Manchester United are looking to right a wrong from the summer when the winter transfer window opens. The Red Devils allowed Romelu Lukaku to join Internazionale without bringing in a replacement for the forward.
United got off to a flyer, beating Chelsea 4-0 in the opening game of the season with both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial getting on the scoresheet. It was the perfect start for Ole Gunnar Solskjær in a post-Lukaku era.
However, since that victory, United have scored just four goals in five Premier League matches and, after defeat to West Ham United, they find themselves in eighth position. They’ve failed to score more than one goal in a single match in any competition since that opening-day rout.
Their underlying numbers paint the picture of an unfortunate team. To an extent, it is true. United have been unlucky in many of their matches and have missed out on maximum points due to poor finishing.
But when you don’t have a clinical forward in your ranks, this is the risk you take. If reports in the Daily Mail are to be believed, United have realised their mistake. The Red Devils are keeping tabs on Moussa Dembélé.
OL coach Sylvinho has rotated between Dembélé and Memphis Depay at times this campaign in a bid to keep the Dutch forward happy.
It means the Frenchman isn’t a guaranteed starter and could be tempted to move. It might also mean the 23-year-old could be available for a knockdown price. At least, that is the thinking at Old Trafford.
Despite being used in a rotation role, Dembélé has started the season in fine form. In Ligue 1 this term he’s averaging 1.1 goals per 90, all from open-play, from an open-play expected goals average of 0.39.
It’s an overperformance and that figure will no doubt drop as the season progresses and the sample size increases. But elite forwards often perform better than their underlying numbers suggest they should.
Lyon parted with £20million on deadline day of the 2018 summer transfer window to bring Dembélé back to France. The club’s new No.9 got off to a dream start, netting a double in his second start.
However, he only managed a further four goals before the winter break.
But since the turn of the year, he’s been in free-scoring form. He struck 14 times, including a last-minute winner in the derby against Saint-Étienne. He has six to his name this season already.
Dembélé’s form is sustainable. Last year, his expected goals average just 0.03 more than his actual goal output. He’s running hot right now but since returning to France he’s bettered his underlying numbers. It shows he’s not just in form, this is just what he does. He’s a proven goalscorer who makes the most of his opportunities. Something the current crop of United strikers are failing to do.
The Lyon man is versatile, too. He’s been deployed in a 4-3-3 to lead the line but has also been partnered in a two-man attack on occasion. United have exclusively used a 4-2-3-1 shape this season but Solskjær isn’t against using a diamond system.
Dembélé’s could spearhead an attack with Martial and Rashford either side of him but there’s no reason he couldn’t partner one of them in a 4-4-2 either. After all, he’s much more than just a poacher, even though he’s painted out as one.
His work-rate is underrated. He runs the channels and brings others into play. On paper, he’s a perfect No.9. If utilised properly he could do some serious damage in the Premier League.
United have money to spend and Lyon will know this. He won’t come cheap but, even at £50million, Dembélé has the potential to make that fee look like a bargain. He could be the difference between Europa League football and playing, once again, in the Champions League. The Red Devils should go all-in on the Frenchman.