MANCHESTER United’s recent managerial change – dispensing with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and appointing Ralf Rangnick on a temporary basis – has provided an uptick in results at Old Trafford, but many of the issues that contributed to the Norwegian’s demise remain.
Most notably: United’s lack of quality in the deep midfield positions. The much-maligned “McFred” pairing – Scott McTominay and Fred – continues to frustrate. Although still the go-to selection in the centre of the pitch under the new boss, they lack both the defensive qualities to properly protect the backline and the technical ability to maintain possession and build attacks, even if the Brazilian’s form has improved of late.
So, with the imminent new year bringing the chance to address such shortcomings via the January transfer window, here are five realistic defensive-midfield targets for United who’d be both attainable and would suit Rangnick’s heavy-pressing style.
The midfielder most regularly linked with a move to the red side of Manchester since Rangnick’s arrival in November has been Amadou Haidara, and for obvious reasons.
First and foremost, the 23-year-old plays for the club Rangnick essentially helped build, RB Leipzig, and is thus already accustomed to shape and tactical demands the German coach is currently attempting to implement at Old Trafford.
The Mali international has been in the Red Bull system since his mid-teens, having begun at Red Bull Salzburg. He boasts the pedigree of Champions League experience and three seasons at the top end of the Bundesliga, while crucially still having his best years ahead of him.
Able to operate either in a box-to-box role or as a defence-shielding No.6, Haidara has the energy, discipline and technique to instantly upgrade Rangnick’s options in the deep midfield positions. He is eminently gettable, too, thanks to a £33m release clause in his contract with RB Leipzig.
And it certainly doesn’t hurt United’s cause that, growing up, Haidara was a fan of the 20-time champions.
Just 22 years old, Marseille midfielder Boubacar Kamara is considered one of the hottest properties in French football.
A regular under-21 international for France, Kamara has been the linchpin of the Stade Velodrome midfield for three seasons, impressing with his tenacious approach to recovering possession and ability to play through pressure at the base of midfield.
The Marseille academy graduate will be out of contract in the summer and is reportedly keen for a new challenge. United could hang on until then in hope of a shrewd free transfer, but it is claimed that Newcastle United – newly cash rich post-takeover and desperate for reinforcements – might move for Kamara in January, prompting the Red Devils to weigh up a £10m offer.
Another potential bargain is AC Milan’s Franck Kessie, whose contract at the San Siro is set to expire at the end of the season.
The Ivory Coast international has starred in Serie A for six seasons now but is only 25 years old. He broke though at Atalanta – one of Italy’s most prolific developers of talent – as a teenager, standing out for his bustling physicality and driving quality on the ball.
More of a box-to-box operator than an out-and-out defensive midfielder, Kessie’s penalty-taking prowess and ability to break forward into the opposition’s box generated a career-high 14 goals last term.
Franck Kessie scored a double as he inspired AC Milan to a 4-2 win against Empoli, propelling themselves up to second place in Serie A! ????⚫️#TheGoalpostNews #FranckKessie #Kessie #EmpoliMilan #Empoli #ACMilan #Milan #transfers #calcio #Rossoneri #latest #SerieA #SerieATIM pic.twitter.com/hLL4If1IKD
— The Goalpost (@TGoalpost) December 22, 2021
A sound fit for one of the deeper midfield roles – albeit one with licence to roam – in Rangnick’s 4-2-2-2 system, Kessie would be a marked upgrade on Fred or McTominay, and his contract status should mean he is available for a relative steal.
Arsenal and Tottenham would likely rival any imminent move for Kessie, though, with the latter reportedly having already held talks with the player’s representatives.
Another Red Bull-bred option is RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams. The 22-year-old American midfielder is a product of the New York Red Bulls’ academy, and he played under Chris Armas, Rangnick’s assistant, in the Big Apple before his Bundesliga move in 2019.
One of the stars of a vibrant, emerging young United States national team, Adams is disciplined, versatile and possesses a mature leadership for his tender years.
Although he is an obvious tactical and philosophical fit for Rangnick’s new-look United, Adams has featured infrequently for RB Leipzig this term, making just seven starts before the Bundesliga’s winter break. And, with his contract running until 2025, it could prove costly to tempt the German club to part with a developing asset.
A reported target for Chelsea in the January window, France international Aurelien Tchouameni has the calibre to upgrade United’s flagging midfield.
Stylistically, the 21-year-old Monaco midfielder might be better regarded as a potential long-term replacement for Paul Pogba, rather than a direct upgrade on McTominay or Fred, such is his all-round quality and creativity. And he would not come cheap – with several top clubs tracking the youngster, Monaco are believed to be holding out for at least £50m.
“He is a complete midfielder, very fast and physically strong,” said Paul Mitchell, Monaco’s sporting director. “He reminds me of Steven Gerrard. He is already a top player despite being only 22, but if we want to become a top club, then we should not sell him.”
If there is an advantage for United in the Tchouameni stakes, though, perhaps Rangnick can lean on his connection with Mitchell for the inside track on the French midfielder, after the pair worked together with RB Leipzig