Although there is still one game left to play, Manchester United’s Premier League season is essentially over.
The Red Devils cannot finish higher than their current standing at sixth, and can only drop as low as seventh, securing either Europa League or Europa Conference League football for 2022/23. So, it’s no surprise that Man Utd have already started planning for the new campaign.
Erik ten Hag has been appointed and will now be able to focus on his new club after the end of the Eredivisie season, and he has been warned by his predecessor that Man Utd will basically need a new starting XI to be able to contend with the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.
One of the positions Man Utd have been looking to strengthen for some time now, with many deeming it their top priority, is that of a central defensive midfielder. The role of the No.6 is so important, not just to help the backline but also the provide the transition between the defence and the rest of the team, the starting points of the attack.
There are quite a few popular defensive midfielders around Europe right now, and we’ve taken a look at just a few of the names either linked with Man Utd or that should be.
Watch the full video above to get the expert views of Feargal Brennan, James Robson and Muhammad Butt.
Declan Rice’s slightly altered role this season has unlocked a new level for the Englishman, and he can play as either a No.6 or a No.8.
The West Ham United midfielder has made 75 tackles in the Premier League this season and 61 interceptions, the latter the sixth-best record in the English top flight. It’s in this role that Rice made a name for himself as an impressive midfielder for club and country, while also being able to step in at centre-back.
But this season he has improved higher up the pitch. Rice has completed 480 passes in the final third this season, the 11th-best return in the Premier League, impressive considering his starting position. He also has 288 final third entries, the ninth-highest in the Premier League.
And Robson told the Squawka Talker Podcast that Rice could potentially be Man Utd’s long-awaited replacement for Roy Keane.
“It’s been a real disappointment to them that they’ve never replaced Roy Keane,” he said.
“A few times I thought they might, I thought Owen Hargreaves could have been it and Owen Hargreaves might have been but for his injuries. But they’ve never had that absolute box-to-box bossing midfielder and Declan Rice could be that.”
|Man United odds (2022-23 season)||Sky Bet|
|Premier League winner||33/1|
|Finish in the top four||6/4|
|Top half finish||1/50|
|Bottom half finish||12/1|
You have to be 18+ to gamble. UK only. All odds in the table above are accurate at the time of writing (10:00, 09/09/2022). BeGambleAware.
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Another option is over in the Eredivisie, with Ibrahim Sangare’s excellent season for PSV going somewhat under the radar. The key selling point here is to do with Ten Hag’s arrival. In his Ajax team, Ten Hag utilised Edson Alvarez as the pivot, and Sangare beat the Argentine in all the key metrics.
Like Rice, Sangare’s reading of the game helped him to make 72 interceptions in the 2021/22 Eredivisie campaign, with only two players managing more. He also ranked highly for duels won, with only four bettering Sangare’s 216, and helped PSV press high up the pitch, winning possession in the attacking third on 30 occasions.
But Sangare is just as good with the ball at his feet. Only five players in the Eredivisie made more touches than Sangare’s 2,588 in 2021/22, and he also attempted 2,027 passes – 626 of which were forward. He could be Ten Hag’s new Alvarez.
One of the surprise names to be linked with Man Utd in recent days is N’Golo Kante. That’s, of course, not because Kante is not good but just because it’s Kante. The Frenchman has been one of Chelsea’s best players since joining in 2016/17 and was instrumental in the Blues winning the Champions League last season. And, according to the Mirror, he is a target of Ten Hag’s.
But Kante hasn’t been his usual best this season. The 31-year-old has played 40 of Chelsea’s 61 games this season, amassing 2,551 minutes, which may be impressive for some but for Kante institutes a quiet campaign. Kante has struggled with injury problems across the season, though that hasn’t stopped him from having an impact on Chelsea’s matches.
The thing about Kante is that he is a different player from the one that joined Chelsea from Leicester City. He isn’t the deepest point of a midfield trio and, thanks to his growth under Maurizio Sarri, has become something of a devastating box-to-box midfielder, adding some attacking prowess to his defensive qualities.