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United have options despite Thiago miss

WhoScored.com's Martin Laurence looks at some young, alternative midfield targets for David Moyes after Man United missed out on Thiago.

Last Updated: 16/07/13 at 14:53 Post Comment

Ilkay Gundogan: Alternative midfield target for Moyes?

Ilkay Gundogan: Alternative midfield target for Moyes?

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Thiago Alcantara's decision to join Bayern Munich can hardly be criticised. From the moment Pep Guardiola stated that the youngster was the only player he desired this summer, United's chances of signing the Barca man plummeted.

With the lure of the European champions unsurprisingly too strong, the Spaniard's decision to swap La Liga for the Bundesliga served as another blow to the Premier League. The likes of Radamel Falcao, Edinson Cavani and David Villa are just a few to have snubbed heavy interest from England this summer, and Thiago has now turned his back on the best the Premier League has to offer.

It's left United and new manager Moyes without the midfield addition that the fans have been crying out for for years, with the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes consistently called upon to extend the shelf life of your average footballer. Many have been pleading for the next big thing to come along and take the torch, and now that Thiago has been ruled out, the Red Devils' wait continues.

It's ironic, then, that of all players under the age of 23 at the time of writing, former United youngster Paul Pogba (7.38) was the best central midfielder in Europe's top 5 leagues based on WhoScored.com's unique statistical ratings. However, with a return for the Frenchman less likely than Luke Chadwick donning the red of United once again, we start our scout report here with a couple of Pogba's compatriots that look set for big things.

The first, and youngest option listed, is PSG teenager Adrien Rabiot. Interestingly, the 18-year-old had a very brief spell in Manchester with United's fierce rivals City before moving back to France and eventually making his way to Paris. The tall midfielder has the physical traits to succeed already and a loan spell with Toulouse last season proved just what a talent he is.

He made 19 league appearances over the campaign and during his loan spell he put in an exceptional amount of work. With three tackles and 2.6 interceptions per game for Toulouse, his averages are better those of any United midfielder. Meanwhile, though a pass accuracy of 79.1% may seem modest, in six league appearances for a superior PSG side that average was up at 88.7%, and Rabiot certainly has the touch and technique to cut it at the top level.

Elsewhere in Ligue 1, the workmanlike performances of St Etienne's Josuha Guilavogui earned the 22-year-old his first senior call up to les Bleus national squad, for whom he has now played twice. The Frenchman is another rangy midfield presence that specialises in breaking up the opponents play whilst also retaining possession (85.2% pass accuracy) with an impressive range of passing, completing 3.5 accurate long balls per game.

His average of 2.2 tackles and 2.5 interceptions per game could potentially take some of the defensive burden off of Michael Carrick, who would in turn be able to string play together a little further up field. An impressive aerial success rate of 66.2% is also worth noting, and Guilavogui is one of the latest of an extremely promising crop of midfielders to come out of France.

A move to Serie A now, and the performances of Saphir Sliti Taider for Bologna reportedly caught the eye of Arsene Wenger last season. It isn't hard to see why as the Algerian established himself as a key player for his club, making 34 league appearances having only turned 21 in February. Taider's stats are a little more aligned to those of Thiago, with his passing and ball retention a key strength.

Indeed, the youngster led the way for Bologna in terms of both passes per game (44.7) and pass accuracy (87.5%), and such figures could only be expected to rise in a stronger side. Without possession, the 21-year-old also shone, averaging a quite exceptional 3.6 tackles per game, which would have been enough to rank fifth of all players in the Premier League last season.

Staying in Italy, Pedro Mba Obiang is another youngster who has been linked with top teams in England, as well as an upgrade on Sampdoria in Serie A. A youth level international for Spain, Obiang also only turned 21 earlier this year and has bags of potential in a slightly more box-to-box midfield role. He, like the aforementioned French duo, has height on his side but is very comfortable with the ball at his feet.

Indeed, having made 34 league appearances for his side last season, Obiang completed over 200 more passes than any other teammate (1,249) whilst also creating the most chances at the club (41), picking up a team high of 5 assists in turn. Meanwhile an average of three tackles per game is only less than Rafael's figure (3.1) at United, and it's no surprise to see he was rated Samp's best player by WhoScored.com last season (7.13).

As another player that has been linked to some of the Premier League's big hitters in the past, an apparent lack of concrete interest in James McCarthy seems bizarre up to now, following Wigan's relegation from the top-flight. If United are looking for a quality young passer of the ball, there's one on their doorstep, with only players from last season's top six averaging more passes per game than the Ireland international (57.6).

His accuracy of 87.3% from those attempts is extremely encouraging and the 22-year-old completed 4.7 long balls and 0.9 key passes per game to boot. During his time under Roberto Martinez he's developed a real understanding of the game and also shown that he enjoys the battle, averaging 2.6 tackles per game, whilst reading play well to make two interceptions per match.

The biggest name - and by some distance here - is Dortmund's Ilkay Gundogan; though you'd fear for Jurgen Klopp's mental state if the club let another one of his key players leave. While the likelihood of the German leaving this summer is extremely slim, the departures of those around him could see the 22-year-old look elsewhere for silverware in the future with Bayern - Thiago Alcantara and all - expected to dominate.

The midfielder proved his capabilities on the biggest possible stage this year, putting in a stellar, goalscoring performance in the Champions League final, and his credentials are there for all to see. With 58.6 passes per game, an 86.2% accuracy, averages of 2.1 dribbles and 2.3 for both tackles and interceptions per game, Gundogan is undoubtedly the sort of player United need but should they firm up any interest, the seemingly diminishing lure of Premier League football could strike again.

Martin Laurence - follow him on Twitter.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

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