The thrilling 3-3 draw against Sheffield United was a game of many lessons for Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, especially from their incredible fightback in the last 15 minutes. But there are more pressing issues right now and one that Solskjaer needs to find a solution quickly is his midfield.
United have often lacked invention, creativity and the maturity needed to pose as a threat this season and it is evidently clear that Ole requires quality midfield reinforcements in the winter transfer window.
With January fast approaching, Ole will be hoping to firm up his list of targets but who could those targets be and what could they bring to Manchester United?
1. Ivan Rakitic
Ivan Rakitic has somewhat become a ghost figure at Nou Camp, ushered into the shadows by Ernesto Valverde. However, there is no doubting about the professionalism and quality of the Croatian and one which could be incredibly useful to his next club, if he does leave the La Liga champions.
United have shifted away from the short-term signings as of late, but will not be a crime for Ole to divert from that philosophy and go for Rakitic in the January transfer window. Signing the Barca man will make perfect sense, especially when United are in desperate need of a dynamic midfielder.
During United’s enthralling draw with Sheffield, Gary Neville of Sky Sports rightly pointed out the lack of leadership and maturity in the middle, with neither Fred nor Pereira taking the onus upon themselves to impress in the absence of McTominay and Paul Pogba.
Not only would Rakitic provide an extra option in the middle, but the experience and leadership of a player with such a decorated CV would definitely help. His trophy cabinet boosts of 4 La Liga trophies, 4 Copa Del Rey’s, a Champions League and a Europa League honour.
With United’s chances of a Champions League spot looking bleaker by the week, a strong push for the Europa League maybe on the cards and harbouring a player of Rakitic’s quality could provide the Norwegian with the exact ingredients he needs, even if it is short-term. Ivan Rakitic is a player of real class and evidently, United are pretty much starved of such an asset.
2. Sandro Tonali
From a short-term option to a quality long-term one. Brescia’s Italian midfield maestro Sandro Tonali is a player earmarked for greatness, and is reportedly on the radar of many top European clubs including Manchester United.
Self-labelled as a blend between Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso, Sandro Tonali possesses the necessary qualities to become one of the best of his generation. The 19-year-old has received high praise despite playing for a club currently bottom in Serie A. The Italian international, who helped Brescia to the Serie B title last season, has already been linked with the likes of Inter Milan, Napoli, Juventus, Real Madrid and Manchester City.
Tonali has featured three times for his country, most recently completing 90 minutes as they secured qualification to next years European Championships against Bosnia and in the 9-1 rout of Armenia last month. Being a very efficient, energetic and technically gifted young player, he possesses excellent passing range and vision and is blessed with an array unique skill sets. The Italian international is a leader among men, even at the tender age of 19.
Manchester United are currently clueless in midfield and Ole requires a player who can spur the team on when the odds are stacked against them. Sandro Tonali, even in his teens, boast those characteristics.
There is no doubting the idea that Tonali could successfully grace the Premier League. He could become the first among the host of young talents ready to grace the elite stages in world football. It’s only right that Manchester United harnesses one of them.
3. Boubakary Soumare
When was the last time Manchester United harboured a true ball-winner and box-to-box midfielder rolled into one?
Lille’s Boubakary Soumare is a player perfectly fitting that mould. Tall, quick on his feet, and a powerful presence on the ball and during tackles, Soumare is a player deserving of a grander stage. If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reported interest in the player is true, then the Theatre of Dreams could be the perfect platform for him to take his game to the next level.
A midfield trio of Soumare, Fred and Pogba could be a devastating one. This midfield line-up could potentially catapult United back amongst the best. It has been widely reported that Ole has scouted the player on several occasions this season, including Lille’s Champions League group match against Valencia which ended 1-1. Soumare put in an outstanding performance for the French side, showcasing his unique and dominant abilities in the middle of the park.
United lack a midfield player, barring Paul Pogba when on song, who can grab games by the scruff of the neck with marauding runs from midfield and breaching defences within an instant using his technical abilities. This is where Soumare enters the scene, possessing all those neccesary traits.
The French player is also frightening on the counter and effective when dribbling through the opposition defences, not to mention his unbelievable passing expertise. Ole and his team desperately needs the aura and excitement of the Theatre of Dreams back and Soumare could be that faciliator.
4. Sander Berge
Sander Berge is a player built for the big occasion, literally. The 21-year-old Norwegian is a mountain of a man, standing at 6 ft 3 inches. Well known in the gaming world of Football manager, the Genk midfielder is equally impressive in real life too and is said to be one of the brightest young midfield prospects in European football.
Having stood out in the Champions League this season, including the two group stage fixtures against Liverpool, Berge is attracting a whole of interest from clubs around Europe with Jurgen Klopp also reportedly keeping an eye on his progress. It is believed that £40-50 million will be enough for Genk to part with Berge. If so, United needs to get into the act rightaway.
When it comes to abilities, Sander Berge has it all. Efficient in the press, fantastic when dribbling, powerful in the tackle and holds the relative experience and character needed to become an instant success in the Premier League.
It’s clear United lack a mighty presence in midfield, and with Nemanja Matic’s influence on the wane, Sander Berge may just be the ideal candidate to strengthen United’s engine room. What’s also good about Berge is his influence on those around him. When he plays, Genk are a much better and dominant force. What Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could do with a midfielder of the ilk of Sander Berge is an interesting question.
5. Nicolo Zaniolo
Yet another talent primed for much more.
Manchester United are reportedly willing to pay £52million for Roma’s attacking midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo. For a player of his incredible qualities, 50 odd million may be too small a price to secure his signature. Rated close to £70million, the 20-year-old playmaker’s current contract at Roma runs till 2024.
Primarily an attacking midfielder, Zaniolo also possesses the qualities and the nous to operate on the flanks or as a roaming playmaker in a 4-3-3 setup. It is crystal clear that Ole Solskjaer’s options in the creative department just aren’t good enough.
Lingard, Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata are good squad players on paper, but they do not hold the necessary qualities to lead United back amongst the best. If Ole has any ambitions to get United there, Nicolo Zaniolo is just the perfect player needed in his team.
The wonderkid recently netted a brace for Italy and already has 7 goals for club and country in 17 games this season. However, Manchester United aren’t the only ones interested in his services with Paris Saint-German and Tottenham also keeping tabs on the Italian.
Zaniolo is an excellent player to watch and is arguably the sole reason for Roma’s upturn in form in recent weeks. Besides his accurate vision for a pass and incredible tactical understanding, Zaniolo also holds a knack for the audacious. Whether it’s a piece of trickery or scoring a stunner, he is a player fully capable of getting fans off their seats.
Anyhow, Zaniolo may be a tough target to secure in the January transfer window because of his recent new contract. It seems a wait till the summer for any potential deal for his services. But the question arises that can Ole ill-afford to wait that long.