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Who should Manchester United sign if Paul Pogba leaves? | Football

Manchester United need to start planning for life without Paul Pogba. When asked about his future this week, Pogba said it could be “a good time for a new challenge somewhere else”.

When it comes to transfers, Ole Gunnar Solskjær has made it clear he wants the club to move away from the model that has failed in recent years. The manager wants to bring in young, hungry players whose wage demands will not break the bank. So, who could fill the void if Pogba leaves?

We have taken Pogba’s statistics from last season and compared them against six players who could fit into the United midfield. The players were all compared against Pogba’s numbers per 90 minutes for non-penalty goals (0.18), assists (0.27), passes into and inside the final third (27.19), key passes from open play (1.62), dribbles (1.79), dribble success (65.2%) and tackles (1.41).

Pogba is a unique and mercurial talent whose style of play makes him a magnet for the spotlight, but Manchester United should not be too panicked about replacing the numbers he posts. If the club want a player who produces similar statistics to Pogba, Maddison would be a good option; if they want a more creative, team-orientated player, Ruiz may be their man; and, if they want a goalscoring midfielder, Van de Beek is one of the finest in Europe.

Infographic: WhoScored

Of the six players selected here, James Maddison is the closest match to Pogba based on his statistics from last season. It was the 22-year-old’s first campaign in top-flight football, but he stepped up with ease.

Maddison’s figures for assists (0.22), dribbles (1.58) and passes in the final third (23.2) fell short of Pogba’s. However, the two players created a near identical number of chances from open player (1.61 per 90 minutes) and Maddison was on top when it came to goals (0.19), successful tackles (1.52) and dribble success rate (68.5%).

Having been forced to bide his time for a starting role at Napoli, Fabián Ruiz became increasingly influential for Carlo Ancelotti’s side as the season wore on. His form towards the end of the campaign has reportedly aroused the interest of Real Madrid, with Napoli apparently demanding at least double the €30m they paid to sign the Spaniard from Real Betis last summer.

Given the transfer fees United are thought to be weighing up, that wouldn’t necessarily be a stumbling block for a player who outperformed Pogba last season by a significant margin in many areas. While Fabián registered notably fewer assists, his overall creativity was sensational, averaging a remarkable 2.8 key passes from open play, 31.93 passes in the final third and an impressive 2.44 tackles per 90 minutes.

Giovani Lo Celso was effectively Fabian’s replacement at Real Betis last season and he was an extremely shrewd signing for the club, who are now in line to make a huge profit on the Argentinian. The 23-year-old’s versatility would make him an asset to any side; he previously operated as a deep-lying playmaker at PSG before adopting a far more advanced role in Spain.

Lo Celso, who is currently representing his country at the Copa América, is coming off a prolific season. He averaged 0.26 goals per 90, but he isn’t as creative as Pogba, or indeed much of the competition here. He makes up for that with his dribbling (2.35 successful dribbles per 90 minutes) and tackling (1.98 per 90 minutes).

If a move for Maddison proves too costly for United, Houssem Aouar offers a startlingly similar skillset. The Frenchman usually operates from a deeper position than Maddison, but he matched his tallies for both goals and assists last season (seven each). And, at just 20 years old, he is the youngest player analysed here. Aouar beat Pogba in term of goals and tackles per 90 minutes, but he fell short of his countryman in the other five metrics.

Youri Tielemans, Monaco (on loan at Leicester)

Another player reportedly on United’s radar this summer, Tielemans impressed during his loan spell at Leicester City and looks set for a permanent move away from Monaco this summer. The Belgium international, like Pogba, isn’t shy to shoot from distance but, aside from his goalscoring (0.23 goals per 90 minutes) and tackling (2.01 per 90 minutes), his figures don’t quite stack up to the competition.

The 22-year-old has an eye for a pass, but he isn’t overly creative, averaging modest returns for assists (0.16), passes in the final third (19.95) and key passes from open play (1.04) per 90 minutes. Nor does he really drive his team on in possession when it comes to dribbling. If United want a like-for-like replacement for Pogba, Tielemans isn’t the right man.

Like Tielemans, Van de Beek has been linked with a move to United but he isn’t particularly similar to Pogba either. The Dutch international may be good signing but he wouldn’t really fill Pogba’s boots.

The 22-year old enjoyed a fantastic season in front of goal, helping to fire Ajax to the Eredivisie title. He is a midfielder who likes to arrive late in the box and take up goalscoring positions. A Lampard-like player in that sense, Van de Beek comes out on top in terms of goals (0.33 per 90 minutes) and assists (0.37 per 90 minutes). Although he isn’t really the sort of player who will link play in advanced positions (he made just 13.61 final third passes per 90 minutes) or break the lines with his dribbling (0.77 per 90).

In summary, there are players out there with bags of potential who could take Pogba’s place in the team. Getting value for money may prove tougher than replacing a player who has blown boiling hot and freezing cold during his second spell in Manchester.

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