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A busy summer at Manchester United looks set to rumble on as the club continues to search for at least one midfielder to improve their options in the centre of the park and inject a bit more creativity into the team after a season of disappointment.
Louis Van Gaal's extensive contact book from years at the top level has already seen a number of big-name players linked with a switch to Old Trafford. The link to Toni Kroos might have already bitten the dust after both parties claimed to have no interest in doing business, but there are still plenty more options reportedly being targeted.
Two of the most frequent names to have appeared in the press in recent weeks are those of Kevin Strootman and Cesc Fabregas.
Fabregas is believed to be surplus to requirements at Barcelona, despite having enjoyed an impressive season in Catalunya. There have been numerous issues between the former Arsenal man and the fans at Camp Nou, while new manager Luis Enrique is said to believe that Fabregas merits only a diminished role.
The result - if you believe the papers - is that Fabregas is free to leave Barcelona, so long as any potential suitor meets the £30 million asking price.
Roma are less keen on selling Strootman having only signed him last summer. But the Italian club is trying to shift a mountain of debt, making them susceptible to over-the-odds bids for their players. The opportunity to make a healthy profit on the Dutchman may be something they cannot instantly turn down.
For United, the problem is different: these are two players of very similar style, and with other areas of the squad needing attention they can only afford one of htem. But who should they target between Fabregas and Strootman?
WHAT THE STATS SAY
Creativity was the main thing lacking from United until the introduction of Juan Mata in January, with the quartet of Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Tom Cleverley managing to contribute just one assist between them all season.
Either target would represent a major upgrade on that motley crew, with both men having contributed more than two chances per game at a spookily similar ratio: Fabregas has created 2.12 chances every 90 minutes, while Strootman has created 2.11.
However, when it comes to actual assists, Fabregas was the outright king. His 13 assists for the season meant that he set up 0.47 goals every 90 minutes - almost one assist every two games. Strootman's six in his 25 Roma appearances before injury cruelly ruined his season gave him 0.27 assists per 90 minutes played.
But while Fabregas leads his potential rival for a move to United in terms of the passing and creative side of affairs, Louis Van Gaal will undoubtedly demand a high work-rate from his midfielders, as well, and Strootman's work on the defensive side of the game gives him points against his Spanish adversary.
The Dutchman's 2.47 completed tackles won every 90 minutes is more than double the 1.17 Fabregas has achieved. Strootman also leads the way in terms of interceptions, having made 1.21 per 90 minutes of action.
It's a tough call to make, and you can't help but feel that either man would be an excellent acquisition for United. But with injury potentially keeping Strootman out until October and Fabregas already knowing the Premier League very well, the Barcelona man should probably be the man the Red Devils look to first.
Barcelona will be far more willing sellers than Roma, as well, meaning that a move for Fabregas will see United's gaffe-prone back room men (Ed Woodward: this means you) far less likely to waste weeks in negotiations that come to nothing, as they did for most of last summer. Indeed, they could potentially sign a player valued well below his true transfer value in today's market.
Van Gaal will no doubt demand improvements on the defensive side of Fabregas's game. But creativity is sorely needed in the centre of the park, and the Barcelona man's ability to push higher up the pitch when necessary will be vital. Whether you look at it from a footballing, medical or fiscal point of view, Fabregas is the player that United should pursue.
- Sports & Recreation
- Manchester United
- Cesc Fabregas
- Kevin Strootman