Forget Casemiro - Man Utd's £40m midfield transfer target is the dream replacement

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Manchester United have been linked with a midfielder who could replace Casemiro - but would he be the right buy?

Manchester United have a lot of work to do in the transfer market this summer, and according to a report from The Daily Mirror, they’ve identified a potential new signing who could replace Casemiro in the heart of their midfield – João Gomes, the Wolverhampton Wanderers player whose consistent form and impressive work ethic has made him of the most important players at the Molineux.

But how would Gomes get on at United? Is the Brazilian, who could make his debut for the national side against England on Saturday, the answer to the problems that Erik ten Hag has struggled with this season, and is he equipped to make a difference at Old Trafford?

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Uncapped Gomes has been included in Doriva's first Brazil squad ahead of games against England and Spain.Uncapped Gomes has been included in Doriva's first Brazil squad ahead of games against England and Spain.
Uncapped Gomes has been included in Doriva's first Brazil squad ahead of games against England and Spain. | Wolves via Getty Images

The 23-year-old, not unreasonably nicknamed ‘The Pitbull’ back in his home nation, has many traits in common with his more experienced compatriot Casemiro, who is expected to leave this summer amid interest from Saudi Arabia. They’re both defensive midfielders who cover large amounts of ground and make a huge number of tackles, and indeed Gomes has more tackles in the Premier League this season than all but two players (João Palhinha and Vinícius Souza), although Casemiro has averaged more successful tackles per game so far.

In most regards, Gomes and Casemiro have very similar playing profiles, and this would essentially be a like-for-like move. They have similar strengths and similar weaknesses too, with a relative lack of top-end speed and comparatively low pass completion rates.

One key difference is that Casemiro’s passing accuracy is on the low side because he attempts a high volume of direct vertical passes up towards the United front line – a necessity in Ten Hag’s tactical scheme, which looks for quick breaks high up the field and which allows for a large amount of distance between defence and attack. Gomes, on the other hand, aims to be rather more economical with his passes, and only plays around half as many mid- or long-range forward balls, so his slight lack of passing discipline is perhaps a little concerning.

Certainly, Gomes isn’t as good at Casemiro as getting the ball to the forwards quickly – he succeeds with 10% less of his long passes than the former Real Madrid man. That’s a big difference at this level, and implies that Gomes may not be such a perfect fit for the current set-up at Old Trafford, where accurate direct balls are critical to the way they want to attack.

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If Gomes is being targeted, then, it implies that Manchester United may be considering a change of tactical direction – or that they haven’t done their homework properly, of course, which has certainly happened before, albeit with a different hand at the transfer tiller.

Gomes’ skillset works best when the field is condensed, either because his team plays a high line or because they bring the forwards back to get close to the midfield. The way United play now, looking to expand the field of play as far as possible to create space for their forwards, would not fit what Gomes does well – he would be asked to play more passes which are out of his comfort zone, and asked to cover more ground to close down opposing midfielders. He has the work rate and stamina to do the job in a more expansive team, but his lack of pace means that it’s much easier for him to close players down effectively when the pitch is made smaller.

The same is true for Casemiro, of course, and indeed for Sofyan Amrabat, and that has been one of the issues that Ten Hag has faced with his new methods – there is often a yawning gap between defence and attack and they don’t have enough midfielders with the pace to get forward quickly to support the attack in transition. Only Scott McTominay has consistently managed to get up to provide options on the counter this season, and it’s unlikely that Gomes would change that paradigm. He isn’t a serious threat in the final third, despite his recent brace in a 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur, and three goals and one assist in 35 league games for Wolves is a fair reflection of his attacking prowess as it stands.

Gomes signed from Flamengo for an estimated £16m last January.Gomes signed from Flamengo for an estimated £16m last January.
Gomes signed from Flamengo for an estimated £16m last January. | Wolves via Getty Images

So on the one hand, Gomes can be seen as a continuation candidate, and there are few in the stands at Old Trafford that would argue in favour of continuation across the field. But on the other, interest in Gomes may signal that Ineos, who now have control over the sporting direction of the club, recognise the need for a tweaked approach to the current system and are planning accordingly.

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They are not the only club reported to be interested in Gomes, who the Mirror claim is valued at £40m. Their article also cites Newcastle United and Spurs as interested parties, both clubs who play in a more compact manner which might suit Gomes better than the version of United we’re seeing under Ten Hag. It will be interesting to see where he ends up.

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