United need a winger, but need to prioritise other areas first – The Conventional Playmaker

Invariably when a new manager arrives at the helm of a football club, transfer rumours pop up left and right. And with Manchester United’s appointment of Erik ten Hag, the club are overseeing an overhaul, with major outgoings, and the prospect of new recruits, especially those already familiar to ten Hag following his time as manager of Ajax. United have been heavily linked with defender Jurrien Timber, midfielder Frenkie de Jong, and winger Antony. But regarding the latter, United’s focus at first really should be on the areas the former two cover.

Antony, a right-winger for Ajax, is undoubtedly a promising talent. He essentially replaced the berth Hakim Ziyech vacated two seasons ago upon his transfer to Chelsea, and offered a similar enough profile; inverted wide player, in-swinging deliveries, even if Antony perhaps hugs the touch line a bit more before moving inside when dribbling against the left-back, and has shown he could also play on the opposing left flank, dribbling directly against the right-back, and offering a change of pace before shifting on the outside and crossing into the penalty-area.

Adding Antony to United’s ranks for a reported £51m* would not only give ten Hag and his coaching staff a player he has already helped develop, but also possibly allow United easier integration to the style of football ten Hag wants to play. Antony played in the specific and flexible 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 systems adopted by ten Hag during his tenure at Ajax, and is regularly threatening with his passes, completing 5.31 progressive passes per 90.**

United’s issue over finding a consistent starter on the right-wing now borders on cliché, so it does not come as a surprise that they are looking for one. Daniel James was a hard-worker, had pace, and was a good fit for certain sorts of games, but did not win all fans over and moved to Leeds United last summer. Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata were never naturalised wingers, and have since left the club this summer, and many of the current roster capable of playing on the right spend much of their time on the left-wing; Sancho, for example, played 24 of his 29 Premier League games last season on the left.***

But it can be argued that although signing Antony would not necessarily be a bad thing, as United would only be bolstering their attack, that their focus and the majority of their reported £120m**** transfer budget should be aimed at signing midfielders and a right-back.

Notable tactical issues for United last season included inconsistency from full-back positions, whether that be tactical or rotational, being overrun in midfield, and lacking defensive stability in transitions, and needing a wider range of passes from deeper midfield positions. The aforementioned Timber and de Jong are two reported targets.

Timber, albeit primarily a centre-back, can also play at right-back, so would offer cover for two positions. United were culpable of full-backs not providing enough output going forward last season, especially on the right-side, whereas full-backs for ten Hag’s Ajax sides would often maraud forward as the wingers moved inside. Whilst Noussair Mazroui has secured a move to Bayern Munich, Sky Sports reported United are interested in Inter Milan’s Denzel Dumfries, who’s displays at last years Euros helped secure him a move to Inter.

de Jong would be an interesting coup for United, as he provides the adeptness on the ball under pressure United’s current roster of deeper midfielders perhaps lack.

But signing de Jong would perhaps not be enough, either. United are in dire need of an out and out holding midfielder, who can not only press win the ball back that way before starting attacks, but screen in front of the defence and provide protection when United are retreating against opposing switches from defence to attack, and better positioning to close down passing lanes.

RB Leipzig’s Konrad Laimer is disciplined, an excellent presser, uses the ball well, and can play in an array of roles. He would also be available for a reported £34m as per Sky Sports, far less than what is wanted by Barcelona for de Jong.

Scott McTominay and Fred both have their qualities, with Fred being one of the better performers during Ralf Rangnick’s underwhelming interim spell, but they are not natural holding midfielders: both are frantic, box-to-box types, with both being more effective when they are able to push higher up the pitch and either press to win the ball back (Fred), or get on the end of chances around the edge of the box (McTominay).

Not to mention, although Antony would again only strengthen United in attack, United do already have depth on the flanks. Although last season they spent a lot of time playing on the left, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Elanga can all play on the right-flank, and will be in contention to start on the right-side, unless ten Hag has plans for Rashford to play up front or wide left and Sancho to play wide left, or perhaps further infield as a no.10 of sorts, as he did at points for Borussia Dortmund. Whilst Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo will surely be hopeful of more opportunities with the first-team this season. It is also worth United having an option on the flank who provides more off-ball runs than one constantly receiving the ball to feet and dribbling inside.

United being in the market for a right-winger is not something to complain about, and nor would signing Antony. But there are more pressing issues that need to be dealt with before indulging the attacking department any more so.


**As per stats (Champions League) via www.fbref.com

***As per stats (Premier League) via www.fbref.com

****Reported by www.theAthletic.com


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