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Manchester United were lauded for their transfer policy last summer. Much maligned previously, the Red Devils invested in young Brits and have reaped the rewards. If their reported interest in Schalke's Rabbi Matondo is anything to go by, they've added a new filter to their search: must play in the Bundesliga.
The Red Devils are thought to be one of the leading contenders to sign Borussia Dortmund‘s Jadon Sancho, but every top club in Europe is scrambling to snare the 20-year-old and United could miss out.
According to the Manchester Evening News, 19-year-old Welsh international Matondo is United's alternative.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær had hoped to sign Sancho last summer. When it became apparent the Londoner would remain in the Bundesliga, he pursued Daniel James instead. Former United team-mate Ryan Giggs, now in charge of Wales, supplied Solskjær with reports on the former Swansea City speed merchant to help oil the wheels.
Solskjær will surely be hoping for another assist from the United legend if he settles on Matondo this summer. The teenager has been included in every Welsh squad since his first call-up in November 2018.
Who is Rabbi Matondo?
Born in Liverpool, Matondo played for Cardiff City as a youngster before getting his big move to Manchester City in 2016. Like Sancho, he decided he was ready to play first-team football and, in January 2019, signed for Schalke for £11million.
The comparisons with Sancho's path don't stop there. Matondo has had to be patient since trading Manchester for Gelsenkirchen. He made his senior debut as a substitute against Borussia Mönchengladbach three days after signing but finished his first half-season in Germany with just a single Bundesliga start.
Under coach David Wagner, Matondo has been exposed to more first-team football. Before the Bundesliga hit pause following the COVID-19 outbreak, Matondo had made eight top-flight starts and played in 608 minutes.
Used in his preferred position out wide or through the middle as a striker, Matondo has thrived under Wagner and believes the former Huddersfield Town boss' style of play has got the best out of him.
“Well, it's helping me,” Matondo said of the German tactician. “Like when I do get the opportunities to play for Schalke, I enjoy playing because I know that the way we play benefits me as well.”
Matondo added: “He has a special relationship, I'd say, with the whole team. He knows how to deal with players. Of course, he's managed in England and he's got a big reputation and you can see why because of the way he coaches, the way he says things in detail and explains himself. You just understand him and he grips your attention with his passionate way of talking as well. He's changed a lot.”
What sort of player is Matondo?
Matondo has already begun to repay Wagner's faith. In September he scored his first Bundesliga goal to clinch a 3-1 win at Julian Nagelsmann's RB Leipzig.
Holding his run to stay onside, Matondo controlled Amine Harit's pass before nudging the ball beyond onrushing goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi with all the composure of a veteran striker, sealing a showpiece victory for Schalke and Wagner.
Matondo's involvements are typically more explosive, with the Welshman admitting his speed and dribbling are his two biggest assets. It's no surprise, then, to see such a high volume of activity in the final third in Matondo's heat map (below).
Impressively, Matondo completes more than 50 per cent of the take-ons he attempts (per 90) however he's yet to record an assist, with a season xA of less than 0.5. But, importantly, he still creates 1.04 chances per 90.
A constant menace due to his lightning-quick pace and his one-on-one dribbling ability, Matondo averages 0.59 fast breaks per 90, which ranks ninth among all Bundesliga players. These are defined by Opta as “an attempt created after the defensive team quickly turn defence into attack, winning the ball in their own half (counter-attack).”
Areas for improvement
Like a lot of talented youngsters, Matondo is playing without fear – and it shows. The winger doesn't lack self-belief and that is evident in the way he plays. On occasion, he bites off more than he can chew, trying to beat too many players when laying the ball off would be more effective.
There's also work to be done in terms of his decision making. But when you consider he is only 19 and has fewer than 30 senior appearances to his name, that's not surprising.
In the still below, for example, Matondo leads a three-man breakaway against Hoffenheim. He should drive to the left to open up space for Guido Burgstaller to his right. Instead, he runs into that area, dragging the defender with him and the move breaks down.
In the same game, he again holds onto the ball too long as Schalke break once more.
Having used his searing pace to advance deep into the Hoffenheim half, Matondo has drawn every defender onto him, leaving a team-mate free to his left. Instead of picking out that player's run, he holds onto the ball, tries to beat three players and the chance is gone.
What is abundantly clear is Matondo has all the tools to become an elite dribbler. Explosive pace, confidence and a spell-binding close control. He just needs some refinement. Something he will only learn in game situations.
If he can get his head up, learn to make better decisions and add a greater end product to his game, he will soon be talked about in the same breath as Sancho – and not just because both left City for the Bundesliga.