Analysis: Manchester United Set To Beat Arsenal To Signing Of Euro 2016 Winner

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We recently covered the news that Manchester United are interested in signing Southampton captain Jose Fonte, with the Saints man open to an offer from a big club. The latest reports suggest Fonte will opt for United over Arsenal – we take a look at what he’d potentially add to the club. 

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Portuguese compatriot Jose Mourinho is said to be in the market for a more experienced leader to hold the helm of United’s back line with Fonte certainly fitting into that criteria, the Red Devils have reportedly already opened informal talks with the Southampton star ahead of a proposed move this summer.

The 32-year-old Euro 2016 winner is thought to be open to an idea of moving to a ‘bigger club’ after a very successful summer but Southampton will be reluctant to sell their captain after another squad exodus this summer, seeing Saido Mane, Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pelle all leaving the club this summer.

Manchester United have already splashed the cash on one central defender this summer with Eric Bailly arriving at the Theatre of Dreams from Villarreal, the new United man has impressed tremendously in his opening games for the club but the United manager is now eager to add an experienced head to his United squad, certainly something which Fonte portrays.

Fonte reportedly is on the Gunners radar too as they have an injury crisis on their hands, but as reports state, the 32-year-old is keen to link up with Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.

Jose Fonte has been exceptional in Southampton’s rise in the top tier of English football and has been an influential player to their squad for many seasons; we take a look at how Fonte has compared to United’s current crop of defenders last season and if he will be a good partner for Bailly.

Daly Blind was signed for Manchester United as a central defensive midfielder but was deployed in a much deeper role in the United squad as he played as a centre-back or a left-back using his superb versatility to great measures. The Dutch international accomplished 1.94 tackles per 90 minutes, Phil Jones 1.18, Chris Smalling 1.11 and United target Fonte 0.97.

A trait which defenders have an advantage over their opponent is if they’re strong and powerful in the air, playing in one of the toughest leagues in the world, Fonte wins an impressive 68.18% of his aerial battles. Smalling trails on 63.68% and this is an obvious weakness for Blind, who stands at just 5ft 11′ only managed 38.64%.

The game has changed, defenders are often relied on to build up play from the back and have pinpoint passing and accuracy, this is certainly a trait that has changed over time but is now a very key factor for a defender to have. Phil Jones, who managed just ten games last season comes out on top for pass competition with an exquisite 85%, this is phenomenal for a defender who is under the radar at United to say the least. Fonte and Blind are both joint second with the latter commonly receiving heaps of praise for his composure on the ball; both defenders managed an impressive 84%. Smalling, who is arguably United’s most important defender managed 82% which is still very impressive, but an improvement will be required going into the new season.

As mentioned, building up play from the back is key in the modern game and defenders are heavily relied on to become natural ball players, as well as having immaculate passing accuracy, defenders are relied on to start a counter attack with forward passing at times, or simply relieving pressure on the back four. Blind accomplished 45.46 total forward passes per 90 last season which puts him ahead of all the other defenders. Jones is second with 37.35, Fonte third with 35.48 and once again Smalling last 30.83.

There are many contributions defenders must master to become a complete player and a few aspects of their game is interceptions and blocks. Fonte comes out on top for blocks showing his desire to get in front of the ball with 0.91. Blind is second with 0.58. Smalling is just behind In third 0.54 and Jones last with quite a poor 0.17. Smalling does come out on top with interceptions with an impressive 2.77. Southampton man Fonte is second with 2.33 which put him just ahead of Blind 2.31. Jones is again last with 2.19.

All defenders are equally matched with different sets of skills to their playing style. But who should partner new central defender Eric Bailly?

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United fans should be overwhelmed with what they have witnessed of Bailly thus far, a composed ball playing no nonsense defender if the first impression he has given the spectators in his first few games in England. One of the best Premier League debuts I have seen, the powerhouse was efficient on the ball and just as impressive without, putting in hard tackles and being dominant in the air.

For me, it is between Blind and Smalling (if Fonte doesn’t sign) who partners Bailly. Smalling is a good defender and has the athleticism which allows him to not easily be beaten; he is comfortable with the ball and a presence at the back and can be a nuisance on set-pieces. Blind is very, very professional, his tactical positioning is often spot on and he is very good on the ball, picking out long balls and short, although he isn’t the quickest, he certainly makes it hard for players to get the beating of him.

United have Smalling, Bailly, Blind and Jones occupying the centre-back positions and I don’t think Fonte should be a priority, for me, Fonte wouldn’t start at United, he would be a backup player like Jones, and at 32-years-old this is certainly something he would have to consider. If the Gunners did make a concrete move, it would make more sense for his footballing career to move there, he will be a guaranteed starter after the Gunners injury woes and would become a key player in their back-line.