Fabinho, Matic or Nainggolan? Analysing Manchester United's midfield targets

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Manchester United have been in the market for a defensive midfielder this summer but are yet to finalise a deal.

With Jose Mourinho known to be keen on getting most of his transfers done before the team begin pre-season on July 8, something’s got to give sooner rather than later.

AS Monaco’s Fabinho first emerged as the club’s prime target to fill that role before Nemanja Matic was linked with a reunion with Mourinho.

Most recently, Radja Nainggolan has been tipped for a move to Old Trafford.

Who would be the best choice for the Red Devils? Opinions have varied but here, we take an in-depth look at the three candidates and the likelihood of each player making the switch.



Ever since United’s shift away from the 4-4-2 formation in the mid 2000s, they have opted to use a deep-lying playmaker but that isn’t exactly how Mourinho likes to roll. The Portuguese has always employed a more destructive player to shield his back four but capable of retaining possession without really dictating play.

What United need is something in between. A midfielder who boasts a fine array of passes, is mobile and excellent at breaking up play. They need someone who not only has the defensive aptitude but also the distribution to allow Paul Pogba to play further up the pitch with freedom. Fabinho fits the bill perfectly.

He began as a right full-back but evolved into a outstanding defensive midfielder last season. He’s taken his immense tackling into the centre of the pitch and has grown into a renowned ball-winner, making 3.1 tackles per game in Ligue 1 last season.

The Brazilian has been composed on the ball, capable of playing a killer pass when the opportunity presents itself while retaining the distinction of being dispossessed just once every two games.

United struggled for goals last season but in Fabinho, they would be getting a midfielder who can certainly chip in with a few. He has the engine to keep making late runs forward, the technique to score from range and the composure to step up and score from the spot as well.

The fact that he can also feature at right-back offers United an added option. Antonio Valencia is not getting any younger and may not be able to play every game anymore. Fabinho would slot into that role effortlessly, particularly against lesser opposition when Mourinho can use a more attacking option in midfield.

Finally, at just 23, Fabinho represents a fine investment and has plenty of scope to learn and grow into an even better player, capable of adapting to suit Mourinho’s specific requirements.

Compatibility: 8/10


A couple of weeks ago, it seemed like a done deal, particularly after the midfielder was pretty vocal about his admiration for the club. It seemed like a come-and-get-me plea and probably was.

However, the most recent reports suggest that United may have missed their chance after taking too long to finalise the deal with Paris Saint-Germain now favourites for his signature.

Rating: 6/10



During his second spell at Chelsea, Mourinho went to great lengths to bring Matic back to Stamford Brigde from Benfica. He was initially sold to the Portuguese giants in a player-plus-cash deal for David Luiz and had to be re-signed at Mourinho’s request three years later for £21 million.

As it turned out though, the Serbian proved to be an integral part of Chelsea’s title-winning campaign in the 2014-15 season. He was almost an extension of Mourinho himself on the pitch. He was strong, disciplined and followed instructions to perfection.

Matic has proved to be one of the best midfielders in the league in terms of winning the ball and distributing it to the plethora of creative talent ahead of him.

With N’Golo Kante beside him last season, Matic had the opportunity to venture forward as well and produced seven assists in the league as Chelsea stormed to the title in Antonio Conte’s first year at the Bridge.

The defensive midfielder would certainly add a huge physical presence to United’s midfield and would plug the holes ahead of the defence. His familiarity with Mourinho is a definite advantage as well.

Despite his seven assists last season, he’s won’t be one to support the attack very often. He’s also the least mobile of the midfielders United have targeted this summer. At 28 as well, he’s not going to improve on that front although he compensates for that to a large degree with his positioning and reading of the game.

His biggest selling point though is his reliability and the fact that he’s proven in the Premier League.

Compatibility: 7/10


Of the three, Matic appears to be the most likely according to recent reports. Chelsea are chasing Fabinho’s midfield partner at Monaco, Timoue Bakayoko. If they are successful in their efforts, it could pave the way for Matic to make the switch to Old Trafford.

He wouldn’t be the most eye-catching signing but he looks increasingly like the assured midfield option that United are homing in on.

Rating: 7/10



Like the other two midfielders in consideration, Nainggolan boasts several traits of a typical ‘Mourinho player’. He’s hard-working, determined and tenacious. He’s got a fantastic engine and covers a lot of ground.

He’s an all-action midfielder, shuttling from box to box, flying into a crunching tackle one minute and then scoring a screamer at the other end the next. His 11 goals and five assists in Serie A last season speaks volumes about his attacking capabilities. He also managed 1.9 key passes per game, regularly popping up in the final third.

While his contribution in attack is appealing, he may not be exactly what United need. Nainggolan has a tendency to go hunting for possession like a rabid dog and while his bite is appreciated, United may require a calmer influence. Furthermore, Ander Herrera was arguably United’s best player last season and seems to have the tenaciousness covered.

He would need to anchor the midfield, providing security for others, but in a way that’s an unfortunate waste of his drive and energy. At 29 as well, the Belgian may not have many great years ahead of him.

Compatibility: 6/10


There’s every chance that a deal could be completed but it has the feel of a back-up signing if one of the others doesn’t go through. As per the reports, the player himself, while considering the move, doesn’t seem altogether keen about it.

Rating: 5/10

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