Home » Player profile: Manchester United target Sofyan Amrabat

Player profile: Manchester United target Sofyan Amrabat

by David O'Neill

With reports that Sofyan Amrabat has given the green light to a move to Manchester United, many will be wondering how exactly the midfielder will fit into Erik ten Hag’s team. Here, The Peoples Person looks to explain just that.

Ten Hag handed Amrabat his debut while he was manager of FC Utrecht in 2014. Incidentally, it came against against Vitesse, the team who would eventually take Mason Mount on loan. Amrabat has since played for Feyenoord, Club Brugge, and Hellas Verona. While he earned a move to Fiorentina for his performances in Serie A, it is by another arena that most are familiar with him.

The World Stage

Amrabat’s performances in the FIFA World Cup demonstrated exemplary tactical discipline and leadership, with the Moroccans surprising everyone with their excellent performance. The flair of teams such as Portugal, Spain, and Belgium were no match for the incredibly compact unit of The Atlas Lions. At the heart of it, was Sofyan Amrabat, directing teammates and flying into tackles in equal measure.

Based on that tournament, it is easy to typecast Amrabat as a “destroyer” who disrupts the opposition and does little else. That is not the player Vincenzo Italiano demands, however, and so it is not the one he gets.

The Quarterback

For Fiorentina, his role last season was altogether different. They called him the ‘quarterback’ for him incredibly deep positioning, metronomic passing, and ultimately his natural inclinations as a playmaker. At the behest of his manager Italiano, Amrabat would often drop even deeper than his two centre backs in active possession, where he had the best sight of the field. An unusual strategy but one the midfielder was able to pull off with aplomb.

This was on display in the UEFA Conference League final against West Ham, during which he – despite the eventual defeat – helped his team to 68% possession with his 99 touches, 90.8% passing accuracy, and 9 accurate long balls. £105m Declan Rice was forced to gawk at the passing sequences Amrabat initiated for much of the match.

So how does that mean he will fit in at United? Well, his tactical flexibility means that he would stand a good chance of adapting to most coaches. Under Erik ten Hag, those chances should increase exponentially. And not just by their history.

Finding Solutions

In discussion, Ten Hag often refers to “finding solutions” on the field. He regularly switches his player’s positions around in order to adapt his team’s pressing and build-up structures, more so than his contemporaries. The goal is to keep the ball and work it up the pitch when in possession, and relentlessly press the opposition backline when out of it. In doing so, his team can maintain control of the match and ultimately increase its chances of winning.

That requires players who can find solutions to keeping possession on the one hand and ones who can create problems for opponents when they have the ball by shutting down the right passing angles and applying adequate pressure. In this, Sofyan Amrabat is definitely a midfielder in the mould of his first manager, since he is both a ball retention expert and a dogged ball winner. That combination is rare.

The man Amrabat would likely be replacing – Fred – does not seem to be a player Ten Hag feels he can place much faith in. As the season wore on the Brazilian’s gametime shrank to the point where he started just two of the last thirteen league matches. He is heavily rumoured to be set for a transfer as a result. As mentioned, Ten Hag appreciates a good ball winner, but when they don’t marry it with good passing ability and are easily hurried under pressure, he is eventually going to look for an upgrade.

Horses for Courses

There is also the benefit of rotation – something coaches are far more willing to do with players they trust. In Fernandes, Mount, Casemiro, and Amrabat, the manager would have three of his own signings and the man he just appointed club captain. Since he would certainly trust them, one would expect him to more willingly embrace rotation this term. When competing on multiple fronts, that can only be a good thing given their quality.

Amrabat’s usual position at the base of a midfield triangle would make him an ideal candidate to deputise for Casemiro in cases of fatigue, injury, or suspension as was needed last season. Scott McTominay was the stand-in then and the results were unsurprisingly poor with the academy graduate being more effective higher up the pitch as a more attacking eight, to say nothing of the drop-off in quality.

But the Moroccan could also play alongside Casemiro in a double pivot when required. While he lacks goal threat and typically does not attack the penalty area, his passing range and intelligence would add some ying to the Brazilian’s yang. There would also be the opportunity for Casemiro to attack the penalty area himself in this setup, with his own aerial threat and drive seeing him score six goals last term – a good haul, particularly without a more defensively-minded partner beside him.

As previously discussed, Amrabat gives Ten Hag extra options and that can only be a good thing. His ability to both win and retain the ball makes him perfect for the manager, while the previous relationship between the two should help with the settling-in process. Above all, Amrabat has the sort of character that this team is looking to add more of. Should he arrive at Old Trafford, fans will have plenty to look forward to.

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