Manchester United

United again ignoring biggest problem with Costa pursuit

 • by Harry Gray
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José Mourinho hadn’t even finished cleaning out his desk at Old Trafford when news emerged that Manchester United were putting their January transfer plans in motion.

The first piece of the jigsaw in the rebuilding job, it seems, is Douglas Costa, who has been linked with a switch from Juventus for a fee in the region of £40million next month.

It is a move which will surprise many – not least the departed Mourinho who had prioritised a centre-back – and the question of whether United need attacking additions is a genuine one.

The likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial struggled under Mourinho’s leadership as the Portuguese looked to strangle opposition sides rather than play free-flowing football.

Alexis Sánchez is also a wide option when fit, but the hamstring injury he suffered in November will keep him sidelined into 2019. 

When he returns it will be intriguing to see if new interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can get the best of his attacking cohort. If he could – and it’s a big if – is the potential addition of Costa really a worthwhile investment for the Red Devils?

In Cristiano’s shadow

The Brazilian has had to take a role as a member of Juventus’ supporting cast this season, with his starting berth understandably now in the possession of former United man Cristiano Ronaldo.

His 11 Serie A outings have yielded just 350 minutes and he is yet to register a goal or an assist in the Italian top flight in 2018/19.

Given Costa is often coming on from the substitutes’ bench, that is hardly surprising. But his 3.08 open play key passes per 90 minute suggest a player who can make a decisive impact in the attacking third. 

Costa is also not afraid to fire efforts in on goal when given time to impress; he has averaged 3.34 shots per 90 minutes in Serie A. 

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The competition

Rashford (850) and Martial (798), the two wide players Costa is likely to duke it out with for a starting role should he move to Old Trafford, have both played far more league minutes than Costa this season 

As such they have been able to contribute more readily in the goal scoring department, with Martial’s seven Premier League strikes coming at a rate of 0.78 per 90 and Rashford’s three at 0.31.

Martial’s goal getting exploits are made all the more impressive when his total expected goals of 3.87 is taken into consideration.

The Frenchman’s expected goals per 90 minutes (XG90) sits at 0.43 while Rashford’s is lower at 0,29. Yet both clearly have regular involvements in the final third.

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Rashford also offers assists with his five in the league far outstripping Martial, who is yet to lay a goal on for a team-mate.

With Costa’s data coming from a smaller sample, it is hard to get a full grasp of how much of an impact he is having in comparison to the United duo and he has an XG90 in Serie A of just 0.09.

His total expected goal return for the campaign is 0.36, meaning his failure to register in the league this term should not be of great alarm to United fans as he isn’t getting high-quality chances. 

Under Mourinho, United’s insipid attack has lacked dynamism all season and you sense Rashford and Martial are the two players who can provide a spark should they be let off the leash under new management.

Martial has ten successful take-ons (1.12 per 90) in the Premier League while Rashord’s 11 have come at a rate of 1.16. This is a department where Costa does come out on top, however.

Despite his relative lack of action the wide man has 17 successful take-ons under his belt already and completes 4.37 per 90 minutes. 

This ability to get beyond his man could help United be a more fluent attacking force. Yet there is a fairly big elephant in the room; United’s defence. 

The 29 goals they have conceded in the league this season is already one greater than the entirety of the 2017/18 campaign.

And tellingly, United’s backline is also only completing 11.11 headed clearances a game – their total of 189 ranking as the 15th lowest in the Premier League.

With all this in mind, United would be better off turning their attention away from Costa next month. Their defence is what needs urgent surgery and, whether you liked him or not, Mourinho knew it. 

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