This article is part of Football FanCast’s In Numbers series, which takes a statistical look at performances, season-long form and reported transfer targets…
According to Gianluca Di Marzio, Manchester United have made an enquiry for Fiorentina centre-back Nikola Milenkovic and are interested in signing him this summer.
Reports in January earlier this year had spoke of United’s desire to bring the Serbia international to Old Trafford, but the Red Devils did not manage to pull off a deal.
It now appears however that the Red Devils are keen to revive their interest in the 21-year-old.
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And with suggestions that United’s prime defensive target Harry Maguire could cost upwards of £70m, a move for Milenkovic may make just as much sense financially as it does footballing wise.
Standing at 6 foot 5, Milenkovic is a towering presence in the Viola’s backline; indeed, his height makes him taller than Maguire by an inch. The profile that United are looking for in the two is evident; physically dominant centre-halves who couple the art of old school defending with a real modern day quality of playing out from the back.
Despite playing in a Fiorentina side that finished just above the relegation zone in Serie A, Milenkovic enjoyed a fine personal campaign. The Serbian averaged 1.7 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per game, which comfortably betters Maguire’s total of 1 tackle and 1.2 interceptions per game in the Premier League.
Both are strong and decisive in the tackle but show a willingness to get in front of their man to pinch the ball off them high up the pitch. It’s the kind of front-foot defending United need if they are to fully embrace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s desire to dominate games next season.
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Whilst both are comfortable enough on the ball, the disparity between the number of long balls played by the two is startling and is a reflection of how Fiorentina and Leicester typically play. The Italian side look to build out from the back and Milenkovic plays a key role in drifting slightly wider to open up passing lanes to the winger.
The Foxes on the other hand have notoriously been a counter-attacking side and Maguire’s 6.2 long balls per game can be attributed to their desire to get Jamie Vardy clean through on goal as quickly as possible.
Whilst Maguire might be Premier League proven, Milenkovic’s age, physical profile and confidence on the ball could make him an intriguing alternative to the England international for United this summer.