If you were to ask 100 Manchester United supporters what they’d like to buy in the upcoming January sales, the chances are that 99 of them will give you the exact same answer.
United and their supporters have been crying out for a deep-lying central-midfielder for several years now, certainly one that has a reputation of performing at the very highest level and is capable taking United up a gear or two.
As reported by the Manchester Evening News on Monday, United will be shopping for a new holding, defensive-minded midfielder in January. The club decided that one was needed during the summer transfer window, before those plans were put on hold until next summer, following the big-money additions of Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, the club is now prepared to back interim manager Ralf Rangnick next month in his attempts to bring a new midfielder to Old Trafford.
Unsurprisingly, a plethora of names have been linked with moves to the club already, including long-term targets Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham, as well as RB Leipzig ace Amadou Haidara, who is well known to Rangnick, and Marseille youngster Boubacar Kamara. All four of those aforementioned names would bring their own talents and expertise to Old Trafford, but finances will dictate the shop United enter in a bid to purchase a post-Christmas gift for themselves and the supporters.
Rice and Bellingham, both young and, of course, English means that their price tags are likely to be far too high for United to even contemplate in January, meaning a foreign import is far more likely.
That means that United should consider turning to Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. The Serbian, who has reportedly fallen out with manager Maurizio Sarri, is being linked with an exit from the Italian club and linked with a move to Old Trafford – and it is not for the first time.
The Serbian, who is capable of playing in a variety of roles in midfield, either lying deep or playing on the shoulder of the striker, was wanted by former United manager Jose Mourinho back in 2018, but the Reds ended up signing Fred instead.
On reflection, it is impossible to compare what might have happened had United landed Milinkovic-Savic. He is far more attack-minded than what Fred is and his numbers prove that. In the last few seasons, the Serbian midfielder’s attacking output makes for consistent reading. He has had ten direct goal contributions or more in each of the last six seasons, including this term and it is not even Christmas.
In 2017/18 he was directly involved in 22 goals, in 2019/20 he had a hand in 16 goals and last season he had 19 direct contributions. His numbers make for impressive reading, that there is no doubt about. But does he fit the profile of the player that United need and have lacked for several seasons?
At first glance, you would have to strongly argue no. He is not going to produce the same kind of defensive characteristics that Rice or Haidara, for example, would. He, as proven by his statistics, is a player that likes to get forward and add goals to his game, almost like Bruno Fernandes, even though he is not quite as forward-thinking and flamboyant as the Portuguese star.
However, to counter that argument, United, certainly against Norwich City just over a week ago, looked bereft of creativity when going forward. Milinkovic-Savic, coming from deep, either to supply the advanced players or go for goal himself, could help Rangnick’s side in that sense.
Considering Rangnick has already made United harder to beat and more compact, plus the fact that Varane is to come back from injury in the not too distant future, the German may be prepared to release the handbrake slightly and focus on matters going forward. If that is the case, Milinkovic-Savic, given his experience his consistent numbers when it comes to his attacking output, United could do far worse than rekindling their interest in him if Lazio are prepared to cash-in.
Turning 27 towards the end of February, Milinkovic-Savic remains a good age to make an impact at United. Considering he would most probably be deployed in the defensive-midfield two alongside Fred, the Brazilian could take care of matters defensively and protect the back-four whilst the Serbian makes strides up the pitch to join the attacking contingent when United are in possession of the football.
Furthermore, his tall, physical frame would also help United at set-plays, both defensively and offensively, meaning he would bring a wealth of different qualities to the table.
At the moment, connections linking Milinkovic-Savic with United are nothing more than speculation. However, if his relationship with Sarri at Lazio has reached the end of the road, United may wish to revisit Mourinho’s wishes and sign him to carry out a specific duty that not many are capable of.
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