Scout Report- Moises Caicedo

The winter transfer window is around the corner and various reports have linked the 19-year-old Ecuador international Moises Isaac Caicedo Corozo with a move to Manchester United. Moises plays as a midfielder for the Ecuadorian side Independiete del Valle. In this scout report, we will try to cover his playing style and how his addition can provide Manchester United with a different profile in their midfield department.

(Photo by Jose Jacome / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JOSE JACOME/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Player Profile

Caicedo joined the youth academy of Independiente del Valle at the age of 13. He was promoted to the senior side of the club in 2019. He debuted for Independiente del Valle in a 1-0 Ecuadorian Serie A win over L.D.U. Quito on 1 October 2019.  While he was travelling with the senior team, the 19-year-old would go on to be an important part of the Independiente del Valle side that won the U20 Libertadores at the start of 2020. Under their new manager, Miguel Angel Ramirez Medina, they went on and won the 2019 Copa Sudamericana, South America’s secondary club football tournament organized by CONMEBOL (equivalent to UEFA Europa League). This was their first ever continental title. The club wants to prioritise the academy and the promotion of academy players to the first team and their manager’s profile fits the bill perfectly. And Caicedo is probably the best example of this. 

On an international level, Caicedo made his Ecuador debut in a 1-0 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification loss to Argentina on 9 October 2020. He scored the first goal in a 4-2 win over Uruguay on 13th October 2020 at the Estadio Rodrigo Paz Delgado, becoming the first player born in the 21st century to ever score in CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying. Since the start of his professional career, the midfielder has played 2,367 minutes while providing 4 assists and scoring 7 goals in all competitions.

(Photo by Marcelo Endelli / POOL / AFP) (Photo by MARCELO ENDELLI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Playing Style

Independiente del Valle mainly play in a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-3-3 with two 8’s positioned between the lines. In this setup, Caicedo either play as the right-sided midfielder of the 3-man midfield or at the base where he drops between the two centre-backs, providing fluidic transitions from defence to attack.

Caicedo dropping between the Centre backs who take up wider areas when team attacks

As a right-sided midfielder, he tends to occupy areas in the right half-space or the centre of the pitch, depending on the position of the ball. With Ecuador, he plays on the left-side in a double pivot. The midfielder has already played a variety of roles (three to be exact) in two different teams for two different managers. This versatility is important for the development of a young talent. 

Caicedo’s Heatmap in Copa Sudamericana

Wherever he plays, Caicedo often scans his surroundings to find space and makes himself available to the ball-carrier. This ability helps him further up the pitch as these areas are more crowded. The Ecuador international has equally good instincts higher up the pitch. He combines well in tight spaces and is able to identify space to run into. He has an efficient shot taking ability as well, already scoring from outside the box on two occasions. While Caicedo can find his teammates between the lines, he doesn’t do it enough. He also makes the occasional mistake, due to his age, while attempting some passes.

Caicedo making himself available to receive the pass
Caicedo trying to find line breaking passes

His passes with his weaker foot are reliable. If he was to come to Manchester United, he would instantly become the second most ambipedal midfielder of the squad after Fred (Fred completed 28% of his successful passes with his weaker foot last season, Pogba around 12%). Caicedo rarely loses a duel, whether it is in the air or on the ground. According to SofaScore, he wins 4.4 duels per 90 minutes for a success rate of 56%.

Independiente del Valle often man-mark in midfield, which admittedly makes it harder to properly judge Caicedo on this end of the pitch. The intensity he provides when not having the ball is as inconsistent as the intensity he has when one of his teammates has the ball. Caicedo can lose track of his runner. This is the one major con in his game, but it can be fixed with good coaching and experience. 

Conclusion

Given that he recently turned 19 and has just one year of experience at senior level, that too in an inferior league in comparison to the standards of football played in English top tier and at Manchester United in general, a sudden change of environment at this stage makes it difficult to expect instant impact for any player of this age group. A good development plan is required to ease in such foreign talents in order to maximize their potential in the long run. 

Moises has the abilities which can make him a player in the mould of Nemanja Matic. But again, if everything goes right (by right, we are referring to all third-party rights issue being resolved and new work permit rules under Brexit allowing him to get a work permit without any fuss), a low transfer fee in the range of €5 million will not hurt a club of the stature of Manchester United. All things considered, if it goes through, fans can remain positive over acquiring a good potential player for the future for a modest fee.   

Tactical Analysis: RB Leipzig under Julian Nagelsmann

“Football is 30% tactics and 70% social competence”. The young manager is a hit in both aspects, may it be at FC Augsburg where he worked with current Paris Saint Germain boss Thomas Tuchel, may it be at TSG Hoffenheim where he learned from Ralf Ragnick and Huub Stevens. Despite being 32 years old, he has earned plaudits from even the most experienced managers in the game. Nicknamed ‘Baby Mourinho’, he is a fearless guy when it comes to taking risks. From opting to choose a highly defensive structure in his debut season at Hoffenheim to choosing a complete opposite structure in his following season, Julian Nagelsmann changes his tactical setup depending on the need of the team and the opposition he faces.


(Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Tactical Analysis

At RB Leipzig, he has again opted to prefer a high intensity counter pressing, counter-attacking footballing structure loosely based on the principle of Totaalvoetbal’, with players performing multiple roles in the team, right from defense to attack. Players with good technical ability and versatility like Dani Olmo, Marcel Sabitzer, Christopher Nkunku, Tyler Adams, Emil Forsberg, Nordi Mukiele, Lukas Klostermann, Marcel Halstenberg make sure that this ‘unpredictable’ nature remains in their every match. Nagelsmann prefers to use the ‘space’, hence relying on width through his wingbacks and the ‘half space occupation’ through his wingers who like to cut in and take central role or the most advanced midfielder tasked with the role of playmaking.

Julian Nagelsmann opted to use a 3-4-1-2/4-2-4 formation in his debut season at RB Leipzig with a ‘floating striker’ in support role (Youssuf Poulsen) and other striker(Timo Werner) pressing the defensive line and making runs in the channels when possession gets turned over. With the sale of pacy striker Timo Werner to Premier League side Chelsea FC, Nagelsmann has switched to a 3-4-2-1 for time being with 2 wingers and a floating striker constantly changing their position in attack. He has also opted to use a 4-2-3-1 on some instances this season. Even with this change in formation, he has sticked to his fundamentals of exploiting ‘width’ and making ‘triangles’ and/or ‘diamonds’ in final third of the pitch, constantly pressing the opposition in a systematic manner and forcing turnovers to counter attack in a fluid manner.

Despite facing some injury issues and new signings still adapting to change of scenario, RB Leipzig sit at 3rd position in the Bundesliga table with 21 points won in 10 matches, courtesy of in-form Dani Olmo playing in multiple positions and performing at top level.

Even though Julian Nagelsmann has some fixed principles on which he sets up his team, his rotation policy is very unpredictable which always gives his side an ‘element of surprise’ and equally capable of a ‘giant killing‘ on their own merit. These group stage matches for last season’s UCL semi finalists have been a good test for both the team and their young, ambitious and hungry ‘managerial wonderkid’.

Team News

Just like in their previous encounter, Manchester United will again look to create overloads in the center of the pitch and deploy a systematic manner of counter-pressing to nullify the strengths of Saxony based side. Absence of Fred (suspension) will be a big blow to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans. Also the absence of Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial puts entire load of leading the attacking line on Marcus Rashford who himself has been struggling with a recurring Shoulder injury. On the other hand, RB Leipzig will be without Lazar Samardzic (tested positive for Covid-19), Konraid Laimer, Lukas Klostermann, Benjamin Henrichs (all missing due to knee injuries) and Dayot Upamecano (suspension).

With Champions League group stage reaching it’s end, many teams are still in fight to win their places in Round of 16. Both Manchester United and RB Leipzig will fight it out in a ‘winner takes all’ kind of contest when both teams will ‘lock their horns’ on Tuesday. Manchester United despite their brilliant start to current CL campaign (which included a 2-1 win at Parc Des Princes against PSG and 5-0 rout of RB Leipzig) lost their way with a shocking 2-1 loss to debutants Istanbul Basaksehir and a 1-3 loss to PSG due to lack of clinical finishing, still looking to get a minimum of 1 point to ensure their qualification to Round of 16.

Meanwhile, RB Leipzig must get 3 points to ensure their qualification for round of 16 of Champions League. With the match in Leipzig, team’s must win scenario and a previous 5-0 loss to Manchester United (whose away record in Germany has been abysmal) will provide the young German side with all the motivation in the world to step up on the pitch and see off the competition. Such instances of healthy competition are neccessary for every player, manager to test their mettle and become better version of themselves.

A lot is at stakes in this match up which will make it a treat to watch for supporters and neutrals alike. May the best team prevail!

The Importance of Victor Lindelof

The Importance of Victor Lindelof

A flashback to November 21, 2017. Manchester United were having a tough time breaking down lowly Huddersfield as they trailed 1-0 and were forced to make a defensive sub thanks to Phil Jones’ injury. Victor Lindelof came on and within just 10 minutes found himself forced into a sticky situation from goalkeeper Jonas Lossl’s long clearance. Lindelof missed the header, allowing Depoitre to sweep up the easy loose ball and make it 2-0. Paul Merson said on Soccer Saturday after the game: “The lad Lindelof came on, and wow. If you watch Christopher Schindler for Huddersfield, you’d take him all day long over Lindelof.” The error marked the latest in a string of defensive mistakes that led to manager Mourinho becoming reluctant to give Lindelof a Premier League start until 6 months after signing him in the summer of 2017. Fans were already calling for the sale of the Swede in a bid to recoup the £31m fee, which they clearly felt was a bad investment.

Fast forward to the present and Victor Lindelof is one of the first names on the team sheet for Manchester United. A forced half-time withdrawal against Istanbul this week in the Champions League thanks to a niggling back injury was lamented by fans as they prayed for his recovery and fitness in time for the weekend clash against Southampton. The perception of Lindelof has come a full 360 and after more than 2 years of consistent performances, the £31m fee is starting to look more like a bargain than wasted investment. Forget Christopher Schindler, most United fans would not swap Lindelof even for Toby Alderweireld now. The ‘iceman’, a nickname popularised by United fans, has been credited in bringing the Red Devils out of the Jones-Smalling era and form a more progressive partnership with Harry Maguire to great effect. We analyse the importance of Lindelof and why he is one of the most underrated cogs in the current United machine.

Journey so far:

It was in the second-half of 2015-16 that Lindelof began playing regularly for the Benfica senior team and ultimately earned a callup from the Sweden senior team to be a part of their squad for Euro 2016. His stock has steadily been on the rise ever since and earned him a transfer to United in the summer of 2017. 

 

After an initially rocky start in Manchester, with Eric Bailly being the preferred option, Lindelof has slowly become the mainstay in the Manchester United XI while Bailly has spent most of his time on the shelf with injuries. In the 2018/19 campaign, Lindelof asserted himself as United’s best centre-back option. He was the leader in the defence making 30 league appearances. He thrived as confidence was put in him to be the number one centre-back. But a few errors at the start of the 19/20 campaign brought back doubts on his ability. He was beaten in the air for Crystal Palace’s first goal when they wound up 2-1 winners at Old Trafford in August, and the same happened again when he was completely out-jumped by Jannik Vestergaard as Southampton held United to a 1-1 draw the following month. But, as his understanding with new partner Harry Maguire kept growing, the duo fell upon a formula which covered for both players’ weaknesses and enhanced their strengths. The remainder of the season saw Lindelof put together another impressive run which played a huge part in United climbing up in the league to finish at an impressive 3rd place. Lindelof started 35 out of a possible 38 Premier League games and only conceded 32 goals, which was an improvement over the 2018/19 season where he conceded 40 goals in 30 starts.

Harry Maguire summed it up perfectly in a MUTV interview before the end of the 19/20 season: ”We’ve had a good season up to now together. When you form partnerships, it takes time. I’m learning his game and he’s learning mine and I think we’re getting better. We’re keeping a lot more clean sheets than we were at the start of the season. We’ve had a couple of great goals scored against us from outside the box, but we haven’t really been having games where David [De Gea] has had to make saves apart from maybe the Carabao Cup second leg against City when David was brilliant. It’s a partnership that’s building and I think we’ll get better and better, and start keeping more clean sheets like we have been doing recently.”

United fans were ambushed with a quick reminder of his weakness towards the end of the season as Lindelof was to blame (along with Wan-Bissaka) for the goal against Sevilla that brought to fore a furious argument with Bruno Fernandes. But, in the larger scheme of things 19/20 marked the end of 2 consistently solid seasons for the Swede. 

His impressive stats and the way he has fought tooth and nail for his spot at Manchester United since 2017 haven’t gone unnoticed, earning him a new deal in September 2019. The 20/21 season hasn’t offered up much for analysis so far as Lindelof has had a stop-start season thanks to his back injury. After a frustrating start shipping goals against Palace and Brighton, the Iceman has found his usual groove with imperious displays against PSG, Chelsea, RBL and Arsenal. 

 

Tactical Analysis:

Lindelof is clearly a ball-playing defender but his pace, composure and game-reading make him very suitable to play as a cover defender. Most modern centre-back pairings operate in a stopper-cover partnership. The stopper is the one who aggressively engages in duels with attackers and often steps into the DM area to win the ball early before the clear-cut chance can be created by the opponents while the cover CB drops deeper to sweep up the loose balls and contest the duels that the stopper misses. The relevance for this style of partnership has only increased in modern times as many attackers are adept at dropping in the hole to create (like Firmino, Messi, Kane) as they draw out defenders and create space for their more attacking partners (like Salah, Suarez, Son) to attack the space. With the stopper-cover setup, the stopper engages the former type while the cover player tracks the latter type to give the team a double opportunity to weed out threats. For reference, Ferdinand Cover and Vidic Stopper or Ramos stopper and Varane cover would be good examples.

For Manchester United, Maguire is the clear stopper and enjoys stepping into midfield to contest with opponents. His strong frame and heading ability make him a great asset to win the ball early and stop opponent moves while his lack of pace and agility are also made up for when he engages early without giving the attacker a chance to collect the ball and run at him. In contrast, Lindelof avoids the early aerial scruff and drops patiently to pick up the quick poacher or loose ball from Maguire’s duel. This often puts him in the right place to sweep up balls with control and calm or contest a forward’s dribble or pacey run which he is well suited to win most of the time. On the rare occasions Maguire is dribbled past or Lindelof is forced into an aerial battle which he loses, United concede a chance. But given the combinations and the fact that both players are adept defenders, this leads to very few chances on goal. As a duo, Maguire and Lindelof’s combined individual errors leading to goals was 0 in 19/20 which was the best in the Premier League. They also let in the least through balls from open play into the D box in the league. While either may not have been as good as Virgil Van Dijk individually, together they have been as good as any CB pairing in Europe in 19/20.

A good example of their combination is the game against Everton where Maguire went ahead to engage the midfielder while Lindelof smartly tracked the run of the incoming winger. Maguire lost the duel getting stranded ahead and the ball was played perfectly in the danger area but Lindelof’s reading and pace enabled him to cut across and clear the ball before it entered the D box.

Lindelof is a strong ball-player constantly looking for line-breaking passes that find midfielders and attackers in good positions. While finding the holding midfielder with a quick short pass or spreading the play with a through ball on the wings to the fullback is like bread and butter for him, he also possesses the vision and technique to pick out the front 3 with a perfect midfield-splitting grounded ball.

A good example is against Wolves last season where Lindelof stepped in to stop the danger, trapped the ball perfectly before giving himself time to pick out a free player in a dangerous situation where he was being pressed before finally finding Jesse Lingard, who dropped deep to help, with a precise pass through the crowd.

Lindelof always keeps looking for more direct routes to goal as evidenced by this move against WBA where instead of opting for the conservative pass to the right-back, he dribbles forward and finds striker Martial with a quick grounded pass. 

 

 

 

 Another example of his directness and technique against Burnley as he goes wide on the right before belting a strong grounded pass through the midfield to find striker Martial once again:

 

 

His technique and vision aren’t limited to his right foot alone as in this example he receives the ball in a high-pressed crowded area near his D before turning and releasing the attacker on the halfway line with a left-footed through ball, turning a dangerous situation for United into an opportunity to counter.

 

 

 

Strengths:

In 2018/19, Lindelof finished the Premier League campaign with no errors leading to goals, a 68% tackle success rate and just one yellow card. In 19/20, he was even more impressive with a 98% tackle success rate which was the highest in the league. He again finished the league season with 0 errors leading to goals. What Victor lacks in strength and aerial ability, he makes up for with a proficient reading of the game. The Swede is intelligent, and knows when to make that slide challenge and when not to. In the 19/20 season, he made 170 recoveries and won 103 duels in the Premier League, which is testament to his reading of the game. His dribbled past stat per game was 0.3 in 18/19 and 0.1 in 19/20, both being second in league after Van Dijk, who had been having Ballon D’or level seasons. Lindelof’s dispossessed stat (Times player was dispossessed of the ball by an opponent) is consistently just 0.1 across the last 3 seasons which is a league leader stat, showing his strength on the ball. It is also telling how accurate and reliable Lindelof is during the tackle. He picked up only 1 yellow card in his senior Benfica career while his total yellow cards for Manchester United are only 9. The Swede is yet to be shown the red card in his playing career. 

 

Lindelof is a performer for the big stage. His performances against sides like Juventus, RBL and Paris Saint Germain were really commendable as he marshalled the likes of Mbappe with ease. The Swede can be called the quintessential big-game defender as he defends calmly against technically-gifted world-class forwards retaining confidence and composure in his pace and game-reading. Lindelof’s fitness and consistency is a largely underrated factor. Given the injury issues of Jones and Bailly, United badly needed someone resilient, robust and stable and Lindelof is all of that. He started 79 out of a possible 93 games in all competitions over the 18/19 and 19/20 seasons, mostly being rested because of chances to Tuanzebe and Bailly in Europa or Cup games. After being overplayed by club and country without any pre-season or rest this year, the Swede has picked up a back injury after 2.5 years of first-class fitness. But such is his tenacity and natural fitness that he’s managed to appear for Sweden and United even with the back niggle. He has become one of the players fans can always count on to be fit and ready most of the time.  

Weakness:

It’s an obvious issue that needs addressing; as much as Lindelof likes to command play from the floor, a core weakness is his aerial abilities which has proved costly a few times now. The fact that Maguire is aerially sound doesn’t help his cause, either. Errors in the air as a centre-back aren’t taken well, which has often led to harsh finger-pointing by fans in Lindelof’s case. Ironically, Lindelof looks more confident keeping up with top-class attackers like Aubameyang or Neymar than contesting a looping header against Olivier Giroud or Troy Deeney. But, there is a clear growth trend even in this department as his aerial mistakes have only reduced since his arrival at the club. Lindelof’s aerial duels won per game in the league were 1.3 in 17/18, 2.3 in 18/19 & 2.7 in 19/20. Having just turned 25, it is clear he has been working hard with the aim of cutting down those errors completely from his game and wants to become the complete finished product for the next few years.

 

For a defender who just turned 26 years old, Lindelof’s best years are only ahead of him. Showing considerable growth and consistency in the 3.5 years he has been at United, the Swede is starting to look more and more like the capable centre-back United fans have been craving for since the Ferdinand-Vidic days. A good comparison to his growth can be made with Gerard Pique. Like Lindelof, Pique started off as an agile, lanky ball-player who was very quick, composed and reliable on the ball but made the occasional mistake in aerial battles often leaving them to his stopper partner Puyol during his early days. But as Pique entered his peak and earned more responsibility, he developed to weed out those issues from his game and has now become a key figure for Barcelona over the past decade. Lindelof can take a few notes from this growth pattern since he seems to be walking on the same path. There is no stopping Lindelof being a world-class elite footballer if he continues his improvement and grows as a defender. The iceman has the potential to reach the snow-capped heights every defender dreams of.

 

Scout Report: David Carmo

Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson left, Manchester United have struggled to rebuild a team that can challenge and push for the league title. Managers have come in, tried their own rebuild and have failed. That was until Solskjaer took over the managerial job in December 2018. However the results on the field might go, Solskjaer’s transfer targets and the ‘rebuild’ part of his job has been pretty spot on. Aaron Wan Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes among others look the real deal so far.

The Norwegian manager is again looking at the defence and the need to strengthen it with another centre back since the Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly all reportedly heading towards the exit door from Old Trafford. That leaves Manchester United with only 3 options at CB in Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Axel Tuanzebe. Dayot Upamecano was the name thrown around in recent times as Solskjaer’s number 1 target but recently, United were linked to the 21 year old David Carmo. 

Today, we’ll cover everything you need to know about David Carmo.

Rangers’ Albanian forward Florian Kamberi (R) vies with Sporting Braga’s Portuguese defender David Carmo during the UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg football match between SC Braga and Rangers at the Municipal stadium in Braga on February 26, 2020. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP) (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images)

Career History

David Carmo has been at his boyhood club SC Braga since he was 16 making his professional debut for the reserves in 2018. He made his first team only earlier this year in January but he has been a regular for the Portugese outfit ever since making 27 appearances for Braga with 8 of them coming in the ongoing campaign.

Carmo first made a name for himself when he was part of the Portugal u19s team which won the u19s European Championship in 2018. The Portugese youngster made 4 appearances in the tournament and announced himself to the world with his impressive performances. 

Style of Play

David Carmo’s style of play has often been compared with that of Virgil van Dijk. Both are regarded as tall but fast and athletic for their size. Standing at 6ft 5ins, it is fair to say that David Carmo is tall. But his height isn’t something that restricts him as a player. He’s still fast, agile and can get the better of any pacey forward in 1v1 situations proved by him winning 91.7% of his tackles among the players attempting more than 10 tackles in the Liga NOS this season Carmo also averages 2.2 tackles per game. He is also an imposing centre back, winning 81% of his aerial duels this season. 

(Visualization taken from Twitter user @rodrigoccc97)

Another one of his strengths is passing. The Portugese youngster loves a long forward pass and the fact 35% of his passes have been into attacking areas proves it. Being a left footed CB, he is often deployed as the left sided CB and one of his favorite passes are the huge switch to the right winger, something that is quickly becoming a trademark for Carmo. He has an impressive 85% pass completion rate and considering the fact that 35% of those have been into attacking areas, it is very impressive for a centre back. Carmo has also completed all his dribbles this season which also suggest that he is calm and composed on the ball. 

As for all other players in the world, Carmo is far from a finished product and still has his weaknesses. While he is very impressive in duels and at starting attacks from the back, his anticipation and positioning are something that still needs work. He can be caught ball watching or is quite easily beaten by a blindsided run. Carmo’s defensive line awareness needs improvement as well, with him being caught being not in line with other defenders and potentially playing an opposition attacker onside. 

To round up, David Carmo is an excellent 1v1 defender who can impose himself against any opponent. He is also calm and composed on the ball and can be used to start attacks from the back with his excellent passing ability. But, he still needs to work on the mental side of being a centre back. 

Conclusion

Manchester United may need to fork out about 40 million euros to secure the Portugese’s services as his release clause stands at that amount. The Red Devils aren’t the only one interested in him with Roma having unsuccessfully bid for him in the summer and Liverpool also keeping a close eye on him and now with Virgil van Dijk out for a significant amount of time, Liverpool may start looking closer at him.

(Visualization taken from Twitter user @Twenty3sport)

For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he may finally be getting the left footed CB that he has desired for so long and add another piece in his rebuild at Manchester United. The demands for a left footed CB are increasing every day in modern football and someone like Carmo can be perfect for Manchester United’s tactical system where most of their attacks start from the left flank. Having someone like Carmo can take the onus of starting attacks from the left backs Alex Telles and Luke Shaw and the fullbacks can then push and overlap, helping Marcus Rashford escape 2v1 situations. Part of the reason we saw Nemanja Matic drop into the backline towards the end of last season to start attacks. 

Manchester United’s first choice may still be Dayot Upamecano whose release clause is only slightly more expensive than that of Carmo’s. But, with Bayern circling around Upamecano, a deal may not be very straightforward and David Carmo looks like a very capable alternative that Manchester United can go for. 

Midfield Combinations for 20/21 season

Manchester United rewarded their patient fans with their first foray into the summer transfer window with the signing of Donny Van De Beek. The Dutch international reportedly comes on a 5-year contract with a transfer fee of 39m Euros + 5m Euros in add-ons – a very shrewd acquisition given the fee and United’s need for midfield depth. The quality in that department now means that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has many combinations to consider for the coming season. We analyse what Van De Beek brings to the table and the best midfield combinations as a result.

Van De Beek playing style

Solskjær’s official statement after signing Van De Beek: “His [Van de Beek] ability to see space, time his movements and read the game will really complement the qualities that we have in midfield and his arrival really strengthens the depth of talent we have in that position.”

Ole clearly knows what he’s talking about. Donny adds a few qualities to United’s midfield that are largely absent and his weaknesses are already covered with qualities of the existing roster.

Firstly, let’s analyse his playing position and role. Donny has spent the majority of his time playing in the No. 10 position in a 4-2-3-1 in his time at Ajax. He is predominantly an attacking midfielder. De Jong’s departure saw him play in a central midfielder role last season as Ziyech took the no.10 role and Neres the right wing slot. In half the games when one of these 2 players would be dropped to bench, De Beek would retain his no.10 spot. He ended up starting 19 times in the attacking mid slot and 18 times in central midfield as a result. Even the times Donny featured in central midfield, the defensive-minded Lisandro Martinez sat back to allow VDB to bomb forward and give a 4-1-4-1 shape during attack similar to how Matic allowed Pogba to join Bruno in attack during the second half of United’s season. From these, it can be inferred that Donny would serve as a competitor for Bruno and Pogba in United’s first XI or speaking role-wise, the box-to-box role and the no.10 roles. We will get back to this when we discuss combinations.

Next, we compare Van De Beek statistically with United’s midfielders to see what he brings to the table. All players who played in the 3 midfield roles in Ole’s 4-2-3-1 have been considered. These 7 players are Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Scott Mctominay, Fred, Nemanja Matic, Andreas Perriera and Jesse Lingard. Only stats for the 19/20 league season have been considered. While the Eredivisie vs Premier League difference will obviously be there, this comparison should serve as a good indication.

Firstly it must be said that VDB played 23 of the 25 Eredivisie games this season. Over the last 2 seasons he played in all 34 games in each season for Ajax coming on as a substitute only 5 times in this stretch. His fitness is impeccable and a big pro given Pogba’s regular niggles. 


His goals per 90 is 0.38 inferior only to Bruno at 0.61 who has had an amazing period since joining the club. Scott is the next closest at 0.2. Donny’s shots on target % is highest at 36% beating Bruno (35%) and Pogba (33%). His shots on target per 90 is 0.75 inferior only to Bruno (1.06) and Andreas (0.85). His goals per shots is the highest at 0.18 beating Scott (0.13) and Bruno (0.1). These stats indicate a player who is an adept and efficient scorer. VDB guarantees goals without being wasteful. He is a player who picks his moments and possesses immense technique and finishing prowess. Unlike Bruno, he is not too trigger-happy and rarely attempts long-range shots. Smart off-the-ball movement to ghost into good areas and well-placed finishes are the two big traits that fans can look forward to. He has already shown a glimpse of this in his substitute appearance against Luton this season.

He scored 8 goals last season matching Bruno’s half-season tally while being far ahead of any other United midfielder. His 5 assists also rank him second after Bruno (7) placing him second-best in terms of goal threat. This is confirmed with his strong G+A per 90 stat of 0.61 only bested by Bruno again (a ridiculously good 1.14) while being far ahead of Pogba at 0.25. These signify Donny’s goal threat. While Ole has markedly improved United’s defence conceding 20 less goals in the league compared to the 18/19 season to bring the goals conceded stat to 36 (only bested by Liverpool and Manchester City in the 19/20 season by 4 and 2 goals respectively), the goals scored stat hasn’t improved much going from 65 to 66 goals from 18/19 to 19/20. While this can be attributed to Lukaku leaving, Greenwood settling in and Martial’s first full season playing as the centre-forward, Ole will want more goals. A full season with Bruno should help that but Van De Beek chipping in with a few goals and assists will help as well. If more firepower is what Ole is looking for, he is getting that with VDB for sure.

An underrated part of Donny’s game is the defensive aspect. While his best work undoubtedly comes in advanced areas of the game, he is no passenger in the defensive phase showcasing intense pressing and a penchant for crunching tackles in key moments of the game. The stats highlight these as well. His tackles won per 90 is 1.22 bested only by Fred (2.13) and Scott (1.57) who have both played in much deeper and ball-winning roles this season. Donny beats Bruno (1.06), Matic (1.1) and Pogba (1.19) indicating what a good tackler he is despite his attacking traits. His interceptions per 90 are also decent at 0.75 surpassed by Scott (1.68), Fred (1.58) and Matic (1.31) who play much deeper than him. Pogba at 0.37 and Bruno at 0.68 are the next best. This fits really well with Ole’s requirements of a hard-working ball-winning midfielder. The only thing Donny can be accused of not being a master of is playmaking. His key passes, chances created and through balls aren’t especially great indicating playmaking isn’t his strength. He prefers to be on the end of assists with his intense off-the-ball runs which fits well with the likes of Pogba, Rashford, Martial and Bruno who now have another partner to find in the attacking phase while deconstructing defences.

In a nutshell, United fans can look forward to an aggressive attacking CM/AM player who has a knack for scoring goals, guarantees intense pressing and tackling in midfield, prefers to be on the end of quality passes rather than play them himself and is fit and hard-working enough to do these consistently.

It must be noted in the analysis above that Jesse Lingard and Andreas Perriera rank in the bottom 2 for most of these stats unless explicitly mentioned, highlighting why Ole considers them lowest in the pecking order and possibly surplus to requirements with the arrival of Donny. 

Midfield combinations

Before understanding where VDB can fit, let’s first understand what he is fitting into. Ole has deployed a 4-2-3-1 throughout the 19/20 season with the only variations being in him playing a counter-attacking style in the first half of the season and a possession-based style in the second half. The only times he played a back 5 were in big games to play on the counter which worked pre-lockdown but failed in the FA cup semi-final against Chelsea. The chances of a diamond formation also seem low given the fact that Ole has played it only once in his caretaker stint. A diamond requires 2 attacking wingbacks and 2 aggressive shuttlers ahead of a defensive midfielder to work. The one time Ole played it was more of a defensive ploy with Herrera and Fred as the shuttlers and Matic as defensive midfielder. The chances of a diamond with the current setup seem low. Coupled with Ole’s clear attraction to wingers, Greenwood’s rise and the Sancho pursuit, it’s safe to say Ole’s ideal blueprint is a variant of 4-2-3-1.

Next it’s important to understand that in the 4-2-3-1, Ole does have a clear differentiation between the 2 midfielders in the pivot. There’s one player who drops deeper between the CBs to pick up the ball during the build-up phase and playmakes from the defensive midfield zones while the other is more of a ball-carrier who keeps trying to move closer to the most advanced attacking midfielder and focuses on linking defence to attack. For this discussion let’s name the 3 roles as the deep-lying-playmaker (DLP), box-to-box midfielder (B2B) and attacking midfielder (AM).

Let’s see which players have played in the 3 roles over the course of the 19/20 season.

  • When Pogba and Scott played at the start of the season Pogba was dropping deeper allowing Scott to move ahead. Pogba was the DLP and Scott the B2B while Andreas and Jesse rotated for the AM role. 
  • When Scott and Fred played during the rest of the first half of the season, Fred was the DLP. United didn’t build up much and played on the counter so both seemed almost balanced in a double pivot but Fred was comparatively deeper. 
  • In the second half of the season when Matic and Pogba played, Matic was the clear DLP dropping and maintaining a very defensive minded position, allowing the B2B Pogba to join the AM Bruno almost creating 4-1-4-1 shape in attack against weaker oppositions. 
  • Towards the Europa knockouts in the end we again noticed Fred playing the DLP role and Pogba B2B with Bruno AM.

Given all these combinations, Ole’s pecking order equation seems to be

DLP: Matic>Fred>Pogba

B2B: Pogba>Scott>Fred

AM: Bruno>Jesse/Andreas/Mata

Ole has never played Scott as the DLP. Even when paired with Pogba, Scott never dropped deep and was always maintaining a B2B movement on the pitch. This goes in line with his youth days where he has always played as an AM or B2B as well. There is a good case to be made that Ole doesn’t see Scott as a DLP even if his Matic comparison comments may have made many fans think so. Lingard and Perreira are clear backups to Bruno and the choice for who comes next might get solved with their transfer scenarios this summer, while Mata also remains an option for AM.

From all that we have seen and analysed of Donny Van De Beek, we can take a shot at guessing where he might fit in this equation.

DLP: Matic>Fred>Pogba

B2B: Pogba>VDB>Scott>Fred

AM: Bruno>VDB>Jesse/Andreas/Mata

It’s a safe assumption that VDB will not affect the DLP equation. He has never played that role and does not have the traits to nail it. He should easily slot in as the next best options for both B2B and AM roles after Pogba and Bruno. This now brings to the fore 3 clear combinations in which Ole can lineup this season:

1. Matic (DLP) + Pogba (B2B) + Bruno (AM)

Simply lining up the first choices of our equation we come up with the impressive trio that bossed many games post-lockdown during the red devils’ outstanding run to clinch 3rd finish in the league last season.

Pros:
1. Heavy possession game that sees the best of Pogba and Bruno in terms of chance creation and Matic in terms of ball retention and build-up. This is ideal for breaking down low-block teams that cede possession.
2. VDB coming off the bench as a great quality option if the plan A doesn’t work out, which was something United lacked in their season-end run
Cons:
1. Matic’s age makes him susceptible to pressing. Southampton gave him a hard time and mitigated United’s possession game, while Aston Villa also troubled him for a while before they were scored against. This led to Matic being rightfully dropped against the press-hungry Sevilla in the Europa league.

2. Fred (DLP) + Pogba (B2B) + Bruno (AM) 

We explore the next-best DLP option paired with best options for the other 2 roles

Pros:
1. Good counter-press value with Fred’s ball-winning and pressing a huge trait. He bossed the midfield against a press-heavy Sevilla. This would be Ideal for games on the counter against the Premier league top 4 and Champions League knockouts.
2. Again, VDB coming off the bench as a plan B
Cons:
1. Fred’s build-up and possession traits aren’t impressive. His passing range and creativity is average making it tough to dominate possession and create chances. Against low block teams this becomes a big negative as displayed often in the first half of the season.

3. Pogba (DLP) + VDB (B2B) + Bruno (AM) 

We round off with a slightly left-field but not entirely improbable midfield combination, given it presents a chance to field the 3 most attacking midfielders United have.

Pros:
1. Creativity and attacking movement can be expected to be highest with all 3 players boasting goal and assist threat. Can be experimented against weaker Premier League teams to start with.
2. A potential elite team 4-1-4-1 attack which United have been craving for for ages
Cons:
1. Pogba as a DLP isn’t super convincing. He lost the ball a few times during building from the back last season and isn’t a natural defensive midfielder. In getting the best out of VDB and Bruno, Pogba’s best role as a B2B suffers.

There is also a good case of switching the B2B and AM roles in this combination to allow Donny to be further ahead which has hinted at when he was brought on while chasing the game during the 20/21 league opener against Crystal Palace.

While the chances of a formation other than 4-2-3-1 are low but not zero and incoming or outgoing transfers can still change these equations before the window ends, these 3 combinations seem the most likely options Ole would be considering. It will be really interesting to see which combination the Norwegian opts for over the course of the 20/21 season.