Premier League

Beating Liverpool to Fekir would be ultimate provocation for United

 • by Graham Ruthven
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It’s difficult to know what to believe concerning Nabil Fekir and the transfer saga that has unfolded over the past few weeks.

Whatever the reasoning, the Lyon playmaker is no closer to securing a move to Liverpool which was, by all accounts, expected to be completed before the start of the World Cup. Now it might not happen at all.

Lyon made a point of pulling the plug on the initial deal struck with Liverpool for Fekir, although there have been suggestions the transfer could be resurrected as soon as France return from Russia this summer. More recently, though, the 24-year-old has been touted as a Manchester United transfer target.

“I was with José Mourinho the other day. We had long discussions,” Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas said in an interview this week. “Personally, I am no longer in discussions with Liverpool. At the moment, we are waiting for France and Nabil to have a fantastic World Cup.”

This, of course, could be a tactic from the notorious Lyon president, who isn’t reluctant to use dark arts and conjecture to get the best price for his players. Aulas is famed for being a tricky proposition for potential transfer market buyers, much like a Ligue 1 Daniel Levy.

But what if he is being honest?

Where would Fekir fit in at Manchester United? The Old Trafford side already appear to be well-stocked with attacking midfielders, with Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Alexis Sánchez, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial all vying for minutes behind Romelu Lukaku.

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So do they really need another one? After all, United are already a team struggling for a shape and an identity in the final third of the pitch. Would Fekir really help in that regard?

Assuming the signing of Fred this summer means Mourinho will opt for a three-man midfield, partnering the Brazilian with Nemanja Matić and Paul Pogba, that leaves three places in attack. Or maybe just two if he opts for a back three with wing backs, using Pogba as an out-and-out attacking midfielder.

Lukaku will take one of those places as the focal point of the attack. Given the money handed to Sánchez every week – the highest-paid player in the Premier League – it seems unlikely that he would miss out.

Then there’s Martial, Rashford, Lingard and Mata to fit into the equation as well.

Nabil Fekir compared to Manchester United's current attackers

The 4-3-3 most likely to be used at Old Trafford next season doesn’t look to be the best fit for Fekir, but is it possible he would be signed as an option in much the same way he would have been for Liverpool? In a 4-2-3-1 shape, with two of Fred, Pogba and Matić as a midfield pairing, there could be a place for Fekir.

In terms of Expected Goal Contribution per 90 minutes, Fekir’s value is as high as Sánchez’s 0.43, and a little higher than that of Mata’s 0.38 – a player he would likely be vying with for the same position.

In terms of big chances created per 90 minutes, though, Fekir is more productive than both Sánchez and Mata, averaging 0.47 per 90 minutes compared to just 0.25 and 0.27 respectively.

Rather surprisingly, Fekir also boasts a greater Expected Goals value per 90 minutes than Sánchez, a player who could be defined as a forward more than an attacking midfielder – 0.29 compared to just 0.2 for the Chilean.

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The French international scored 23 times for Lyon last season and that is reflected in his statistics. His exact role at United might not be clear at this point, but his inherent goal threat makes him an attractive option.

Of course, this wouldn’t the first time that United have sought to blow a rival out of the water for a transfer target they didn’t really need.

They did the same with the signing of Sánchez in January, snatching the Chilean from under Manchester City’s nose after he’d been linked with a move to the Etihad Stadium for the best part of a year.

To a certain extent, they also repeated the trick in beating City to the signing of Fred, a Manchester City transfer target for several months prior to his £47million Old Trafford switch.

Snatching the Liverpool transfer target from under the Reds’ noses would be the ultimate transfer provocation given how close the Reds were to sealing the deal a few weeks ago, but Mourinho and United have previous for this, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

Fekir is a player who thrives in quick transition. This isn’t something Mourinho’s side are known for and so there is reason to doubt the validity in the suggestion he could pitch up at Old Trafford this summer.

But the flip side of this is that his signing could push through the change United need, diversifying their options in the final third.

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