The role of the defensive midfielder in the modern game has completely evolved. No longer is the sitting player in the middle simply relied upon for their defensive duties, but, if anything, expected to be one of the side’s most creative players.
This creativity does not relate to step-overs and fancy flair work, but the ability to remain composed on the ball and dictate their team’s tempo whilst being in possession.
Manchester United’s squad is currently in need of such a profile with Nemanja Matic turning 32 later this year while there is a lack of quality depth too, so we’ve taken a look into three options they could consider.
According to the Daily Star, United have made Thomas Partey one of their top transfer targets this summer. For those who are familiar with the Ghanaian or even just watched him over the two legs against Liverpool this season, it isn’t hard to see why.
The midfielder has been a key starter in Diego Simeone’s robust Atletico Madrid side since 2017, holding the sole responsibility of anchoring the midfield. Whilst the Spanish side are known for their defensive resilience across all areas of the park, Partey is the figure that holds the team’s shape, allowing his fellow partners to act as box to box midfielders.
His ability to break up play and track attacking runners in-behind is almost unparalleled to any other defensive midfielder in Europe. On the ball too, the 26-year-old is a composed figure, more then capable of breaking the lines to find Atletico’s frontmen.
Sitting behind the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, Partey would slot in nicely in a midfield three at Old Trafford.
One of the Premier League’s most highly regarded defensive midfielders – Wilfred Ndidi’s development over the last two years has caught the attention of everybody in England.
Similar to Partey, the Nigerian is known for his disciplined role on the field, compromising a midfield trio with Youri Tielemans and James Maddison at Leicester City. As the anchor, Ndidi rarely ever breaks forward, but instead, enjoys sitting deep and acting as the defensive screen for his back four.
The Foxes’ record with the midfielder in their team simply speaks volumes, as they only have a 34% losing record with him when playing, compared to a 42% record without him (via Leicester Mercury). At just 23-years-of-age, Ndidi still has time to develop even further, quite the thought given that he already has four years of PL experience under his belt.
Former United midfielder Owen Hargreaves picked out the Foxes ace as a sensible signing for United earlier this month too, as per the Metro.
When Ruben Neves moved to Wolves back in 2017, it certainly was a transfer that raised eyebrows. The Porto captain was expected by many to move to a Premier League or top European side, not the Championship.
His career path has, however, gone according to plan. Neves played a vital role in helping Wolves get back into the Premier League, before then impressing on the main stage. He has been a key cog in Nuno Santo’s project for the Wanderers, virtually not missing a game since arriving.
As opposed to Ndidi and Partey though, the Portuguese international is recognised for his distributional abilities. Like a Michael Carrick type figure, Neves orchestrates from deep, pulling the strings for the attackers that like to burst forward. His composure whilst in possession is certainly impressive, and he is able to pick a pass that not many others can even see.
His defensive strengths lie with his disciplined positioning, shifting from side to side in the middle to cover his other central midfielders. This is a position he could occupy at United, as they too encourage their players to run in-behind and exploit any space inside the final third.
However, a move may not be straightforward to conduct. Goal reported back in January that Neves is not so keen the transfer, so Ole Gunnar Solskajer may have to look elsewhere.