With a matter of days remaining in the transfer window, there is a growing concern amongst Manchester United fans that the middle of the park has not yet been strengthened. While many midfielders have been tentatively linked, the chances of United reinforcing the position are looking extremely slim. However, Saúl Niguez is the latest name to be thrown into United’s transfer rumour mill and not for the first time either. A rumour backed by the ever-reliable Fabrizio Romano has affirmed United’s very real interest in the Spaniard. While many know the name, not many know the player who has been part of the furniture within Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side for a number of seasons. So what is Saul Niguez’ best position?
Saúl is a 26-year-old central midfielder with a well-rounded profile and a wide range of abilities. He came through the youth system at Atletico and has been a member of Diego Simeone’s side since 2014/2015 playing 339 games for the Colchoneros and has bagged 43 goals in that time. The central midfielder also has 19 caps for his national side, Spain. His terrific work rate and tremendous engine make up for his limited physical abilities. At Atletico, he is generally deployed on the left side of midfield, complimenting the preference of his left foot. However, Saúl has been played in various positions in the midfield and even at full-back as per his versatile nature. His admirable attacking and defensive attributes cement his status as a productive box-to-box midfielder.Embed from Getty Images
Saúl is technically proficient and rarely gives the ball away. An excellent range of passing and the ability to keep the ball ticking in the middle of the park proves he can play a deeper role in central midfield. He has the capability of bypassing opponents with impressive acceleration. This is significant for teams who dominate possession when playing against the low block as it offers a progressive route in the middle of the park in order to break teams down.
As mentioned, Saúl’s attributes suggest he is a natural box-to-box midfielder. However, Saúl’s versatility means he is more than capable in the number six position. In the modern game, it is not imperative for a defensive midfielder to be in the same mould of a Roy Keane or a N’Golo Kante, the all-action ball winner, covering every blade of grass. The greatest example to prove this point is Michael Carrick. Saúl and Carrick hold similar attributes as they both display an exceptional range of passing and they do not concede possession easily. Being press-resistant is another crucial attribute Saúl has which proves he can play in deep midfield as he has shown on numerous occasions how he can bypass oncoming players and pick off passes to progress play.Embed from Getty Images
Where does he fit in at United?
After United were held by the Saints at the weekend, it has become clear to United fans that a holding midfielder is desirable. Fred and Mctominay seem to be better suited in the number eight role where they are given the licence to move forward which was proved against Leeds as they both looked dangerous when they made broke the lines with their movement. This was further highlighted as Fred scored a goal in that game with a late run into the box.Embed from Getty Images
In transitions, United are one of the most feared sides in European football as they are extremely effective on the counter. The area where this team struggle is when they come up against sides who deploy the low-block and defend rigorously. Saúl could be the answer to this problem as he has many qualities that United lack in the middle of the park. The two major qualities he possesses is being press-resistant and the fact he has a terrific range of passing to offer a different mode of attack. He also does not give the ball away which is vital when coming up against low-block teams as it pegs them back and the opportunity of the opposition making a mistake is greater.
The coaching set-up and style of play indicates Saúl would be most likely to play in the double pivot with either one of Fred or Mctominay. Saúl’s calming influence in the middle of the park will give his partner in the double pivot the authority to push further forward, where they are more effective. The inclusion of Varane suggest United are likely to play a higher line and dominate possession when facing low-block setups, this will give the team a greater chance of creating more chances for the elite attacking options the team have, and Saúl’s presence in the middle of the park could be the deciding factor in gaining more points in these types of games.