Manchester United’s summer transfer plans are on hold at the moment. The club want to appoint their new head coach before chasing targets in the market, although Ralf Rangnick has still recommended a few names.
Speaking to Sky Sports before United’s defeat to Liverpool, the interim manager referenced players who the club can sign regardless of who is appointed to lead the club’s new regime. He said: “There might be a couple of players — and I have already named those players to the board — that independent from formation, from style of football, and independent from a new manager, that could be of interest for a club like United .”
Which players might Rangnick be talking about? In this piece, MEN Sport’s tactical writer Josh Williams takes an educated guess:
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Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig)
United are set to lose a number of attacking players this summer, from Jesse Lingard to Paul Pogba to Juan Mata to Edinson Cavani. As a result, a number of new options will have to be added.
It remains to be seen what formation will be used at Old Trafford next season but regardless, a player like Christopher Nkunku has the skills to thrive. Still only 24, he’s capable when dominating possession and counter-attacking, and he’s experienced a breakout year of sorts at RB Leipzig.
The tricky forward has consistently performed well in Rangnick’s homeland since moving from France, but this season he’s bagged 17 goals in the Bundesliga while also registering a further 13 assists.
Crucially, he’s extremely adaptable. Over the past year, Nkunku has been deployed on both flanks, as a no.10, as a center forward and as a central midfielder. Regardless of the system favored by United next season, Nkunku would be equipped to prosper.
Declan Rice (West Ham)
Regardless of the system used by United next season, the club are in desperate need of a holding midfielder. Nemanja Matic is now 33 and, after he announced his intention to leave in the summer, United don’t have a player who is naturally inclined to hold the fort.
Declan Rice seems like an obvious candidate, but there is plenty of logic behind United’s long-standing interest. The Englishman has homegrown status attached to his game from him and he’s still just 23. Crucially, he’s demonstrated an ability to execute different playing styles. West Ham tend to soak pressure as part of a block before breaking forward, but that environment changes whenever Rice plays for England.
The national team usually dominate the ball and as a result, Rice has to be positive in possession. He’s proved that he can do both to a high level, and he could be the holding player that United are lacking.
Rice would add value to the squad without requiring specific tactical surroundings.
Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United)
Another obvious choice is Kalvin Phillips — but for good reason. He also possesses homegrown status and much like Rice, he’s demonstrated an ability to adapt to different systems and duties over the years.
Now aged 26, Phillips has been deployed as a holding midfielder and a centre-back for Leeds. Marcelo Bielsa harnessed his versatility and passing range on the ball before his Elland Road exit in February, with Gareth Southgate fielding him as a no.8 at Euro 2020.
Phillips isn’t a stellar name, but United don’t have much depth in the middle of the park and he’s shown to be capable, regardless of his tactical role or the style of play that he’s required to execute.
Youri Tielemans (Leicester City)
Yet another Premier League midfielder who could have sparked Rangnick’s attention is Youri Tielemans.
He’s out of contract in the summer of 2023 — which means that he could be attainable for a realistic price at the end of the season — and he could add to United’s options in the center of the field.
The Belgian has fulfilled a number of different midfield roles over the years. Brendan Rodgers has mostly used him as a no.8 for Leicester City, yet he’s played in a double pivot for Roberto Martinez when representing his country.
Tielemans has a cultured passing range, he’s cool when under pressure and he’s relatively well-rounded. He has the skill-set to improve United’s midfield and, at 24, the scope to improve.
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