All roads may not lead to Antoine Griezmann.
The Atlético Madrid forward has been a long term Manchester United transfer target.
Since the last transfer window, it has seemed almost inevitable that the Atleti man will be subject of a bid from José Mourinho’s side in the summer.
Indeed, back in January, former Tottenham Hotspur legend Ossie Ardiles told Football Whispers TV that Griezmann would fit in perfectly at Old Trafford.
“He’s the kind of typical Manchester United player,” the Argentine legend said. “[He has] a lot of flair, he can score goals, he can create goals. I think he would be a wonderful success at Manchester United.”
But, according to The Sun, Mourinho may turn his attention elsewhere in his quest for an attacker.
Just last week he hailed former Red Devils forward Javier Hernández, saying: “In the way we play at Old Trafford, in the way we dominate opponents, I think Chicharito would have 20 goals easy.
“He is the guy that naturally the ball comes here, rebound here, rebounds there, boom – goal.
“If the goalkeeper saves it, he goes there, boom – goal.
“If the cross is coming, he anticipates the first post header – goal. And that’s not even coming off the bench.”
But a move for the Little Pea looks unlucky, and it may be Napoli’s Dries Mertens who United turn to, with United watching him in action in the 3-0 win over Lazio last weekend.
Like Griezmann, Mertens hasn’t always played in the central striking role.
But while the Frenchman had moved from the wing before this season, despite the Dutchman a little less than four years older, it was only this season that Mertens switched to his role as a striker.
But, that’s not to say he isn’t made for that position.
The 29-year-old struck seven times in just two games in December, grabbing a hat-trick against Cagliari and scoring four against Joe Hart in the Torino goal.
Not even Diego Maradona managed that during his time at Napoli.
He has been dubbed a false nine since his move from the wing, and although he can drop deep to get the ball, he also is willing to play off the shoulder of the last defender and attack the spaces in behind.
Mertens thinks he should now be regarded just as a striker.
“I think I know what people want to say when they use that false nine,” he told Bleacher Report last week.
“[It is] because I’m not a big guy who can keep the ball and who can keep the ball and who can do what people have in their mind as the image of a striker.
“But football changes, and the way teams play changes.
“I think with the goals I’ve scored now, I think we can leave the ‘false’ and say I’m just a No.9.”
How do Griezmann and Mertens compare?
If you look at the league statistics of the duo in terms of their league form this season, the Napoli man probably comes out on top.
He has featured in fewer games than Griezmann – 28 to 30 – and has also spent less time on the pitch – 1979 minutes compared to 2556 – yet he has been involved in more goals.
The Dutchman has been directly involved in 25 Serie A goals this season (20 goals and five assists), while in LaLiga, Atleti’s forward has been involved in 22 (15 goals and seven assists).
Mertens also has more shots per 90 minutes (5.14 to 2.71) with a better shot accuracy (61 per cent to 58 per cent) than Griezmann.
But in terms of passing, the 26-year-old Frenchman comes out on top.
Griezmann has a pass completion rate of 79 per cent – Mertens’ is 76 per cent – and his 37.01 passes per 90 minutes is greater than the Napoli star’s 28.11.
But in terms of key passes per 90 minutes, the Dutch international is more effective, making 1.55 to the former Real Sociedad man’s 1.41.
He also creates more chances per 90 minutes too – 1.77 in comparison to Griezmann’s 1.65.
And with both being former wingers, you would perhaps expect them to be particularly adept at taking people on, but the pair are under 50 per cent take on completion in the league this season, with Mertens winning 49.9 per cent of his take ons and Griezmann just 43.18 per cent.
Is Mertens a viable alternative to Griezmann?
If you look statistically, in his more advanced role this season, Mertens has been every bit as good as Griezmann, if not better.
It took Mertens less than 10 seconds to score a goal. pic.twitter.com/0rUi8uo01C
— J. (@JojoCule) April 5, 2017
Age does have to be taken into consideration though, with the Napoli man turning 30 in May, while the French international is 26.
That would be taken into consideration in terms of price, with The Guardian saying Mertens has a £30million release clause, while Atlético Madrid’s man is known to have a buyout clause of €100million (£84.8million).
And although United aren’t afraid to splash the cash – see Paul Pogba – they may be tempted to go for the cheaper option.
Mertens is a late bloomer, and while he may not have as many years left in him as Griezmann, the Red Devils have seen this year with Zlatan Ibrahimović how forwards can thrive at Old Trafford in their mid-30s.
It is unlikely that Griezmann would want to not be playing in the Champions League next season – indeed The Sun reported just that less than a week ago – so should United miss out, they may be forced to turn their attention to Mertens anyway.
With their financial power, they could double his wages easily, and it is hard to imagine Mertens not being tempted by the move.