lack bodies. Nemanja Matic is getting old. The Serb would be 32 in August, and the others aren't specialist defensive midfielders either. Fred is a box-to-box midfielder, and so is Scott McTominay. Paul Pogba's attacking abilities are lost when the Frenchman is played in a withdrawn role.
On that note, here is a look at six defensive midfielders Manchester United should look to sign in the next transfer window.
#6 Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus)
Potential Transfer Fee: €50 million
The player: Yes, Uruguayan international Rodrigo Bentancur is not a defensive midfielder, but he has played as one and is quite decent in that position. A two-footed player, he combines elegance with hard work and tenacity across the midfield.
Bentancur has shone as a defensive midfielder for Juventus in the absence of the injured Sami Khedira. Only 22, he fits the profile of the type of signings United have been making under the stewardship of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.
Analysis: Juventus, like most clubs, are cash-strapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic and would be willing to cash in on players not named Matthijs de Ligt, Merih Demiral and Rodrigo Bentancur. Having signed older players on free transfers for years, the 'Old Lady' is now feeling the burden of astronomical wages a tad too much to carry.
However, with Juventus looking to keep younger players and sell the more experienced ones, the Turin club may not be too willing to part with Bentancur.
Transfer Possibility Rating: 1/10.
#5 Declan Rice (West Ham)Declan Rice needs to find his best position soon if he wants to fulfil his potential.
Potential Transfer Fee: £60 million
The player: Declan Rice divides opinion like a few other youngsters to have emerged out of England in the last few years. Some say he is the next Vieira while others opine that Rice runs around the pitch like a headless chicken. The 21-year-old is undoubtedly an up-and-coming player. But with all due respect, he is not worth that sort of money, not yet anyway. Like most young players, he is struggling to understand his best position.
Analysis: Players undergo a massive transformation during their careers as Roy Keane did. When the Irishman joined United, he was a box-to-box midfielder. His trademark runs from midfield sparked many a United comeback. Keane gradually transitioned into a ball-winning central midfielder, and then into a defensive midfielder shielding the back four. If Declan Rice nails down a position on the pitch and has a decent season, he may justify such an outlay. At present, that is not the case, though.
Transfer Possibility Rating: 1/10.
#4 Denis Zakaria (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Potential transfer fee: €30-40 million
The player: Denis Zakaria was signed by Borussia Moenchengladbach from Swiss side BSC Young Boys to replace the outgoing Mahmoud Dahoud, who left to join Borussia Dortmund. The 23-year old has been a bright spot in North Rhine-Westphalia. Born in Geneva to a Sudanese mother and a Congolese father, the midfielder is adept at playing as a defensive midfielder, a position he has predominantly featured in this season.
Analysis: Zakaria has gained valuable Bundesliga experience and is considered to be one of the best young central midfielders in Europe. His tackle success rate is high though he lacks discipline and has tended to leave the defence exposed. Zakaria has picked up seven yellow cards in 18 appearances as a defensive midfielder this season. If he can adhere to a disciplined approach, he would be a bargain at that price.
Transfer Possibility Rating: 2/10.
#3 Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Potential transfer fee: £60-70 million
The player: Born in the Aveiro District of Portugal, Ruben Neves grew up supporting Porto and joined their academy aged eight. He debuted for the Portuguese Primera Liga runners-up in 2014 aged 17. Starting and scoring in a 2-0 home win against Maritimo, Neves became the youngest player to score a goal in the Portuguese top-flight, a record previously held by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Just a year later, the midfielder captained Porto in a 2-0 victory over Maccabi Haifa in the UEFA Champions League. In the process, Neves became the youngest captain to start a Champions League game, beating the record set by Rafael van der Vaart at Ajax in 2003.
Neves joined Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2017 for an undisclosed amount thought to be around £16 million, reuniting with former Porto boss Nuno Espirito Santo. By the end of that season, he would walk away with a hat-trick of club awards, winning the Player of the Season, Player's Player of the Season and Goal of the Season accolades as Wolves were promoted to the Premier League. He has since been a mainstay in an exciting Wolves team and was named captain of the club for the first time in September 2019 in a FA Cup tie against Reading.
Analysis: Manchester United had been interested in signing the Portugal international when compatriot Jose Mourinho was in charge at Old Trafford. Wolves value their man at upwards of £60 million, a sum that United have seemed, thus far, reluctant to pay. Neves is a part of a settled team competing for a European spot. The midfielder is a part of a significant Portuguese contingent at Wolves that includes Diogo Jota, Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho, factors which may derail any potential deal for Neves.
Transfer Possibility Rating: 3/10.
#2 Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City)
Potential transfer fee: £70 million
The player: Nigeria star Wilfred Ndidi is the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League. Signed from Belgian Pro League runners-up Genk in December 2016 for a paltry £17 million, Ndidi made his debut for Leicester City in a 2-1 win over Everton in the FA Cup.
He has since been an everpresent in the Foxes' lineup as a defensive midfielder this season and is one of the main reasons for the club's ascendancy to third place in the league standings. Ndidi's importance to the Leicester side can be gauged from the fact that the club lost momentum and resultantly, a firm hold on second place, when the Nigerian was out injured.
Analysis: Leicester City are known to be shrewd operators in the transfer market, and won't allow their star man to leave on the cheap. If United decide to launch a bid for Ndidi, they may well have to fork out close to £80 million, having signed Harry Maguire for that amount at the beginning of this season. The transfer is thus unlikely to be a reality. However, United may be willing to spend a bit extra to get themselves a proven quality midfielder in the Premier League.
Transfer Possibility Rating: 3/10.
#1 Thomas Partey (Atletico Madrid)
Potential transfer fee: €50 million
The player: Ghana star Thomas Partey joined Atletico Madrid's reserves in 2011, and joined Mallorca and Almeria on season-long loans in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The youngster made 70 appearances in two years for the two clubs before coming back to Atletico.
In the last five seasons, Partey's stock has risen multifold, and he is now touted to be among the best defensive midfielders in the world. His elegant and yet combative playing style suits Atletico perfectly. Partey is one of the main cogs of the Rojiblancos' battled-hardened defensive unit.
Analysis: Partey is said to have a release clause of € 50 million in his contract. At that price, he is a bargain, and any club which secures his services would get a player entering his prime.
With an ageing Nemanja Matic, it would be prudent for United to look for the Serb's replacement. Matic's presence in the squad would also enable Partey to acclimatise himself into the Premier League gradually. Partey's inclusion in the team would allow Bruno Fernandez and Paul Pogba to play in their favoured positions further up the pitch. It is perhaps time for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer to call Ed Woodward and say, "Let's get this Partey started."
Transfer Possibility Rating: 5/10.Published 26 Apr 2020, 13:16 IST