ARTICLES Opinion

Camavinga, Saul and Neves – Who’s the best option for United?

With less than three days of the summer transfer window left, Manchester United are still hoping to potentially sign a new midfielder before the transfer window closes and have three players firmly in their sights, world-renowned journalist Fabrizio Romano has revealed. Although the club have signed Cristiano Ronaldo, there is still a question as to how strong United’s midfield actually is, and if it is the weakest spot in the XI.

Romano said: “The three names they [Manchester United] always had on the list were Camavinga, Saul, and Ruben Neves. These were the three names on the list of Manchester United, in this order: first Camavinga, second Saul, third Ruben Neves.”

In this article, I will delve into the suitability of United’s three most realistic midfield targets and who would be the best option for United current team.

Eduardo Camavinga

The young Frenchmen have been a well-known target for United all summer. Eduardo Camavinga only has a year left on his contract and therefore Rennes is looking to sell and not lose him on a free. There is a hope that the 18-year-old will be the solution to the team’s midfield problems, however, when you check a little bit deeper his numbers show that this may not be the case

First of all, it wouldn’t be ideal for Ole Gunnar Solskjær to put all the pressure on an 18-year-old (especially one who coming off an underwhelming second full season in senior football) to be the man who takes United to that next level. Secondly and most importantly, Camavinga is not the specialist defensive midfielder United craves, from a numbers point of view he has reasonable output when it comes to his defensive actions, especially for such a young player.

He averages 3.86 tackles per 90 minutes with a success rate of just over 60% (2.44 to be exact) but he does commit around 2 fouls per game. These are solid numbers but they show the raw ability that could be developed over a long period. Nonetheless, when you look further into Camavinga’s stats, it seems to be a waste to just limit him to a defensive role.

Camavinga is a midfielder who helps Rennes with their ball progressing and usually occupies the No.8 position as seen in his heatmap below.

Camavinga's heat map shows he is more than just a defensive screen

Camavinga is a midfielder who helps Rennes with their ball progressing and usually occupies the no.8 position as seen in his heatmap below.

He averages around 1.83 successful dribbles per 90 at a success rate of 69.5% and makes 2.44 progressive carries into the final third which highlights his willingness to be part of Rennes attacking endeavors. Camavinga plays in a side that doesn’t keep much of the ball, hence why his passing numbers will be slightly deceiving due to the fact he wouldn’t be on the ball majority of the time. He has an 89.4% pass completion rate and when he is playing these passes into the final third, the completion rate only drops to 82.1%.

It’s a brilliant signing in terms of a financial point of view – as he only has a year left and would cost significantly less than what Rennes value him at but in footballing view, it wouldn’t be the type of profile that would suit the current team and setup.

Saúl Ñíguez

It seems every time the summer transfer window rolls around Manchester United and Saúl Ñíguez links are almost inevitably going to pop up. This summer is no different once again United are considering a late loan move for the Atlético Madrid midfielder. Saúl has experienced a complicated last season at Atlético Madrid, with Diego Simeone shifting away from his well-known, compact 4-4-2 to a more expansive and complimentary 3-5-2 that saw Saúl moved around the team in various positions and not having a nailed-on spot. 

To start with, Saúl is generally well-known for his incredible work rate and flexibility to adapt to different systems. So it’s no surprise that Ole Gunnar Solskjær is a keen admirer of the player. The Spaniard frequently displays good passing abilities, 83.9% of his passes are accurate which is just shy of United’s common midfield pair Fred (88%) and Scott McTominay (87%) respectively, but it’s his progressive passing where the issues lay. Saúl plays 3.27 progressive passes per 90 which is significantly worse than Fred (5.42) and Scott McTominay (4.54) and for someone who would be bought in to improve that department of United’s game it doesn’t look promising from the numbers side of things.

Saul is an exceptional tackler and boasts incredible numbers to support this claim with his 2.95 per 90 which is much better than Scott McTominay (2.07) and puts him on par with Fred (2.95). This shows just like Fred combining his aggressive nature in defending and his awareness of attacking situations developing around him can time his challenges well. Like I’ve stated before, Saul’s willingness to get from box to box is evident and it’s even more clear in his touches he has more touches in the attacking 3rd (17.27) than the defensive 3rd (12.86) which once again highlights that he isn’t going to sit there and dictate play. 

Saúl has proven himself as a multi-functional player with no significant weaknesses but it may be the fact that he doses everything to a good standard that it would be quite unuseful to limit him to mostly defensive responsibility. When throughout his career he has shown that his attacking and defensive profiles are, however, rather impressive and do well to paint a picture of an effective box-to-box midfielder. 

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Rúben Neves

Rúben Neves has had an engaging career so far. His next step will define whether he goes onto become one of Europe’s best, or fails to fulfill his potential. The Wolves midfielder has been highly touted by some big Premier League clubs for some time, with clubs such as Manchester City and Arsenal registering serious interest in the 24-year-old. Manchester United have been looking at Neves for some time with even Ole Gunnar Solskjær asking Bruno Fernandes about his fellow Portuguese international. 

He’s a proven Premier League player and can do just about everything in the engine room. Which once again Solskjær desires in his midfielders. Neves made 36 appearances for Wolves last season, with the majority coming within Nuno Espírito Santo‘s 3-4-3 formation, contributing with 5 goals and 1 assist from a defensive midfield position. Composed in possession, the Portuguese can link play throughout the thirds, altering the point of attack with his accurate passing and spatial awareness.

Neves also poses a real and well-known threat from long range. When it comes to passing what stands Neves out and makes him more suitable for the required role of the defensive midfielder for United is his purpose in his passes. Neves plays 6.94 passes into the final third per 90 which is significantly better than Scott McTominay (4.86) and places him well above (6.29), he also creates 1.1 big chances per 90 – that would place him as above every other midfielder at the club apart from the obvious two in Bruno Fernandes (2.7) and Paul Pogba (1.2) which once again highlights the creative ability impressively from a deep position.

His defensive numbers are impressive as well making 3.09 tackles per game which once again places him well above Scott McTominay (2.07) and Fred (2.95). In fact Neves won the fifth-highest number of tackles in the Premier League last season, and his total number of tackles and interceptions (136) was the highest in the Wolves team. It was also higher than all Manchester United players bar Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

For a reported fee of £35 million, he is very much worth United taking a gamble on and is the most suitable player that would enhance this current setup. He adds something different to the midfield with his blend of passing and tackling and has the potential to become a better player with more dangerous players around him.

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