Erik ten Hag’s squad has the pressing urgency of purchasing a striker, a world-class 20+ goals per season centre forward.
Wout Weghorst’s uninspired loan spell is unlikely to be continued, whilst Anthony Martial’s form and fitness are unreliable at best.
Manchester United are, therefore, finalising a shortlist of No. 9s to pursue this summer with Napoli’s Victor Osimhen, Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Randal Kolo-Muani and Benfica’s Goncalo Ramos appearing to be the leading candidates to join Ten Hag’s squad.
The Dutch manager seems to be most keen on recruiting Harry Kane, but Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy may be too prickly in the boardroom for a potential deal to materialise.
Marcus Thuram, whose contract with Mönchengladbach expires in June, will cause a stir in the transfer market and will garner many interested parties; he will likely have found a club before the Glazers allow someone else to take the wheel this summer.
Laurie Whitwell commented in The Athletic that United have already made an enquiry to, and remained in communication with Benfica, concerning Ramos’ availability this summer.
Although United pursuing Osimhen gathered heat some weeks ago, speculation around the transfer has seemingly cooled as of late, with Napoli’s €150million price tag effectively ruling them out. Bayern Munich and Chelsea, however, remain suitors for the Nigeria international’s signature. United’s unknown ownership status come the summer makes prospective marquee signings difficult (or, perhaps we should rather say, impossible) to discuss.
But regardless of who that main striker is going to be, reports claim that United want to also buy a young second striker – so who should be on this shortlist?
In no particular order:
Back-up striker option #1 – Rasmus Højlund
The Danish youngster caused a recent stir given his mid-season form for Atalanta in Serie A. Eight goals and three assists in his debut campaign in one of Europe’s top divisions is not a bad return whatsoever, especially when you consider he is only 20 years old.
He would likely command a fee in the region of €45million due to his contract length, age profile, and potential. Recent reports have put the figure higher.
This may dissuade United from making a move given the financial restrictions which the club face this summer, but if Erik ten Hag is to seek a quality back-up No. 9 who can comfortably feature in 30 high-level fixtures whilst contributing a consistent goalscoring output, they will struggle to find any for a cheaper fee than the originally mooted €45m.
Højlund’s shooting is his finest quality. He currently holds a 50% shots on target percentage, displaying his astute eye for goal.
The young striker also performs nearly 1.5 take-ons with success per 90 minutes; such dynamism for an out-and-out centre forward is often lacking.
A tall stature (1.91m) echoing similarities to traditional strikers, Højlund’s technical ability in gathering possession and maintaining it high into the attacking third against defenders is what separates the Dane from the rest.
Back-up striker option #2 – Nicolas Jackson
The definition of putting yourself in the shop window, Nicolas Jackson scored eight goals and provided two assists in his final six La Liga appearances.
Jackson, 21, enjoyed a remarkable season overall with Villarreal, notching 11 goals in 24 league appearances in total, and the Senegal international’s gameplay statistics are equally as impressive.
56.4% shots on target; 0.84 goal-creating actions per 90 minutes (pre-assist); 0.95 passes blocked; 1.31 successful take-ons per 90. He is an all-round, clinical, hard-working, difficult, and devastating centre forward.
With plenty of time to develop his game, Jackson – under the tutelage of another top striker and of several great coaches (let’s say Ten Hag, Mitchell van der Gaag, Steve McClaren as a completely rogue example) – could become a monster in front of goal.
Transfermarkt have suggested his value to be in the region of €15m, but expect double that fee when big clubs inevitably start to circle this summer.
Back-up striker option #3 – Mohammed Kudus
Mohammed Kudus would fit the modern United transfer target profile: he plays for Ajax.
A fully fledged Ghana international (23 appearances/seven goals), Kudus – at only 22 years of age – is one of the most exciting prospects in Europe.
And who helped mould him into the starlet he is? Erik ten Hag.
People may gesture to Kudus’ versatility and perhaps suitability to a deeper role as a reason to not sign him as a back-up striker. His best goal contribution return, however, has come about when he is positioned as a centre forward. In 16 games up front, Kudus notched nine goals and provided two assists for Ajax this season in all competitions. He also featured almost to an equal amount as a right-winger and an attacking midfielder, but with less output.
The youngster’s confidence on the ball is his unique talent and it pays dividends, clearly. 6.27 touches in the attacking penalty area 96th percentile when compared to fellow attackers. 4.57 successful take-ons per 90 minutes puts him in the 99th percentile amongst other forwards and 3.46 shots per match shows his desire to get the ball towards the opposition’s goal.
85.5% pass completion rate also displays Kudus’ reliability on the ball; something which United have been left wanting for in recent seasons.
A grafter, Kudus makes a tackle 1.25 times every game.
The price tag, however, is a sticking point. As we have seen, Ajax know how to squeeze large amounts of money out of United. We expect Kudus to be valued near €50m.
What all three of these players bring is not only youth, but also proven capabilities on the top level. Although none have played in the Premier League, these youngsters have performed at various European stages.
The mooted price tags are not cheap. But this, if anything, emphasises the point that United cannot skimp on a lacklustre back-up striker.
Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford need a reliably clinical centre forward who can fit Ten Hag’s philosophy, whether that be the starting striker or the back-up.
Kudus would appear to be the most seamless signing given United’s links to Ajax whilst Jackson may be the most exciting, but Højlund’s suitability to the role, along with his potential to explode as a world-class centre forward, makes him the best back-up striker option for United to buy this summer. The fact he is already linked to the club may have fuelled this conclusion, but his talent displayed across various levels is unmistakable and the height of his ceiling would undoubtedly be extended at Old Trafford.
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