Replacing Michael Carrick: Five players Man United should be looking at

by Kaustubh Pandey

With the summer transfer window just days away from swinging open, the rumour mill just can’t have enough of it already. If there’s anything that the media outlets love more than reporting itself, then it’s linking players to Manchester United throughout the year. And if it wasn’t time to get serious about all those links previously, it’s time we do get serious about them now.

Sky Sports reported some weeks ago that Jose Mourinho is likely to take a dip into the market for a central midfielder, with Michael Carrick set to enter what could probably be his last season as a Manchester United player. And after having offloaded the duo of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, United do look one or two men light in the heart of the park. The lack of depth in midfield came to the fore when the campaign wore on and Mourinho was forced into dealing with a raft of injuries during the fag end of the campaign.

We run the rule over central midfield players who Jose Mourinho should look at this summer.


One of those Monaco players who were already on the radar of big clubs before their stellar season, Fabinho is already being linked with moves to United and City. And the 23-year-old Brazilian could well make a big move to the Premier League this summer, with his performance enough to suggest that he deserves it.

His ability to play right-back comes in as an added bonus, as he was predominantly a right-back before he became a regular central midfield player alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko. And Bakayoko himself could have been in this list, if not for his inability to defend well enough and play in crowded areas. Fabinho though, knows how to defend and play in crowded areas well. The combination of Bakayoko’s strength and Fabinho’s guile made the Monaco side look like a team that plays attractive football.

Fabinho is equally adept in the attacking sense and his tally of nine goals proves that. And it is his completeness and versatility that makes him a very good player. Not just that, he won an average of 3.1 tackles per game, enough to prove his well-roundedness as a player. He does like to move forward with purpose and verve, but is always looking to support the man in possession by positioning himself close to him.

He has played in the 4-4-2 under Leonardo Jardim, but has made one appearance as a sitting midfielder too. But the presence of someone like Ander Herrera in front of the back four can allow him and Paul Pogba to create things and do the attacking bit.

Maxime Gonalons

Maxime Gonalons is one of those midfielders in Europe who has been consistent performer for Lyon ever since he broke into the first team, but still stays away from the grasp of the bigger European clubs. Olympique Lyon through and through, Gonalons has been at the club since 2000 and currently skippers the Parc Olympique Lyonnais.

Someone who can play centre-back and slightly further forward than defensive midfielder as well, Gonalons goes about his job silently and effectively. He doesn’t just have the aura of composure, but also oozes the presence of being a ball-winner in the heart of the park. He, much like Carrick, compliments the attacking players in going forward, allowing them the freedom to their work by sitting deep and dictating play.

Apart from all that, aerial efficiency is a vital part of Gonalons’ armoury. This season, the Frenchman has won 2.8 aerial duels per game, which can be very good  in the Premier League. His physique allows him to break up play and circulate in forward. Gonalons has won an average of 4.4 tackles per game in the Ligue 1, completing 2.3 interceptions too.

Steven N’Zonzi

Some two or three seasons ago, Steven N’Zonzi was dubbed as a Stoke City flop, who was a part of the also-ran bandwagon in the Premier League. But the Frenchman’s showings at Sevilla have proved that he’s much more than a mere also-ran.

Under Jorge Sampaoli this season, the Andalusians finished as high as fourth in the 2016-17 at a time when the exit of Grzegorz Krychowiak to Paris Saint-Germain was expected to harm them in some ways. Few expected N’Zonzi to force the Sevilla fans into forgetting about Krychowiak’s bulky presence in the heart of the park, but the former Stoke midfielder has done just that.

Tall, but not exceptionally well-built, N’Zonzi makes perfect use of what he has. His assuring and no-nonsense presence in front of the back-four makes Sevilla look like a unit that is tough to breakdown. He knows how to dictate play from deep and reads the game intelligently.

Much like Carrick, he won’t make too many interceptions or tackles in games, but it’s his positioning that makes him special. And an added incentive to that is his aerial dominance. This season, N’Zonzi won an average of 3.1 aerial duels per game.

Idrissa Gueye

When Idrissa Gueye joined Aston Villa from Lille back in 2015, there were expectations about the midfielder playing an important role in the Villains’ Premier League survival. But, as the curtains fell on their Premier League campaign, Gueye seemed to be one of those stars who deserved a bigger club than Villa and a move to Everton followed. And he has proved his class significantly.

The Toffees seventh-placed finish this season is very much down to the performances of two men- Romelu Lukaku and Gueye himself. Lukaku’s goalscoring form was obviously a more tangible way of proving how good he has been, but Gueye’s contributions have gone very under the radar thanks to the presence of players like N’Golo Kante in the Premier League.

Gueye may not be as good as the diminutive Frenchman, but does come close. He’s got a small body frame, runs around the pitch to always try to win the ball back and never gives the opposition a moment of peace.

The Senegal international made 33 Premier League appearances and won an average of as many as 4.1 tackles per game. He holds play together with his passing from deep and makes up for a lack of height with his work-rate.

Grzegorz Krychowiak

When Sevilla won a hat-trick of Europa League titles before United claimed the title in Stockholm, few knew that the contributions of this midfielder with a warrior-like instinct were a vital component of that success. Krychowiak hasn’t fared well since having joined PSG from Andalusia, but he still is the midfield beast that any big club would love to have in it’s side.

The Pole has got the physique to dominate games and take hold of important matches by the scruff of their neck. He sits in front of the back, breaks up play and does the simple passing work of circulating the ball forward.

He could make only 11 appearances in the 2016-17 campaign under Unai Emery, but proved his mettle fittingly at Sevilla. Throughout his three seasons in Spain, Krychowiak won more than three aerial duels per game, bringing to the fore how well he uses his body to cut out danger in deeper areas of the pitch. His aerial ability also makes him a dangerous outlet from indirect set-piece situations as well.

The fact that he was part of the Sevilla side that won the Europa League thrice proves that he is someone who can win a side games in no-nonsense fashion. He will do the dirty work by frustrating the opposition in knockout games; the kind of pragmatism that Mourinho likes.

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