Despite the signings of Ander Herrera and Daley Blind, Manchester United still lack a strong physical presence in central midfield. Although Fellaini has done well in the past few games, it remains to be seen if he can continue his good form over a sustained period of time. To make matters worse, Michael Carrick, who only just returned from an ankle injury, is out again with a groin problem that he suffered whilst training with the national squad.
All of this means that Louis Van Gaal must once again think about delving into the transfer market for a central midfielder. Two names, that have been constantly mentioned, have been Kevin Strootman and Sami Khedira. Both players are hoping to make this season count after serious injuries last time around. Although either of them would be a welcome addition to the United ranks, Van Gaal will be forced to pick one. So, who among the two, should the club target? Before any judgment is passed, let us compare the duo using three main criteria – attacking, defending and suitability to the club.
Offensive output of Khedira and Strooman in the League last season
One look at the numbers will obviously tell you that Strootman was much better offensively last season. But the fact that Khedira was injured for more than half the season means that purely judging by the numbers is not an apples-to-apples comparison.
While Strootman was indeed more productive offensively last season, the startling statistic comes in terms of his chances created. Although the German midfielder had played only half the games that Strootman has, he has created just 1/4th of the chances that the Dutchman has. Also in terms of goals, not only has Khedira scored fewer, he has also taken less than half as many shots, which shows that his tendency to attack is not as much the Roma midfielder.
So in terms of their attacking threat, Strootman is clearly the winner as he not only scores more goals, but also creates more chances for his teammates.
Defensive output of Khedira and Strooman in the League last season
|% of Aerial duels won||47||57|
Defensively however, it is a close-run thing. Although both averaged almost the same amount of interceptions per game, in terms of tackles, the Dutchman’s numbers shows that he is more ready to commit to the tackle. Aerially as well, Strootman comes out on top, winning close to 60% of his headers, as compared to Khedira’s which is close to 50%. In fact, the only area in which Khedira comes out on top is the number of fouls he commits per game.
Both players have a different style of play, when it comes to defending. While Strootman loves to tackle and seems to enjoy the physical confrontations, the German midfielder flies under the radar, breaking up the play and making interceptions rather than flying into the tackle.
Defensively again, Strootman comes out on top, thanks to his ability to leverage his physicality in a manner that is well-suited to the Premier League.
Suitability to club
The final category is more based on how either player would fit in at United and not based on any particular statistics. As far as Khedira is concerned, he is very much similar to Carrick with respect to the effortless ease with which he is able to win possession. And while Carrick doesn’t venture forward too much, the 27-year-old German loves to go forward and join the attack.
Strootman is the archetypal box-to-box midfielder who was the energy to not only tackle and plug the gaps in defense, but is also equally capable of going forward and creating chances and scoring goals. Referred to as the Dutch Roy Keane, it is easy to see why he would be perfect at United, the home of the original Roy Keane. While Khedira is an upgrade on Carrick, Strootman is much more in line with the traditions of the club.
All things considered, it is pretty clear that United could do with one or both of these dynamic central midfielders. But although it is possible, Van Gaal is probably going to gor for just one of the two. In which case, the 24-year-old Strootman would just be the player they should be going for. Although the Dutchman is only just coming off a lengthy injury layoff, his relationship with the United manager, from his time with the national side and his undeniable talent means that concerns about his fitness shouldn’t be an issue. Although Khedira is probably a cheaper ready-made alternative who is available, United’s preference for a fast-paced attack means that Van Gaal would be better off with his compatriot.