Manchester United want to strengthen their central midfield options this summer and two players are emerging as key targets. The Guardian report that the Europa League champions are set to sign Nemanja Matic from Chelsea for a fee in the region of £40 million, while personal terms have also been agreed. This suggests that the deal is far down the line and could be completed during the next seven days. However, Gazzetta dello Sport report that United are keen to bring in Radja Nainggolan from Roma and are prepared to pay up to €45 million to bring him to Old Trafford.
It seems unlikely that they will sign both players this summer as they already have a number of options to play central midfield. Ander Herrera emerged as a key figure last season, while Paul Pogba remains the most expensive player in the history of football. It is unlikely that either one of them will not be starters when the season kicks off in August. In addition to those two, United also have Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini. One more central midfielder would be a good addition to add competition, but there is no need for two.
Last season makes for an interesting comparison as although both share some similar qualities, they are very different players. Radja Nainggolan is a more versatile centre midfielder, capable of playing different roles, with his aggression and work rate being his most notable attributes. They are both good ball winners with an impressive tactical understanding of their role on the pitch, but the Belgian offers more in possession.
Nainggolan averaged 1.69 successful tackles and 1.13 interceptions per ninety minutes during the 2016/17 season. This is slightly worse than Matic, who completed 1.24 tackles and 1.84 interceptions during Chelsea’s title-winning season. These stats show that both are good at winning back possession, but they thrive in different ways. The former is aggressive and better in the tackle, whereas the Serbian international more focused on positioning and reading the game.[interaction id=”59528d6b4649b4e34eadd530"]
It is in possession that Nainggolan stands out, as he contributed 11 goals and five assists during the most recent campaign, which is better than Matic who got one goal and seven assists in the Premier League. These suggest that the latter is a more creative player, but that isn’t backed up by the deeper creative stats. The Roma man averaged 2.02 chances created per ninety minutes, compared to Matic’s 0.90. There is a lot of controversy regarding how much the assist stat tells us and in this case, it is not a lot, as the Chelsea midfielder isn’t a prolific creator of chances.
In terms of passing, Matic is more impressive based on last season, as he ended the campaign with a pass accuracy of 88%, which is superior to the 80% managed by Nainggolan. The Serbian was more involved on the ball, as he averaged 61 passes per ninety minutes, which is over a quarter more than Nainggolan’s average of 44.7. It is clear that the former was more central to Chelsea’s game and that he was operating in a role where he received possession often. Given Roma and Chelsea use different systems, it is difficult to directly compare the stats, but there is a lot we can take from the ones discussed here.
United will be looking for a good foil for Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba, with the main focus being on finding a player that will free the latter to focus on influencing the game in the attacking half. For that, Matic is a better fit for the club, as he is a defensive midfielder. Whereas, Nainggolan operates best in a box-to-box role.
The Serbian international is disciplined in his style, as he rarely moves forward out of position and that would give more space to Pogba in attacking areas. The Chelsea midfielder may lack mobility, but that is provided by Herrera, who is more than happy to cover extra ground for his team. A midfield three of Matic, Herrera and Pogba could be the magic formula that Jose Mourinho has been searching for since signing the Frenchman.
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