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Manchester United: 5 defensive midfielders that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could target

Kalvin Phillips
(Image credit: Getty)

The flaw in Manchester United's team is obvious. The void in defensive midfield was mentioned before the start of the start of the season - and yet Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn't address the position in the transfer window, despite claiming he wanted to. 

In fact United were apparently thinking about a new DM as long ago as when they signed Donny van de Beek - despite the Dutchman never having an obvious role in the first team. Surely it's something that they'll have to look at next summer?

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Well recent results may well have exacerbated the necessity. United have McTominay and Fred for big games, while Pogba and Matic can fill in with mixed results. 

1. Declan Rice

Declan Rice

(Image credit: PA)

The standout option. Declan Rice has taken his game to a new level in the past 18 months, helping propel West Ham United away from relegation dogfighting and towards the Europa League. He's a regular for England and has showed alongside Tomas Soucek that he's improved his game going forward, too.

Rice may be a lone no.6 that United are looking for, who can drop in between the centre-backs to form a back three. Equally, he might be a midfield partner to do the dirty work alongside Pogba - next to McTominay, you get the feeling that both would be box-to-box.

But given that West Ham are thriving, why would he leave? He's going to be expensive if United want to tempt him away from the London Stadium - and with Rice more of a defensive midfielder than a holding midfielder, maybe there are better passers out there who can control tempo better for United. 

2. Franck Kessie

Franck Kessie's contract expires next summer - so there isn't even close to the same expense issues that United would have with Rice. 

Kessie joined AC Milan as part of a mad spending spree that felt particularly Football Manager-esque from the Italian giants and like many who joined at that time, he took a while to bed in. Thriving now in Serie A, he's a complete presence capable of breaking up play and starting attacks.

One concern that United fans may have though is around the pace change from Italy to England. Kessie is used to having a lot more time and space on the ball than Premier League midfielders would give him: adaption isn't guaranteed and United already have issues with a midfielder being too relaxed in possession in Pogba. 

3. Wilfred Ndidi

Wilfred Ndidi

(Image credit: PA)

Wilfred Ndidi has shone for Leicester City in a possession-heavy system as a lone defensive midfielder, he's a strong passer and he's excellent positionally. What's not to love? 

With Ndidi having filled in at centre-back too, there's the option of using him there - whether you reserve that versatility for an injury crisis (Harry Maguire has just been rushed back from injury) or play a 4-3-3 system that fluidly morphs into a 3-4-3, similarly to how Eric Dier enabled Tottenham to a few years ago. Why not monitor Mauricio Pochettino's situation at PSG, while you're at it?

Again though, the issue from buying within the Premier League these days is that no one comes cheap. How much did Manchester United pay for Maguire? How much did the Foxes demand from Arsenal for James Maddison? Ndidi is costing at least £50m. There might be better options out on the continent. 

4. Boubacar Kamara

Marseille star Boubacar Kamara was converted into a midfielder after beginning life as a centre-back. The 21-year-old screens effectively and is still learning - and he's free from next summer.

Kamara is all-action, commanding and composed ahead of a backline. While his youth would complement the likes of Greenwood, Rashford and Sancho, all developing together, playing ahead of Varane and Maguire, he'd have plenty of instruction. As a smaller name in that team, too, he could be the Casemiro of the bunch - someone who's not essential to start every game and wouldn't have the ego to mind being dropped for games in which Bruno plays further forward.

The question is whether he's quite ready for a step up. Manchester United have a history of world-class midfielders - and this guy's only really been at Marseille. He might need a stepping stone in between...

5. Kalvin Phillips

Kalvin Phillips

(Image credit: PA)

Another England star who's featured alongside Declan Rice and another player who can function as a lone defensive midfielder, in a pair or at centre-back.

Kalvin Phillips's rise has been extraordinary to watch over the last few seasons, becoming a key figure for club and country, as both ascend rapidly. Phillips has bags of energy - he plays under Marcelo Bielsa, after all - and he's a capable passer. He's very disciplined and he showed for England over the summer, he can be an asset going forward, too. He's a leader as well, which helps. 

While Phillips is a good player with no particular weaknesses to his game, he perhaps isn't the kind of midfielder that will lift United to a new realm. Phillips is another good option - but another option who may end up costing far more than he's worth. 

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