Last night’s goalless draw at home to struggling Hull City only emphasised a point that has been clear for some time: Manchester United need a striker.
It seems that if Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn’t able to find the net, then United struggle. The 35-year-old Swede has scored an impressive 14 Premier League goals in 21 appearances this term, but Jose Mourinho’s next highest scorers are Juan Mata and Paul Pogba with just four goals apiece.
That’s why it is vital that the Red Devils secure the services of a top-class forward in the summer, and, if recent reports are to be believed, they are closing in on one of the world’s very best.
For a while now it’s been the kind of rumour which borders upon being an open secret; reports emanating from France last night suggest that the prospect of Antoine Griezmann joining United in the summer is very real indeed.
Canal+ and Yahoo Sport were among the first to state that the Atletico Madrid superstar has reached the basis of an agreement over personal terms with the Red Devils, claims which were soon corroborated by the Telegraph, the Independent and ESPN FC.
The Football Whispers Index has been tracking this one for some time, and currently ranks Griezmann’s potential Old Trafford switch as a 3.2 out of five possibility.
Why the deal will happen
Although Griezmann only penned a new contract with Atleti back in June, there are widespread reports suggesting that the 25-year-old has indicated his willingness to move to United at the end of the season.
His current deal at the Vicente Calderon, which runs until 2021, sees him earn in excess of £6million per year, but it is believed that the terms he has agreed with the Red Devils will see that figure more than double, bringing him up to the same salary as his close friend Pogba, pulling in an estimated £15million annually.
United have apparently leant on Pogba’s close relationship with his international colleague to help convince Griezmann to make Old Trafford his home next season, and the Atleti star has even spoken of his desire to play alongside the world’s most expensive player at some point.
“I always ask Paul Pogba about Manchester United,” Griezmann told Sky in Germany in November. “I think they are a huge club with a really good infrastructure.
“I ask Paul about some of the players, and if they're really that good, or if Jose Mourinho is really that good.
“You hear a lot of things about Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain but right now I don't see me moving to a new club. But it would be awesome to play alongside Paul one day.”
A move to the 20-time champions of England will also give Griezmann the chance to follow in the footsteps of one of his boyhood heroes.
“I wear long sleeves when I play because of [David] Beckham, he did as well and he is my idol,” the Frenchman told Spanish radio station Onda Cero in September last year.
“He had a lot of class on and off the pitch. That is what I liked about him. No one had the right foot he had. I've never spoken to him but I would like to.”
United have not yet agreed a fee with Atletico for the purchase of Griezmann, but it has been widely reported that they are willing to offer £85million to trigger the player’s contractual release clause, effectively negating the need to negotiate with the Spanish club.
However, complex tax regulations could see the Red Devils forced to fork out more than that figure.
Why United need Griezmann
His 59th minute strike in the Copa del Rey semi-final first leg against Barcelona last night was Griezmann’s 15th goal of the season in all competitions.
Those goals have come in a total of 2517 minutes of game time, meaning that, on average, he scores once every 167.8 minutes.
READ MORE: WHY ANTOINE GRIEZMANN IS MANCHESTER UNITED'S PERFECT NO.10
By way of comparison, Ibrahimovic’s 19 goals have been scored in 2642 minutes of action for United this term, for an average of one every 139.05 minutes.
When you consider that Griezmann tends to play as a second striker, operating behind an orthodox No.9 – usually either fellow French international Kevin Gameiro or Fernando Torres – his strike rate appears all the more impressive.
And when figuring in his seven assists, he has been directly involved in a goal once every 114.41 minutes.
In league competition this season, Griezmann and Ibrahimovic have both maintained a shot accuracy of 57 percent.
However, the former Real Sociedad player’s eight La Liga goals have come from only 37 shots, meaning he needs just 4.63 efforts at goal for every time he finds the back of the net. That’s a far more efficient ratio than Ibrahimovic’s 6.56 shots per goal, and also better than the likes of Diego Costa (4.87) and Sergio Aguero (6.13).
That’s exactly the kind of ruthless finishing that has been conspicuous by its absence in Mourinho’s team this season. The Old Trafford side have no trouble creating chances, but they have been remarkably off-key when finishing them.
Indeed, having converted just 30 percent of their clear-cut scoring opportunities, United are the most wasteful team in the Premier League.
The Portuguese coach has already expressed his intention to extend Ibrahimovic’s United career into next season. The prospect of Griezmann playing off him will have mouths watering on the red side of Manchester.
Mourinho has reportedly identified Griezmann as the perfect option to replace Wayne Rooney at the club, as the clock ticks down on the 31-year-old’s magnificent 12-and-a-half-year stay at the club.
At 25, Griezmann represents the perfect blend of youth and experience. He already has Champions League and European Championships finals under his belt, but his prime years still lie ahead of him.
Even for United, who recently returned to the summit of the Deloitte Football Money League, £85million is a huge sum to pay for a player, and would make the gifted Frenchman the second most expensive player in history behind his close friend Pogba.
But with their struggles in front of goal this season, adding a forward of Griezmann’s class, if they get the chance, is a no-brainer for United.