Manchester United

United smart to target Europe's reliable nuisance in January

 • by Sam McGuire
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Manchester United are, yet again, looking to spend their way out of the current predicament they find themselves in.

According to numerous reports, the Red Devils have a substantial transfer budget for January with the board backing Ole Gunnar Solskjær to turn things around at Old Trafford. 

Moussa Dembélé, James Maddison and Jadon Sancho have all been linked with big-money moves to the 20-time champions of England. All young, exciting talents which fit in with the club’s new, long-term approach. 

However, according to Tuttosport, United have taken a slight detour from that and have an agreement in place to sign 33-year-old Mario Mandžukić. The Juventus forward would be a short-term fix for Solskjær’s attack but he may be a necessary one.  

The Red Devils need a new poster boy and either one of Maddison or Sancho could fit the bill. But more so than ever, United need to look at functionality and not marketability if they’re to break back into the Premier League top-four. 

Mandžukić isn’t the sexiest of names. He won’t sell too many shirts and he isn’t a prolific goalscorer. But he is consistent and the Croatia international is a reliable nuisance. The last time he failed to hit double figures in a season was during the 2010/11 campaign with Wolfsburg when he finished with eight goals in 27 appearances. 

Since then he’s averaged close to 16 goals a season over the last eight years. A solid output for a player not primarily deployed as a centre-forward during that time. In many ways, he’s a facilitator. He does the grunt work to allow others to shine. 

At Bayern Munich he allowed Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben and Thomas Müller to do their thing. During his single season with Atlético Madrid, he formed an effective understanding with Antoine Griezmann – the 2014/15 campaign was the first time the Frenchman netted 25 goals in a single season. 

The move to Juventus saw him play a key role in Massimiliano Allegri’s squad. Along with Paolo Dybala, Álvaro Morata and Paul Pogba, Mandžukić plundered plenty of goals in Serie A. Ever since then he’s chipped away as the third attacker for the Old Lady of Italian football. 

Last year, he was instrumental in helping Cristiano Ronaldo settle into the team. Though his starting position was as a forward, the 33-year-old would drift to the left which in turn allowed Ronaldo to operate centrally. It worked perfectly. 

Mandžukić could play a similar role at Old Trafford. In their opening games of the season, it appeared as though the Red Devils had adopted a similar set-up to Liverpool.

Anthony Martial returned to his former role as a No.9 with Marcus Rashford being deployed on the left. However, during attacking phases of play, the Frenchman would switch positions with his English counterpart and defences struggled to keep tabs on the pair. 

It isn’t a tactic a player can be thrust into and immediately hit the ground running, though. Mandžukić has been playing a similar role for the best part of a decade whereas Martial has flip-flopped between centre-forward and left and right-winger during his developmental years. 

United need a striker who knows how to bring others into play, similar to how Romelu Lukaku did. In Mandžukić, they would have a striker who can do a job for the next couple of seasons.

Martial could learn the tricks of the false 9 from the Croatian in training. Alternatively, he could return to being a wide forward and exploiting the space created for him by Mandžukić’s movement. 

The former Monaco man isn’t the only one who could improve from the 33-year-old’s arrival. Daniel James thrives in space and Rashford has the potential to be a high-scoring wide forward in the right system.

Those diagonal runs he makes between full-back and centre-back are near impossible to stop.  With Mandžukić dragging defenders into areas they don’t want to be, it’s easy to imagine the area Rashford targets will be even more inviting than ever before. 

Martial and Rashford have had a trial run and could still be a long-term partnership. But United, if they’re to have Champions League football return to Old Trafford, need something for the now.

Mandžukić ticks the boxes and he’d not break the bank. There’s no reason the Juventus man has to be the only attacking addition to arrive in January. 

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