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Joshua Zirkzee helps Erik ten Hag in two ways Manchester United must listen to



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Multiple reports suggest that Manchester United is actively exploring the possibility of signing Bologna centre forward Joshua Zirkzee, who could be the Reds’ first summer signing.

Formerly of Bayern Munich, the 23-year-old is not your conventional striker but a remarkable talent nonetheless that Manchester United are clearly aware of. Playing under Thiago Motta at Bologna has seen him make great strides towards realising his potential.

Standing at 6’4, Zirkzee moves with incredible grace and is fantastic technically. His ability to weave his way through difficult spaces and facilitate for his teammates is incredibly valuable and the kind of thing someone like Marcus Rashford thrives alongside–evidenced by his connection with now-departed Anthony Martial.

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He offers Erik ten Hag a welcome option to use in the centre forward position, being a notably different profile to Rasmus Højlund. Where Zirkzee thrives is where the Danish international is developing, and this gives Ten Hag a welcome selection headache, allowing him to choose between the two depending on who suits the upcoming games more.

This is not a perfect strategy, as some players may find it difficult to build familiarity with the two different striker profiles rotating, but the potential benefits outweigh this. In games where United need the striker to be an out-ball, holding up the ball to relieve pressure and releasing direct wide attackers on transition, Zirkzee is ideal.

Another option Zirkzee gives is allowing United to use the diamond more frequently. An approach we saw more towards the end of last season, including in the FA Cup final victory, Zirkzee could pair one of Rasmus Højlund or Marcus Rashford in a front two.

Alternatively, he could operate at the tip of the diamond in a ‘false nine’ role, with the aforementioned two occupying the channels and offering a direct running threat in behind. In this setup, Bruno Fernandes would drop into one of the two number-eight roles, being partnered by Mason Mount, Kobbie Mainoo, or even Amad Diallo, depending on how Ten Hag wants to set United up.

At times, the striker position has felt a big burden on Rasmus Højlund since his £72m move from Atalanta last summer. No doubt an elite talent with the potential to become one of the best strikers in football, Højlund still has developing to do, and a wild amount of pressure was placed upon him last season.

Bringing the Dutchman to Old Trafford offers Højlund some needed relief, helping him to keep fresh – it is easy to forget he came to United with a back injury that needed managing – and giving him a bit more of an opportunity to develop the areas of his game which are still weaker. When he had some rest last season, Højlund looked much better, and the competition will likely be a positive for a player with his mentality.

The fee for Zirkzee is reasonable, the Dutchman has a £34 million buyout clause in his contract. Agent fees may become an issue, but if United can negotiate around those, this looks to be a smart deal to pursue. Zirkzee brings desirable physical and technical qualities and offers qualities currently lacking in United’s team.

Another benefit is that he has been playing under Thiago Motta, an idealistically similar manager to Erik ten Hag. This would smooth out Zirkzee’s transition process on the footballing side, further helped by the fact Ten Hag has managed similar players previously.

All things considered, this feels like a smart signing and would be a good starting point for INEOS. The need for a backup/alternate striker is filled; he brings valuable and currently absent qualities to United’s attack, would relate well to United’s other attackers, the fee isn’t excessive, and gives Ten Hag tactical versatility.

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