Forget Luke Shaw - Manchester United may have his dream long-term replacement in their sights

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Manchester United have been linked with a summer bid for a young French left-back - but just how good is he?

As new minority Manchester United shareholders Ineos prepare for their first summer in charge of the transfer kitty, there have been suggestions that they will use their connections with French side OGC Nice, who Ineos own, to help their new club out. Jean-Clair Todibo has been routinely linked with a move to Manchester since news of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s takeover broke, but it seems like he isn’t the only Nice player in their sights.

A report from The Evening Standard suggests that United are also casting an eye over 23-year-old left-back Melvin Bard, who has played in all but one of Nice’s matches this season. A former French Under-21 international and a member of their Olympic squad in Tokyo, Bard signed from Lyon in 2021 and has made an extremely good impression ever since.

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Primarily an attacking wing-back, a move for Bard implies that United’s scouting team want to provide more options down the left flank with Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia both struggling with injuries this season. But while Bard’s reputation is built on his crossing and dribbling ability, he offers plenty of quality in defence as well.

His tackling is sound, his positioning solid and his anticipation of the opposing sides’ movement is particularly impressive – likely why he averages the better part of two interceptions per match, a very high number at the top level of the game. At 5’8” tall he has the disadvantage of being relatively slight, but his ability to cut passes out at source means that being outmuscled isn’t necessarily a routine problem.

That movement and positional sense also come into play in attack. While Bard has a lot in common with Shaw in terms of playing profile and output, one area he can outshine the England left-back in is in finding room down the wing with which to advance play – he receives passes in dangerous positions around one and a half times as often as the current first-choice left-back at Old Trafford.

He's a better dribbler, too, regularly beating opponents with good feet and a respectable (if not necessarily remarkable) turn of pace. But he has the ability to provide options on the wing both with and without the ball, and that contributes greatly to his ability to push attacks forward.

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And he uses that space pretty well, too. His crossing is cultured and accurate – his 31% cross accuracy rate is stellar, well above the global average, and better than Shaw’s mark of 27% as well. He gets some gorgeous shape and curve on his deliveries and is particularly adept at picking players out at the back post.

That said, not unlike Shaw, he doesn’t produce huge attacking returns despite passing the eye test in the final third. In over a hundred Ligue 1 games, he has just two goals and four assists to his name, and he doesn’t generate a huge number of shots for his team – directly or indirectly – despite those fabulously precise crosses and the fact that he spends plenty of time on the attack. There’s a disconnect between the quality of his build-up play and his end product, and that’s something that might show up even more in a tougher division like the Premier League.

So while he does have some advantages over Shaw, he isn’t necessarily an upgrade in every area, save for the fact that he’s got many more years ahead of him. He also lacks Shaw’s versatility and wouldn’t be an option at centre-half, where his lack of height and muscle would be a major problem.

His recent form has also been pretty poor, although that maybe reflects the downturn Nice have taken as a team. After clinging grimly on to Paris Saint-Germain’s coat-tails in the early part of the season, spending a long time in second place, their form has collapsed. Winless in seven matches, they have tumbled down the table to fifth, and Bard has been no better able than anyone else in black and red to turn things around.

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So there are reasons to believe that he could provide strong competition for Shaw and Malacia, and potential weaknesses than need ironing out. But one thing that will likely make him slightly more appealing for Manchester United is the fact that he will likely be cheap.

Bard has two years left to run on a contract which pays just £3250 per week, and while The Evening Standard’s report doesn’t provide a price tag, it’s reasonable to assume that it would put only a small dent in the transfer budget of a club like United – and that’s before you even factor in that Ineos would essentially be negotiating with themselves over his transfer.

Could Bard come in and compete with, or even supplant Shaw? Perhaps. He has some impressive qualities and looks good enough for the Premier League in defence while offering a good outlet in attack. But his relative inexperience compared to Shaw means that he may well only be seen as a back-up. But then again, he won’t cost too much money. Signing Bard is unlikely to be something that Manchester United would regret too much.

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