WHEN it comes to recruitment in top-level football hindsight is a wonderful thing.
You only have to look at Manchester United in last summer’s transfer window to see this.
Erik ten Hag’s squad needs some improvement in JanuaryCredit: Getty
xGold has identified three players to get Man Utd back on track this seasonCredit: Getty
After years of misjudged recruitment and expensive mistakes, signing the likes of Andre Onana, Rasmus Hojlund, Mason Mount and Sofyan Amrabat seemed to be a step in the right direction.
However, things have turned sour since then.
Onana has been frustratingly inconsistent as David de Gea’s replacement, Mount has struggled with injury, Hojlund is yet to score a Premier League goal and Amrabat has looked a shadow of the player who starred for Morocco at the World Cup.
With Man Utd sitting sixth in the league, out of the Carabao Cup and staring down Champions League group stage elimination, January could become a pivotal month for the Red Devils.
However, it is a difficult time to recruit top players due to a lack of availability or club’s refusal to part ways without a substantial sum being paid.
But by using Total Football Analysis’ xGold tool, we have identified three players who have similar profiles to some of the best players in England and who could be available for transfer next month.
xGold is a program that uses data to compare players from across the world before providing a list of players that are seen as similar, from a data perspective to your ideal target profile.
These stars come hand-in-hand with three weak positions in Erik ten Hag’s squad, which must be strengthened if Man Utd are to finish the season strongly.
1. Antonio Silva, CB, Benfica
Antonio Silva is the first player identified by out xGold toolCredit: Getty
The first area to be identified is centre-back, with Arsenal star William Saliba being the targeted profile for the position.
xGold suggests 20-year-old Benfica and Portugal centre back Antonio Silva is an 86 per cent match to Saliba.
Silva has a slight advantage over William Saliba in terms of his attacking output but are otherwise quite similiar
Interestingly, Silva has actually been linked to the Red Devils over the last 12 months and there is a sense Benfica could be in a position to listen to offers for the young defender.
Silva has the ability and willingness to do the hard work of a central defender by defending deep in tight areas and combines this with the passing range and ability to access all areas of the pitch.
Out of favour Raphael Varane is in Man Utd’s squad at the moment, but the Frenchman is not the best on the ball.
Silva represents a player who is not only good against the ball but much better with the ball than Varane.
Silva has been linked with Man Utd in the past
Silva’s passing range could be key for Man Utd in helping them to break down opponents who sit deep
Ten Hag has returned to using the November Player of the Month Harry Maguire in defence with Lisandro Martinez still out injured.
But the lack of continuity and genuine leadership there has been a real issue for them in recent weeks, especially when combined with the mistakes being made by Onana in goal.
There is a sense that the defence needs an injection of leadership and consistency.
And despite Silva being only 20 years old he has already shown his leadership credentials by captaining Benfica at points.
Silva has shown a good range of passing in games
Combining this passing range with Man Utd runners could be a deadly duo
Silva is likely to be the most expensive of the targets identified by xGold’s tool.
But given he is in the early years of his career, the investment would be worth it.
2. Arthur Vermeeren, CM, Antwerp
Arthur Vermeeren is the second profile idenitifiedCredit: Getty
The second area identified is central midfield, with the target profile being £105million Arsenal midfielder Declan Rice.
And the next target is 18-year-old Belgium and Antwerp midfielder Arthur Vermeeren.
Vermeeren has traits which suggest he could be similar to Declan Rice
xGold has rated Vermeeren as being an 84 per cent match to Rice.
Vermeeren is a midfielder who feels perfect for Man Utd given he is comfortable in various central midfield roles.
While he could play as a ‘6’ at the base of the midfield, we believe he is going to be better as an ‘8’ with the ability to play box to box and to create in the final third.
The emergence of 18-year-old Kobbie Mainoo in the deeper role this season gives rise to the hope that the two teenagers could combine well in the Man Utd midfield.
Vermeeren has starred in midfield for Antwerp despite their struggles in the Champions League this season
Vermeeren is capable of dictating play from deep or taking possession in more advanced areas
With Mount unavailable through injury and inconsistent when he was on the pitch, the midfield is still an area of weakness for United this season.
Casemiro’s notable regression and Amrabat’s struggle to adapt with the pace of England’s top flight has seen Ten Hag turn to Scott McTominay.
And despite his match-winning exploits as a box-crashing midfielder, Vermeeren would be a significant upgrade on the Scotland star in terms of the type of player Man Utd want to play in midfield.
Like Silva, Vermeeren is a young player who is already extremely experienced, having been capped as a full Belgium international and starring in the Champions League.
Vermeeren is comfortable across the midfield
Here Vermeeren has received the ball centrally before dribbling forward and slipping a pass into a team-mate
He has already been capped by Belgium at full international level and he has played this season in the Champions League.
And with a sense the youngster will be leaving Belgium for a top five league sooner rather than later, Man Utd would be missing out if they chose not to explore this option, especially given his likeness to Rice.
3. Evanilson, ST, Porto
Evanilson of Porto could be a perfect profile to bolster Man Utd’s attackCredit: Getty
The final position to be identified is a striker, with Manchester City ace Erling Haaland being the desired profile.
And for our final player, we are going back to Portugal with 24-year-old Brazil and Porto striker Evanilson.
Evanilson shares similarities to Erling Haaland and is shown to be more than capable to being involved in other facets of play
xGold has rated Evanilson as a 77 per cent match to Haaland.
His profile is an interesting one for Man Utd given the squads current options as genuine centre-forwards are Hojlund and Antony Martial.
While Hojlund has looked promising, he is a striker who wants to run behind every time, while Martial has struggled with injury and consistency.
Evanilson is a forward who is comfortable leading the line, making runs beyond the defence or dropping deeper to combine with the midfield to create opportunities and space for team-mates.
Evanilson has starred for Porto in the Champions League
Evanilson is also capable of creating danger chances for team-mates
It is important at top level clubs to have more than one plan when they are in possession of the ball.
Hojlund creates real threat with his pace and direct style of play when running behind.
However, this is quite one dimensional and the Red Devils need to be able to occupy the final third against teams who want to sit and defend deep.
Here, a profile like Evanilson would make sense.
His clinical nature in front of goal has been laid bare this season
Here Evanilson receives the ball on the edge of the area before standing up the defender and shooting at goal
Evanilson has the profile of a striker who could be brought in halfway through the season without expectation that he would be the clear first choice.
He could come into this Man Utd squad and immediately improve the group of strikers at the club while also providing different options for Ten Hag.
While recruitment in January is difficult it is still possible to add quality to your team for the second half of the season.
By using a tool like xGold at Total Football Analysis we are able to quickly identify interesting players that will be a fit to the profiles of the club that we are assessing.
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