Manchester United need midfield reinforcements. Again.
It feels like the middle third has been an area United have been looking to improve for a number of years now and, though they’ve invested heavily by spending around £85million, they've failed to get it just right.
Nemanja Matić and Fred joined Paul Pogba in that part of the pitch while academy graduates Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay have forced their way into the first-team picture. Yet despite spending near £200million on midfielders since the summer of 2016, United are reportedly looking to bolster that part of the pitch again.
According to Manchester Evening News, the Red Devils are looking to bring in a central midfielder on loan until the end of the season. Atlético Madrid‘s Marcos Llorente tops the club’s wishlist. The 24-year-old only joined Diego Simeone’s side in the summer, making the switch from Real Madrid to fill the void left by Rodri’s move to Manchester City.
However, the £35million signing has failed to force his way into Simeone’s thinking and has made just three LaLiga starts. His Champions League involvement currently stands at nine minutes.
The small sample size makes it difficult to build a picture of the former Spain under-21 international. He didn't play much for Real before his cross-city move either. But by combining his stats over the past two seasons you start to understand why United might be keen.
Since joining Sporting in 2017 he's been involved in more goals (39 goals, 28 assists) than anyone in Portugal.
— Football Whispers (@FB_WHISPERS) January 15, 2020
He's used to seeing a lot of the ball, averaging close to 60 passes per 90, and he's frugal in possession, finding a team-mate with 92 per cent of his passes. Of those, he's playing near 17 per cent of them into the final third. He isn't necessarily a creator, he's more of a magician's assistant.
Llorente is handy in the air, winning 50 per cent of the 2.5 aerial duels he battles for per 90. He's averaged over ten ball recoveries, too, while making six interceptions. The 24-year-old is impressive in everything he does between both boxes.
With United reportedly close to signing Sporting maestro Bruno Fernandes, signing someone who can support him will be beneficial but not a necessity. The Portuguese playmaker is more than just a final-third player. He's diligent in his work off of the ball and that is what makes him such a talent. Unlike in previous years, the Red Devils don't need to sign someone to help unshackle him. They just need to strike a balance that allows their best players to express themselves.
With Fred, Matić, Pereira, McTominay and Pogba already at the club, there's enough quality there to see Ole Gunnar Solskjær through until the summer. Then they can address any weaknesses in the middle third. Trying to bed two midfielders into the team now, one of whom would only be a short-term signing, is a risk United really don't need to take. Not when they're only five points off a Champions League position with 16 games to play.
Fernandes' arrival will give Solskjær an attacking threat from the middle third he's not had all season. Pogba's injuries have deprived United of goals from midfield, with only McTominay (three) and Periera (one) getting on the scoresheet. In fact, only eight players have found the back of the net for United in the Premier League this term.
Fernandes gives them options. He brings goals and creativity to the team and this could well suit the likes of Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard. Big changes in January can be detrimental. Instead of kickstarting a season, they can derail it.
At the same time, fans want to see Matić phased out. At 31 he doesn't have a long-term future with the club but he still has a positive impact on the team and he's up to speed with the rigours of the Premier League. The same can be said for Fred, and Periera. Are they United quality? That is up for debate. Are they a better option than looking to bed in a player on a short-term loan? Definitely.
In order to give Fernandes the best chance of having an immediate impact, Solskjær needs to back the players he already has at his disposal. That means no Llorente. No James Maddison or Jack Grealish, both of whom are rumoured to be United transfer targets. It may even mean they sell Pogba now and only replace him in the summer.
Without everyone on the same page, Fernandes could be another expensive flop to add to the evergrowing list of wasted money at Old Trafford. Sooner or later, something has got to give. Now is the time to buck that trend.