Opinion: Manchester United should prefer Mario Lemina over Sean Longstaff

Manchester United’s need for midfield reinforcements has seen them get linked with Southampton star Mario Lemina and Newcastle United youngster Sean Longstaff.

The summer transfer window is kind of a make-or-break one for Manchester United. After the disappointing end to the 2018-19 campaign, that saw them fail to finish in the top four of the Premier League, the 20-time English champions find themselves with plenty of work to do, if they are to catch up with neighbours Manchester City and arch-rivals Liverpool.

How manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handles his transfer business in the summer window is going to have a major bearing on where Manchester United end up next season. Barring the goalkeeping department, Manchester United needed reinforcements across every area of the pitch heading into the summer window.

The need for a right-back has been addressed with the signing of Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace, while Daniel James’ arrival boosts United’s options on the flanks. But, a number of positions still need to be strengthened, with the central midfield being one such area where Solskjaer and Manchester United are in immediate requirement of a new addition.

A crucial summer for Solskjaer and Manchester United (Photo by TONY ASHBY/AFP/Getty Images)
A crucial summer for Solskjaer and Manchester United (Photo by TONY ASHBY/AFP/Getty Images)

The need for a new midfielder

Manchester United have been dealt a blow with Ander Herrera deciding to leave the club upon the expiry of his contract to join Paris Saint-Germain. The Spaniard had been one of the handful of successes of the Red Devils’ signings in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era and losing him weakens the midfield department.

The fact that Paul Pogba could be on the move this summer further threatens to hamper Manchester United’s plans for the upcoming season. The Frenchman has made it clear that he wants an exit and the club could very well decide to move him on, in order to avoid keeping a disgruntled player in the ranks.

Nemanja Matic, despite his experience, seemed like a player on a downward spiral in the last season. The Serbian will turn 31 years of age next month and will need to be phased out of the squad sooner or later, while last summer’s investment in Brazilian superstar Fred hasn’t yielded the desired results either.

Pogba could follow Herrera out of Old Trafford (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Pogba could follow Herrera out of Old Trafford (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Academy graduate Scott McTominay has shown that he has the capability to evolve into a mainstay in the centre of the park, but there is still a lot of work to be done for him to become achieve that status. Same goes for another academy product Andreas Pereira, who recently put pen to a new long-term contract.

So, an ideal scenario would be one where Manchester United sign two central midfielders – one who could add more creative impetus to the side and another who would fill in the workhorse role left vacant by Herrera. But, at least one new signing in the area is imperative if the Red Devils are to have a chance of breaking into the top four next season.

The rumours

Manchester United have been linked with a horde of midfielders over the past couple of months. Newcastle United youngster Sean Longstaff is someone that has been grabbing the headlines in recent weeks. The 21-year-old made a solid impression in his debut season which was cut short by injuries, enough to grab the attention of Manchester United.

The latest name being linked with a move to Manchester United is Southampton star Mario Lemina. The former Juventus midfielder has made it clear that he wants to leave the Saints this summer after two years at the club and has been left out of the their pre-season tour as well, indicating that he will be sold before the start of the 2019-20 season.

So, who among the two aforementioned names would be a good option for Manchester United?

Longstaff vs Lemina

Manchester United calling? (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Manchester United calling? (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Sean Longstaff is a product of the Newcastle United academy and broke into the senior team only last season, after two impressive loan spells with Kilmarnock and Blackpool. The 21-year-old made only 13 appearances in his first term with the first-team though, with a knee injury ending his season prematurely. But, in his brief time at the top level, Longstaff made a solid impact, bagging two goals in the process and setting up one more.

Likened to Michael Carrick by Rafael Benitez, the 21-year-old has demonstrated the calmness and composure on the ball that has been associated with the Manchester United legend, while he rarely appears to be rushed and always seems to find that extra bit of time when in possession.

The 21-year-old Englishman had shown during his time with Blackpool and Kilmarnock that he can contribute with goals from midfield, having netted 12 times in 62 games. Throw in his two-footed nature, a varied range of distribution and impressive vision, it makes sense why the youngster is so highly-rated.

Wanted by Manchester United (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
Wanted by Manchester United (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Mario Lemina burst into prominence when he joined Serie A champions Juventus from Marseille in 2015, initially on loan, before making the transfer permanent in 2016. The midfielder spent two years with the Bianconeri during which he racked up 42 appearances, before joining Southampton in 2017.

During his time at Southampton, Lemina has featured 52 times scoring 2 goals and setting up two more. The Gabonese international has had his fair share of injuries in the past couple of years, which have hampered him to a large extent, but the quality that he possesses is unmissable.

A supreme passer of the ball, Lemina can sit deep and spray balls upfield with surgical precision. Tall and strong, he can hold his own against opponents in midfield battles and provides that physical presence during set-pieces as well. The 25-year-old also has that ability to make driving runs from the middle of the park and contribute in attack, making him an all-round central midfielder.

2018-19 season Longstaff Lemina
Games (PL) 9 21
Goals 1 1
Assists 0 1
Pass Accuracy 80.9 86
Key Passes per game 0.6 0.6
Dribbles per game 0.6 1.1
Tackles per game 1.9 2.3
Interceptions per game 1.1 2


Given how a majority Manchester United’s signings post the Sir Alex Ferguson era have proven to be duds, the time is right for the club to take a corrective measure. Solskjaer seems to have taken a step in the right direction by deciding to invest in young and talented homegrown players instead of star names, as alluded by the signings of James and Wan-Bissaka.

And while Longstaff fits the bill for such a transfer policy, the fact that he has had just 13 senior appearances for Newcastle till date makes him a bit of a wildcard. The 21-year-old clearly has potential in plenty but is still quite far from being the finished article.

Lemina, on the other hand, has valuable experience of playing at a top club like Juventus and has been a regular in the Premier League for two seasons as well. While injuries have held him back to some extent, when given a constant run in the side, he has demonstrated how valuable a commodity he can be. Moreover, a look at last season’s numbers shows that Lemina comes out on top of Longstaff in all the key aspects of the game expected from a midfielder.

Add to it, Newcastle are demanding a whopping £50 million for Longstaff, which is clearly over the top for a player of his age and experience. Lemina, at 25, has his best years ahead and comes with plenty of experience at the top level. Hence, Manchester United would stand to benefit more from bringing in the former Juventus man over Longstaff in the ongoing transfer window.

Stats courtesy: WhoScored.com


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