Signalling the end to what seemed an eternity of reports and rumours, Louis van Gaal’s sacking as Manchester United manager was confirmed on Monday night. The Dutchman had been a dead man walking since Christmas, with the football stagnant and uninspiring. Jose Mourinho is expected to arrive as his successor, and the Portuguese’s to-do list already promises to be a challenge. WhoScored.com looks at the potential signings the manager could make and how they compare to the current crop of United stars.
The Everton centre-back’s development was stunted due to a disappointing season for the Toffees and a lack of proper defensive coaching, but his stock is still high. Manchester City are the frontrunners for Stones’ signature, though they are expected to face competition from United. Mourinho tried to sign Stones during his time at Chelsea last summer and could move for the defender again. The youngster is far from the finished article – no outfield player committed more errors that led to an opposition goal (three) in the Premier League this season – but he is still considered a star in the making.
Another whose form his dipped this season, Varane has been forced to watch from the sidelines with injury hindering his progress. Sergio Ramos and Pepe’s renewed defensive partnership has restricted the Frenchman to just 23 La Liga starts, while a hamstring problem could rule him out of Euro 2016. Nevertheless, Varane is one United have wanted for some time and would further bolster one of the country’s strongest defences.
How They Compare
Mourinho favours centre-backs who can play the ball out from the back rather than a no-nonsense type who looks to simply clear the danger. In that regard, both Stones and Varane match the manager’s needs. Boasting respective 88.7% and 88.2% pass success rates in the Premier League and La Liga, both have better returns than Chris Smalling (82.4%) and Daley Blind (83.7%). The former started the season brightly, but looks to have regressed in 2016, an own goal against Bournemouth and a sending-off in the FA Cup final effectively summing up a downturn in form. The latter is not a centre-back by trade.
Stones (1.4) and Varane (1.5) averaged fewer tackles per league game than Smalling (1.6) and Blind (2.7) this season, but then a centre-back should rely on tackling only as a last resort. They may cost a pretty penny, but Stones and Varane would be an upgrade on United’s defensive options at present.
Matic established himself as one of the finest defensive midfielders in England upon his return to Chelsea and played a starring role in the Blues’ title win in 2015. However, his form and confidence – like Chelsea’s – saw his performance levels drop. That is not to say his ability has deserted him completely. Matic has made more tackles (213) than any other player in the last two Premier League seasons and when at his controlling best, the Serb is an incredibly difficult midfielder to find a way past.
A disappointing Valencia season ended on something of a high as Los Che successfully staved off relegation. Now comes the unenviable task of retaining their prized assets, of which Andre Gomes is the most valuable. The 22-year-old’s biggest asset is his ability to bring the ball forward from deep, a trait United lack. An average of 1.7 successful dribbles per league game was second only to Joao Cancelo (1.8) of all Valencia players last season, reinforcing Gomes’ statistically calculated WhoScored.com strength of ‘dribbling’. Oh, and there’s the identity of his (super)agent: one Jorge Mendes.
How They Compare
United at present do not have a player capable of replicating the threat Gomes carries, so it’s impossible to compare the current players available to Mourinho, though the same cannot be said of Matic. The defensive qualities he boasts may make him a possible partner for Schneiderlin who, after a hugely successful period at Southampton, failed to match the heights in his debut season at United. Indeed, the Frenchman’s WhoScored.com rating fell from 7.51 to 6.92 on the back of his move to Old Trafford, with a drop in form costing him his place in France’s Euro 2016 squad.
It is likely that Mourinho will not get rid instantly, but rather move for Matic to bolster the squad. The Serbian has made more tackles and interceptions combined (352) than any other player in the last two Premier League seasons. Schneiderlin, by comparison, has made 304. With Mourinho favouring a 4-2-3-1 formation, he could call on both to shield the defence given their positional discipline. Matic is also a tidier player on the ball, with a stronger pass success rate (88.1%) than Michael Carrick (86.5%). Bastian Schweinsteiger failed to have the desired effect following his arrival from Bayern.
The most likely arrival at this point comes in the form of Ibrahimovic. The striker and Mourinho enjoyed a fine working relationship during their time at Internazionale and the enigmatic Swede would be keen to link up with the Portuguese boss once again. His statistics this season speak volumes. Ibrahimovic’s WhoScored.com rating was the third-best in Europe’s top five leagues (8.29), while only Luis Suarez (40) scored more goals (38). His form for PSG saw him earn the most WhoScored.com man-of-the-match awards (14) in the top five divisions of European football this term. Like a fine wine, Ibrahimovic is simply getting better with age.
How They Compare
If he signs this summer, Ibrahimovic will likely replace the emerging Marcus Rashford in the United attack. Anthony Martial’s deployment on the left and Wayne Rooney’s decision to drop into midfield means it is expected to be a straight shootout for a starting spot between the experienced striker and the teenage frontman. Rashford (31.3%) boasts a better conversion rate than Ibrahimovic (24.5%) and offers a different threat to the latter, with United’s current striker favouring to hang on to the shoulder of the last defender to make runs in behind rather than dropping deeper to bring teammates into play – although there have been signs he has that side to his game.
This quality of Ibrahimovic’s game helped him end the season with 13 league assists compared to Rashford’s two, albeit in a somewhat easier league, and in considerably more matches. When fit, the 34-year-old would be Mourinho’s starting striker, but Rashford provides an effective alternative. The two are tough to compare given their diverse styles of play, but if goals are what is required, you can do much worse than call on the free-scoring Swede.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings. You can follow all the scores, statistics, live player and team ratings with the new free-to-download WhoScored iOS app.