Until Paul Pogba replaced Dan James in the 54th-minute, Leicester City controlled the midfield against Manchester United. Once the Frenchman came on, United had superiority in numbers, and thus also space. But for the opposition, Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi both put in excellent performances. In doing so, they provide food for thought for a United who may well be looking for midfield signings in January or June.

Potential Pogba transfer will require midfield signings for Manchester United

The signs are that none of United’s young midfield options are ready to be trusted as a first team regular yet, or at least not in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s view. The signs are also that Paul Pogba’s future may well be away from Manchester United. That combination means that United will need to find a long-term midfield option from somewhere.

Past reports have linked United with Tielemans. In fact, in 2019 he was said to have been a potential Pogba replacement for the Reds. Instead of delaying his choice waiting for a United offer to come in, Tielemans accepted Leicester’s offer and has developed well since.

His display against United on Boxing Day was typically good. Tielemans is central to Leicester’s play, as the stats show below.

Comparison to Pogba is fair for Tielemans

The comparison to Pogba is a fair one. 22-year-old Tielemans has similar stats to the Frenchman, who leads slightly in most regards, as you might expect. Their games, though, are not dissimilar. Tielemans has had more shots on target (per 90 minutes) in the last two seasons. Both have passing completions rates above 80%, although Pogba leads slightly. They share a similar emphasis on through balls to create chances.

When it comes to chances, Pogba offers more ‘shot creating actions’ per 90 minutes at 2.66 this season compared to Tielemans’ 2.07 and 4.34 last season compared to Tielemans’ 3.02.

The question isn’t whether Tielemans is better or worse than Pogba but whether he could be a good signing for United. These stats suggest he might. To the naked eye, without the help of stats, Tielemans is an impressive midfielder too.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have noted the Belgian’s performance and United’s scouting department will undoubtedly keep reporting on him.

 

Ndidi transfer would be potential Matic replacement

Ndidi, meanwhile, would be a replacement for Nemanja Matic, rather than Pogba. Matic is still United’s best defensive midfielder but is not mobile enough to play that role. To get the best out of Pogba, Fernandes, McTominay and Fred, United need a more mobile deep midfielder. Ndidi could be that.

When N’golo Kanté replaced Nemanja Matic at Chelsea, Ndidi replaced Kanté at Leicester. It took his some time to assert himself at the base of Leicester’s midfield but he is a reliable player now. He offers little in attack but is very good at what he needs to be: protecting the Leicester defence, breaking up counter-attacks and dominating midfield.

Manchester United's English striker Marcus Rashford (C) vies with Leicester City's Nigerian midfielder Wilfred Ndidi (L0 and Leicester City's English defender James Justin (R) during the English Premier League football match between Leicester City and Manchester United at King Power Stadium in Leicester, central England on December 26, 2020. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / POOL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. /
(Photo by GLYN KIRK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

A long time ago, Ndidi’s representative insisted that he would submit a transfer request if United were interested. Leicester have improved since, so whether that it is still true is unknown, but he would be an option.

Again, a comparison to Matic is easier to make. First to note, though, before considering statistics, is that Ndidi is undoubtedly a more mobile player. The eye test can tell you that.

Ndidi and Matic statistical comparison

In terms of passing, Matic has a better pass completion rate over the last four seasons but the younger Ndidi has, for the first time, a better rate this year (90.1%) than Matic (89.9%). They are both efficient with their passing.

With regards to pressing, Ndidi leads in pressing contribution over the last three seasons, applying pressure to the opposition on 743 occasions last year compared to Matic’s 276. Matic has played fewer minutes but offers fewer pressing actions per game.

Both contribute a great deal of interceptions, tackles and blocks. Offering some creativity going forward, Matic consistently leads in shot creating actions. If United are going to spend big on a midfielder, and Ndidi would demand a hefty price tag, they need one who can offer quality passes through the lines as well as defensive protection. That could be a concern. It has to be noted, though, that Ndidi plays in a Leicester team who sit back more often than United, thus having fewer opportunities to create chances for his side to shoot. These are things United will consider, though.

Ultimately, the displays of Ndidi and Tielemans elsewhere, not against United, will shape the club’s decision if they are to consider signing either of them. Leicester would demand massive fees for either and so options from abroad might be more sensible. Both, though, show similarities to midfielders at United who they would be signed to replace or complement. Both are possible United players of the future.

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