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Slowly but surely, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s masterplan is coming together ahead of the start of the new Premier League season.
The United chief, who will watch his side face Everton at Old Trafford in their final pre-season outing on Saturday, has enjoyed a transfer window that many Reds supporters could have only dreamt of when the curtain came down on their 2020/21 campaign after David De Gea missed from the penalty spot in Gdansk.
Jadon Sancho has arrived at Old Trafford in a £72.9million deal from Borussia Dortmund, finally bringing United’s search for a new right-winger to a close, whilst Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane is on the cusp of completing his switch to the Premier League. Both of those deals act as massive statements of intent. They send out a warning to their Premier League rivals that they mean business. They have cranked up the levels of excitement that go with the start of a new season by a considerable amount.
But whilst the arrivals of Sancho and Varane have ticked off two massive items on Solskjaer’s to-do list, they still remain without the big-name central-defensive midfielder that they desperately crave. Throughout the window so far United have been linked with a catalogue of midfielders that could fill that void within the team, with Declan Rice of West Ham United attracting genuine interest. Wolverhampton Wanderers star Ruben Neves and Saul Niguez of Atletico Madrid are among those most commonly linked with moves to Old Trafford.
United have been long-term admirers of Rice and, as reported by MEN Sport earlier this year, he would be interested in making the move to Old Trafford. But with United having splashed out so much money already this summer, and outgoings not proving to be anywhere near frequent enough, the likelihood of them financing a move for Rice is next to no chance. West Ham are reportedly seeking a fee of around £100million to part with the defensive-midfield ace, but that valuation could have increased even more so following his outstanding performances for England at the European Championship.
Looking to sign a new right-back and a new centre-back as well before the end of the window, United would need to cut their cloth significantly to fund a move for Rice. Instead, though, they could turn to another Premier League defensive-midfielder who could, perhaps even more than Rice, tick numerous boxes. The man in question is Leicester City midfield ace Wilfred Ndidi. Renowned as one of the very best defensive-minded midfielders in the business, the Nigerian international should not be overlooked as a possible solution to United’s latest problem.
At 24-years-old, the former Genk man, who joined Leicester back in 2017, could be the perfect answer, as he boasts robust attributes, including strength, steel, grit, energy and an all-round presence that would offer United’s defensive-line an ideal sense of protection. In truth, there are probably few in the Premier League right now that do a better job than him in that role.
Last season, for example, the midfield enforcer averaged 3.7 tackles per game, 2.1 interceptions and 0.4 blocks per game in the Premier League, as cited by WhoScored.com. In comparison, his tackling ratio ranked higher than both Chelsea ace N’Golo Kante and Yves Bissouma of Brighton & Hove Albion, who are both considered, like Ndidi, as two of the best defensive-midfielders in the Premier League.
Whilst, of course, Leicester would be in no mood to sell him this summer, especially when they are not under any sort of financial pressure, even more so if Arsenal manage to snatch James Maddison from their clutches, a move to Old Trafford could represent a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Nigerian.
Another factor in United’s favour could be that Leicester do have a tendency to allow their star players to leave if the price is right. It has been proven in recent years with the likes of Harry Maguire, Riyad Mahrez, Danny Drinkwater and Kante all leaving the club. In that sense, United may feel that they have a chance of making a deal possible.
As well as that, United can offer Ndidi something that Leicester, certainly this season, cannot: UEFA Champions League football. That could be another string to United’s bow of selling points.
According to transfermarkt, Ndidi is currently valued at £54million, but it is likely that Leicester would demand more because of how important he is to the landscape of Brendan Rodgers’ thinking. But even if Leicester, although they won’t want to sell him, turn around and say to United, should they go after him, that £60million-£70million would be enough, the Reds would be landing a player with a massive ceiling, a player who knows what it takes to do the job that United would like somebody to do and still be considerably cheaper than Rice.
Time will tell if United do consider Ndidi as a possible solution to one of the last remaining pieces in Solskjaer’s jigsaw, but signing him could be an instant recipe for success.
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