When Jose Mourinho brought Paul Pogba back to Manchester United in the summer of 2016, the Portuguese manager envisioned that the player could become the heart of the club for the next decade.
Nearly three years later and the controversial number 6 is being linked with a move away, leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with the task of re-configuring a midfield that only seems to tick when the enigmatic World Cup winner is properly in the mood.
The need for upgrades and fresh blood in the middle of the park is apparent, with Ander Herrera having walked out the exit door, and the Red Devils have been linked with a plethora of names in recent weeks, two of which are Mario Lemina and Sean Longstaff.
The duo, plying their trades at Southampton and Newcastle respectively, enjoyed mixed seasons in 2018/19, with academy product Longstaff enjoying a hype-stirring opening to life at senior level until injury curtailed his progress, while former Juventus man Lemina battled with injury and Ralph Hasenhuttl, who has left him out of the Saints’ pre-season training camp in Austria.
United’s recent midfield signings have been less than impressive, with Fred in particular flopping since trading Ukraine for England last summer, and it’s important that Solskjaer gets the right man if he is to soften the blow dealt by Pogba’s potential exit.
At 21-years-old, Englishman Longstaff surely finds himself on the radar of the big boys by virtue of his homegrown status, although that is not to downplay the quality he showcased in his nine Premier League appearances in black and white.
Longstaff’s impressive displays in February saw him nominated for the Premier League player of the month award alongside Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane, Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and United’s own Pogba.
Relations between the midfielder and Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl seem to have taken a knock too, with the Gabonese international expressing his desire to quit before his exile from the squad.
Despite concerns over Lemina’s attitude and commitment, the stats suggest that he could be a far shrewder addition than Longstaff.
The Chronicle report that United will have to ‘smash’ the £35m paid to Newcastle by Liverpool for Andy Carroll’s services back in 2011 if they are to prise away their talented youngster, while TalkSport understand that Southampton value their want-away number 18 at just £15m.
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Lemina outperforms Longstaff defensively, while the 15-cap international’s 1.1 dribbles per game and passing success rate of 86% also indicate that he uses the ball far better than the Newcastle prospect (stats via WhoScored).
Longstaff may have age on his side but United must avoid being taken for a ride by the player’s current employers.
Paying a fee near that which they shelled out for Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s services last month is a far greater gamble than that Lemina presents at just £15m.