Pre-Window Planning: Manchester United Need a Good Striker

It’s never good to lose your star striker to an injury. Especially if the star striker is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Even worse is the fact that the Swede will miss 9 months of action because of an ACL rupture. This can lead to Manchester United letting Zlatan go, or even worse, it could bring his colourful career to an unexpected, unfortunate end. And if/when they do let him go, he will dent United’s strike force. Here’s his radar.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic 16-17.png

While Zlatan’s injury could end United’s chances of a top-four finish, it can help the career of the English youngster everyone was talking about last year, Marcus Rashford. However, as Rashford is being used in a different role and receives less minutes under the new manager José Mourinho, the world’s gaze has shifted to the 18-year-old Monaco striker Kylian Mbappé-Lottin. As Mourinho has no other option but to play Rashford for the rest of the season, the English forward has the chance to develop his career.

But José would probably prefer to field an older striker (or at least closer to the peak age than Rashford). United need a target man or a dynamic, modern striker than a poacher, so shots and goals should not be the only KPIs to judge strikers. As I discussed in one of my articles about scouting, my rules for looking for strikers for United are as follows:

  • The player has to be 25 years old or younger.
  • The player should not be from the Premier League.
  • The player should not play in a top team.

I should also take price into account. While United has been linked with Antoine Griezmann, Romelu Lukaku, and Kylian Mbappé, they will all cost around the amount United paid for Paul Pogba. Griezmann might go for even more. The Glazers are one of the richest owners in world football, but I doubt they should pay a huge price. The price of the player should be under £50 million.

The Rating System

I used a simple yet systemic method of looking for good strikers. I copy-pasted player statistics from WhoScored, and assigned an equal weightage to seven stats, namely shots, key passes, goals, assists, successful dribbles, ball retention (successful dribbles + fouls/dispossessed + unsuccessful touches), and aerial win percentage. I did this by giving the average aggregate of a stat for all strikers under the age of 25 a value of 50.

For example, the average under-25 striker in the big-5 leagues (excluding the Premier League) takes approximately 2.47 shots per 90 minutes. If Player X takes 4 shots per 90 minutes, his score for shots p90 is:

(50 × 4) ÷ 2.47= 80.97

So the player will receive approximately 80.97 points for his shooting. I did this for all the seven statistics, and added up those scores. According to the rating, the ten best strikes under the age of 25 in the big-5 leagues (apart from the Premier League) are:

 Player Rating
Andrea Belotti 577.2776
Kylian Mbappé 531.8208
Andrej Kramaric 518.0427
Alvaro Morata 514.9153
Mauro Icardi 489.9988
Andrea Petagna 482.501
Alexandre Lacazette 444.2235
Janik Haberer 410.5736
Maximilian Philipp 409.8518
Timo Werner 403.1426

The average player would get a score of 350, so these guys are pretty good. The issue is that others know they are very good, too. Hence many of these players, particularly Belotti, Mbappé, Morata, Icardi, and Lacazette, will cost at least £40 million.  The rating returns good players, but they don’t come cheap at all.

But if United can spend £60-70 million, it should be for Andrea Belotti. He is the best striker under the age of 25 in Europe’s big-5 leagues excluding the Premier League (I know, specific), but he will feature in the list of top 10 strikers in world football.

Although he isn’t versatile, his shot and goal output is incredible. With a creative force behind him, Belotti can wreck Premier League defences. However, he isn’t cheap at all, so we move on to a less rated player.

Andrej Kramaric

Age: 25

Current club: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

Contract till: June 2020

Likely price: £15-20 million

The ex-Leicester City forward has been a revelation at Julian Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim. However, Kramaric hasn’t been a real eye-catcher this season, particularly for his lack of goals. However, he is very good at everything else.

Andrej Kramaric 16-17.png

He does score goals, but that’s only one facet of his play. He takes quite a few shots, he is good with ball, and he is very, very creative. He can score the chances that are created by Mkhitaryan, Pogba and co and can also create ones for them, too. Kramaric has played 75.6% of total available minutes for Hoffenheim this season, and hasn’t been injured even once. He can play some quality football for United for at least three years.

Andrea Petagna

Age: 21

Current club: Atalanta

Contract till: June 2020

Likely price: £10-15 million

Okay, I think my rating recommends players whose names start with ‘Andre’. Andrea Petagna is an Italian centre-forward who plays for Atalanta in the Serie A. He is another one of Atalanta’s academy products who have made themselves (kinda) well-known this season. His radar is quite remarkable.

Andrea Petagna 16-17.png

That does not look like the radar of a striker. It looks more like the one of a creative winger, like Eden Hazard or Dimitry Payet. He is also brilliant at dribbling and wins a lot of fouls, like Hazard. This is funny, because he usually plays as a lone forward, with no one in front of him. Anyway, he looks like a very good creative winger. If Mourinho wants a forward whose primary skill is providing, there is no one better than Petagna. His lack of shots is a worrying factor, but it can be worked on. Petagna is 21, which means he can be taught new skills. He does not have a history of picking up injuries and has played 75% of available minutes for Atalanta this season.

For my next player, I didn’t use the rating system. He does not play in the big-5 leagues, but his output is just excellent.

Kasper Dolberg

Age: 19

Current club: Ajax

Contract till: June 2021

Likely price: £30-35 million

The Ajax youngster brought himself into the eye of the public after scoring an 18-minute hat-trick against NEC Nijmegen in November. He has regularly featured on the scoresheet since, scoring 14 goals in 27 appearances. He has been touted as one of the most promising youngsters in the world, and he fully deserves it, as his radar shows.Kasper Dolberg 16-17.png

That is what you call a good shooter. His dribbling and creativity is quite good as well. The fact that he’s 19 makes it even more surprising. Although he plays in the relatively easy Dutch Eredivisie, but his numbers are so dominant that they will be good in the Premier League. Even though he has missed 3 games due to a groin injury, he has played 71% of available minutes for Ajax this season.

Conclusion

United can actually go without signing a striker in my opinion. Mourinho won’t settle for a kid, but that’s bad because Marcus Rashford is a marvellous player. Everyone knows that, but I don’t think Mourinho does. This was his radar last season, when he became popular under Louis van Gaal.

Marcus Rashford 15-16.png

The issue was that he didn’t shoot at all. Here’s his radar this year. He played most of the season as a winger, but he is still a fantastic winger for his age.

Marcus Rashford 16-17.png

So here are United’s options. Either play Rashford and ask another youngster to fill in as a reserve striker, or buy a better striker and use Rashford as a reserve. Either way, they are assured a lot of goals.

 

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