Manchester United have turned their attention to Adrien Rabiot to solve their midfield problems as talks for Frenkie de Jong continue to stall. Here, Sky Sports takes a look at why they’ve opted to move for the polarising Frenchman…
The move comes from left-field after a summer-long pursuit of Barcelona midfielder De Jong, and has been met with scepticism by supporters. It was only on Friday that United manager Erik ten Hag said it was important to sign “the right player” rather than buying just anyone when quizzed about the club’s slow business this summer.
The France international has failed to make a substantial impact at Juventus since signing on a free transfer from PSG and drama seems to follow him wherever he goes. Never far behind is his mother and agent, Veronique.
Gary Neville criticises Manchester United’s recent transfer policy after Sky Italy reported the club had a bid rejected for former West Ham striker Marko Arnautovic.
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Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Brighton was a wake-up call for Ten Hag, as it laid bare the necessity for reinforcements in midfield. Rabiot is now being lined up to remedy those problems.
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Brighton’s win against Manchester United in the Premier League.
A broad agreement for the transfer of Rabiot has been reached with Juventus, and United still believe there is a deal to be done for De Jong. The possibility of signing both has not been ruled out, with central midfield identified as a priority area for reinforcement this summer.
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Who is Adrien Rabiot?
Rabiot established himself in Paris Saint-Germain’s first-team after coming through the academy and won five Ligue 1 titles in seven seasons. The midfielder made 227 appearances for PSG, scoring 24 goals.
He left in controversial circumstances in 2019 after being frozen out by the club for failing to agree a new contract. PSG felt they had been misled about his intentions, while his mother claimed he was leaving to “buy his freedom”.
Rabiot was highly sought after when it became clear he would be on the move, with Bayern Munich and Barcelona among those interested, before he eventually signed for Juventus.
Image: Adrien Rabiot left PSG in acrimonious circumstances
He’s failed to set Serie A alight since arriving in Turin and, after four years, the Italian side are willing to let Rabiot go as he approaches the final year of his contract.
Rabiot was picked to be part of France’s stand-by squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but removed himself as he refused to be a back-up and watched on as his teammates lifted the trophy.
Didier Deschamps brought him back into the fold for Euro 2020, and Rabiot started three of the four matches they played before being knocked out by Switzerland on penalties in the last 16.
Image: Rabiot has 29 caps for France
“You look at some of the numbers he’s produced and wonder if he’s that impressive,” European football expert Kevin Hatchard told Sky Sports News.
“But when you think of the coaches he’s played under and the teams he’s played for – regular for PSG, Juventus and he’s played under Didier Deschamps with France – and you feel there must be something tangible there that coaches see.”
Where would Rabiot fit in at Man Utd?
Ten Hag has tended to line up with two midfielders behind Bruno Fernandes since arriving at United. One in a deeper role, which is the position the former Ajax coach so desperately wants to fill with De Jong, and another operating slightly further up the pitch as a box-to-box midfielder.
Fred was used in the deeper role against Brighton, while Scott McTominay pressed higher up the pitch. Their inability to progress the ball from deep made for frustrating viewing and gave Brighton plenty of encouragement to press.
Sky Sports pundit Roy Keane said United’s midfielders lacked “decision-making” and “football intelligence” as he tore into McFred. “They are not good enough,” Keane told Sky Sports. “They won’t get Manchester United back competing at the top. We see it week in, week out. They’re not up to it.”
Rabiot has played both of these roles with Juventus, PSG and France, but struggled to nail down his best position. The 27-year-old has also spent time playing on the left of a narrow midfield four or as a wing-back.
Image: Rabiot's stats for Juventus last season
Image: Rabiot's stats for PSG in the Champions League in 2017/18
Hatchard is unsure where Rabiot would fit into Ten Hag’s system, but believes the midfielder is an improvement on the options United already have.
“Technically, he’s probably better than someone like Fred or Scott McTominay,” Hatchard told Sky Sports News. “Maybe he’ll be able to progress the ball a bit better. He plays with intensity as is a bit of a character and somebody who can break up play.
“He can do a bit of everything and it’ll be interesting to see how Erik ten Hag uses him. Does he want him in the role that McTominay played in against Brighton, pressing the play?”
What does Rabiot bring?
First and foremost, Rabiot’s arrival would address the lack of deeper midfield options at Ten Hag’s disposal in a summer which has seen Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic leave on free transfers.
His defensive stats show he would bring stability in transition. Opponents dribbled past Rabiot only 0.8 times per 90 minutes last season – fewer than any of United’s other midfielders.
Rabiot’s stats from last season show he also competes well in terms of tackling and his success-rate in duels.
But he fails to top any of the key passing metrics when compared to United’s current options, which raises concerns about how much of an impact he could have on progressing the ball from deep.
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“You look at it, and think, ‘What’s the plan here? What are they trying to achieve in the long-term,” said Hatchard. “Rabiot is a good player and has qualities, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s a sure-fire success.
“The intensity Adrien Rabiot plays with could rub off on other players [in a bad way].
“What we definitely know is that they need quality and bodies in midfield, as they don’t have it at the moment.
“If this is looked at as an exchange of Paul Pogba going one way and Rabiot heading the other, I would say Juventus have got the better deal.”
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