Nemanja Matic might be in resurgent mood this season, but Manchester United need to lay down a succession plan for the Serb. We take a look at three replacement options.
2019-20 has been a season of renaissance for Nemanja Matic. Written off by many before the campaign even started due to his underwhelming displays for large chunks of last term, the Serbian international has let his game do the talking for him, on his way to winning over the skeptics.
It has not been easy for Matic, though, for he appeared to be an afterthought for much of the first half of the season. An injury crisis in the Manchester United midfield came as a boon for him on a personal level and he has not looked back since, cementing his place in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side with aplomb.
In fact, such has been his impact at the club that Manchester United have activated the one-year option in his contract, extending his stay till 2021. The Red Devils are also set to tie Matic down to a new two-year deal, as per reports, pointing towards a spectacular turnaround in fortunes, not long after he was linked with a move away from the club.
Now, while Matic has re-established himself as an asset at Old Trafford, it is also important to note that he is on the wrong side of 30 and has already showed signs of age catching up with him. In such a scenario, Manchester United would be ill advised to not look for a long-term successor for the 31-year-old.
The Hard Tackle takes a look at three defensive midfield options Manchester United should consider to replace Nemanja Matic in the long run.
The Ideal Option: Thomas Partey
Here is a player who has gone from strength to strength since leaving his homeland. Partey is now well and truly one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, having grown leaps and bounds since breaking into Los Rojiblancos’ first-team setup, back in the 2015-16 season.
For years, Atletico Madrid have been arguably the most robust side in the world. And, Partey has been a key component in ensuring that the Spanish giants have frustrated opponent after opponent with their unorthodox style of play.
The Ghanaian international has played a variety of roles in Diego Simeone’s side over the last five years or so, but it is when he is off the ball that his best qualities come to the fore. This was best seen when Atletico Madrid booted Liverpool out of the Champions League.
What makes Partey the ideal target for Manchester United, though, is his ability on the ball. While Partey spends much of his time on the pitch off possession, he has shown enough quality in dictating the tempo of the game and has generally appeared to be composed with the ball at his feet.
Manchester United do need such qualities in their defensive midfielder in the systems that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer prefers. Partey, therefore, would be the perfect successor for Matic, although the Premier League heavyweights will need to stave off competition from rivals Arsenal, who have been heavily linked with him as well.
The €50 million release clause in the 26-year-old’s contract only makes him a more attractive target, especially in the current market conditions. At 26, he is also approaching his peak years and he should ideally hit the ground running if he were to be signed, say, this summer. The most ready-made replacement for Matic.
Closer To Home: Wilfred Ndidi
Unlike our first option, Ndidi is not going to be at the peak of his powers anytime soon. However, the Nigerian midfielder would be a fine alternative to Partey, if Manchester United are considering their options to sign a long-term replacement for Matic.
Brought in to the King Power Stadium back in 2017, Ndidi has gone on to do the unfathomable – become the successor to N’Golo Kante that Leicester City had been desperately looking for since the Frenchman’s departure to Chelsea.
Now one of the best holding midfielders in the Premier League, Ndidi has been arguably the most vital cog for Leicester this season, with the Foxes chasing Champions League football. In fact, such has been his impact, that Leicester have looked a shell of their best whenever he was unavailable.
A player who is more in the mould of an orthodox defensive midfielder, Ndidi provides a dogged presence in the middle of the park, doing a lot of hard work while keeping things simple with the ball at his feet. That is not to suggest that Ndidi does not provide an assured presence in possession of the ball, though.
That he has nearly three years of experience in the Premier League also means that Ndidi should take little time to adjust to life as a Manchester United player. Furthermore, he would be a long-term option for Manchester United to replace Matic, seeing as he is just 23 and has his best years well ahead of him.
Prising him away from Leicester could be quite a task, especially considering the Foxes have some lofty ambitions and are currently ahead of Manchester United in the Premier League table. Nonetheless, if United do manage to swoop him to Old Trafford, Ndidi could well serve them for nearly a decade.
In-House Recruit: James Garner
Names like Denis Zakaria, Marquinhos, Boubakary Soumare and Eduardo Camavinga are all fine options worth considering for Manchester United. However, a potential long-term solution to succeed Matic could be sourced from within the club.
James Garner is a player who has been held in high regard in the youth setup at Manchester United for years now. Showing maturity well beyond his years, the teenager has long been touted to become a regular in the first-team setup at Old Trafford, although appearances in Solskjaer’s side have come few and far between.
Garner, though, has been a part of Manchester United’s matchday squads quite regularly ever since Solskjaer took charge of the first-team. In the sparse outings that have been handed to him, Garner has looked the part despite being at the nascent stage of his career.
There are indications that he could also be a leader for the Red Devils in the long run, having been handed the captain’s armband at just about every age group he has played in so far in his career. And, while he has been used as more of a box-to-box midfielder in the under-23 side this season, Garner has all the qualities to be the long-term holding midfield replacement for Matic as well.
Possessing qualities similar to his idol Michael Carrick, Garner has the defensive nous to play the Anchor Man role in front of the defence while having the killer pass in him to link up with attack in the blink of an eye. He might still be in his teens and perhaps, not quite ready to fill Matic’s boots as soon as the start of next season.
However, considering the resurgence that Matic has exhibited this season, the 2020-21 campaign could be used as one wherein Garner could learn the ropes from the veteran Serb before potentially succeeding the senior campaigner in the following season. In doing so, Manchester United could also save a lot of money on transfer fee and concentrate the funds on other targets. An option worth considering over the more heralded defensive midfielders?