So if you have been following United the last few years, you have probably heard a lot about how our midfield is lacking. I have heard of a number of players in the message boards here and noticed how its often difficult to find articles about these players we talk about. In an effort for me to better understand what’s out there on the transfer market, I have been undertaking a task to profile for some of these players so I understand who these players are when I hear them being talked about. I would like to share those observations with the rest of you so we can have a better discussion on who these guys are and whether they have the goods to help solve our midfield issues. I started last year with some background work on players like Locatelli, Koopmeiners, Zakaria, and Soumare who were all available in this summers transfer market and all of those players changed teams except for Zakaria, who I explained was not a fit here anyways.
We have been hearing a lot of talk about some young CM options in France. The four players I decided to start with for this year are Bruno Guimaraes (Lyon), Maxence Caqueret (Lyon), Boubacar Kamara (Marseille), and Aurélien Tchoumeni (Monaco). These are all players where if United were interested, we could realistically complete a transfer for without breaking the bank. Soumare went for around 22m euros to Leicester and he is just as talented if not more than any of the 4 I am going to talk about. Pape Sarr which is another player in this class of CM who recently completed a transfer to Tottenham went for around 15m, although he is a bit younger and not as polished presumably.
Let’s start with Bruno Guimaraes of Lyon. For the purposes of this profile, I watched Lyon against Strasbourg (3-1 Lyon win) and Lyon against PSG (1-2 Lyon loss). Lyon are coached by Peter Bosz who United fans may recognize was the manager of Ajax when we beat them in the Europa League Final in 2017 when Mourinho was still here. He moved on to manage Dortmund and then after getting sacked there, moved onto Bayer Leverkusen, getting them into the Champions League. Lyon play a 4-2-3-1 with a double pivot similar to the one we employ. They have some recognizable players like Xherdan Shaqiri, Jerome Boateng, Houssem Aouar, Moussa Dembele, Islam Slimani, and wonderkid Rayan Cherki.
Guimaraes is a very elegant player. I didn’t have to wait long in the game against Strasbourg for him to make his mark as he lifted a ball from the midfield line to the top of the 18 when Dembele chested it down and hammered it into the net. It’s a really pretty goal and worth finding on you tube. This shows you the type of line breaking passes he is capable of playing. He can hit the long switches with ease, mostly hitting the runner in stride so they can attack. He puts good weight on his passes and rolls the ball smoothly for an easy to receive pass when playing on the ground. He is almost exclusively right footed as according to FBREF has only hit 15 passes with his left foot compared to 295 with his right so far in the 5 league games he has played in this season. For reference that is more than twice as one footed as any of our current double pivot options even for guys like Matic who seems at times to exclusively play with his left foot. Bruno G would rather bend a ball with the outside of his right boot to play simple passes rather than use his left.
Bruno G mostly occupies the left side of the double pivot but will interchange a bit with his midfield partner. In the first game I watched him against Strasbourg, he started next to Thiago Mendes in the pivot and Bruno largely stayed deep and played as more of a regista. His midfield partner really failed to affect the game much and you saw Guimaraes working hard in possession to get on the ball and move it around. When Caqueret came on in the 65th minute, he started to push up a bit more as Caqueret is an all action midfielder in the mould of Fred to some degree, always pressing and hounding. On one such occasion, Bruno G played a nice give an go with Shaqiri and got himself into the box. He megged a guy on an elastico but failed to recover the ball on the other end of the defender. He beat defenders off the dribble a couple times in the match and showed that is a skill he has in his locker, but he isn’t going looking for those encounters in a way like Adama for instance invites. He has a good first touch and is hard to take the ball off of when he has it at his feet. Also took a really good free kick in the first match that a Lyon defender Maguired the ball over the goal somehow when it would have been easier to score.
Defensively Guimaraes leaves something to be desired. Multiple times in 1v1 marking situations he lets his guy get goal side of him which isn’t great as he doesn’t recover well. While Guimaraes has good size for the position both in height and bulk, he lacks foot speed, so he really labors in recovering if the ball gets past him on a counter attack. Bruno is a willing presser of the ball and will leave a man to pressure an opponent upfield in hopes he wins the ball or forces a bad pass. On defensive corner kicks, he played on the ball side of the corner of the 6 yard box. He is not aggressive about playing the ball if it comes into his area and let a ball get to ground where they can cause havoc. I would say his defense awareness is questionable and while aggressive about counter pressing in the offensive half of the field, he is pretty passive in his side of the pitch. I also believe his fitness is not great and this contributes to his poor positioning and aggressiveness at times. Fitness may be an area we can solve with conditioning.
Some relevant stats from FBREF help round out the profile. He is 81st percentile for SCA (shot creating actions) and 78th percentile for XA compared to positional peers. He is 91st percentile for passes played indicating he is a high volume mover of the ball at an 89.2% completed clip and 95th percentile for progressive carries which is extremely strong. Defensively, he averages almost 23 pressures per 90 which is 88th percentile and sports an off the charts 4.16 tackles per 90 which is 99th percentile. His interceptions (38th), blocks (16th), and aerials won (25th) are very below average as expected due to lack of pace and lack of aggressiveness when not pressing.
So that’s all great, so is he a fit here? He is a player I would consider but I don’t think he can be a solution on his own. I think Bruno G would thrive in helping our progression. Lyon held their own against PSG and I would say a good portion of that is the double pivot partnership of him and Caqueret who compliment each other well. They at least held their own and in my opinion were better than that against the PSG midfield of Ander Herrera and Gueye. PSG had real problems and could not play through the middle in that game. They were honestly lucky to win as they got a questionable penalty for the first goal and a goal in the last minute of the game which came down the flank to Mbappe and he found Icardi at the back post for a header as Denayer lost him ball watching. The good thing for us, is we have a couple all action 8’s in abundance like Caqueret who can provide the defensive work rate in McT and Fred. I think Guimaraes would be a good tool in the tool kit to use against teams that are likely to use low blocks or high presses against us but lack real teeth going forward on the attack against us. Bruno is at least as mobile as Matic and he still has his uses after all. Bruno G also did not get overrun or look out of place at all against PSG so perhaps you could play him against anyone, but worst case scenario, you could opt for a more defensive midfielder against teams like City or Chelsea if you have to cede possession.
For the money he would cost, I think he could do a job here. At 23 years old, still has room for some growth as a player. Might not be as a nailed on starter though which is fine. I would say his ceiling would be important starting 11 player and his floor would be rotational bench option. He has a different profile than anyone currently at the club and I think diverse tool sets allows for customization when you are in game planning.