Move over Casemiro: Man Utd could’ve signed £68m “monster” to truly unleash Mainoo

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No new players were added to Manchester United’s roster in January.

While a striker was the month’s top objective, Erik ten Hag’s midfield has shown both a problem and a solution in the last two games.

In light of this, let’s examine the guy that United passed up on but who had the potential to significantly improve the team.

Man United’s difficulty in the midfield

Reports surfaced during the last week of the transfer window suggesting that Morten Hjulmand was being courted by the Old Trafford team.

The Danish midfielder only moved from Lecce to Sporting CP in the summer, but he has already adapted well to his new environment. The player’s contract included a £68 million release clause imposed by the Portuguese team, which prevented the Red Devils from signing him in the off-season.

In a different universe, though, the 24-year-old might have been the one entering the Old Trafford field on Sunday to take against West Ham United instead of Casemiro.

When the Brazilian rejoined the United team last Sunday to play Newport County, his performance was far from stellar. The 31-year-old’s four fouls and 64% pass completion percentage told you how slow, wasteful, and off tempo he was the entire game.

Mainoo, Casemiro, Varane, Manchester, United
Although Casemiro’s performance this week against Wolverhampton Wanderers was marginally better, it was still very clear that he was unable to contain the middle on his own. The former Real Madrid player only won five of his twelve ground battles, gave up a penalty, and was dribbled past four times.

How Mainoo may have been set free by Hjulmand

Over the past month or so, Kobbie Mainoo has been United’s most reliable player. It appears like Ten Hag has understood how valuable he is to the team because he has played every minute of the team’s last four games after being replaced at halftime against Nottingham Forest.

The highly versatile 18-year-old’s primary role since joining the team has been that of a defensive midfielder. He has scored in both of his past two games, including a last-minute winner on Thursday, where he demonstrated to the world why he is such a “special” prospect and suggested that his best role might be a little further forward as a box-to-box number eight, according to analyst Ben Mattinson.

Mainoo’s creative qualities and ability to influence the game in the latter third would be enhanced by having Hjulmand in the lineup. This season’s Europa League statistics for Hjulmand are shown in the table below.

Hjulmand’s statistics

Statistics (per 90)


The percentile



Top 20%

Tackles prevailed.


upper 22%

Third-quarter tackles


Top 7%



Top 11%

Dribblers engaged in combat


upper 26%

Statistics through FBref

As you can see, Hjulmand’s athleticism and ability to cover ground, in contrast to Casemiro, make him the epitome of a “monster” out of possession—a claim made by journalist Zach Lowy. The Danish international’s tackle and interceptions statistics demonstrate how well he reads the game and mop up in the middle of the pitch.

United would be far more defensively safe in transition—where they are now exposed with Casemiro in the lineup—just by starting Hjulmand in the starting lineup. This is what is stopping the number 37 from going farther. As a result, Mainoo has the option to drop deeper to get on the ball or move farther forward to support the offensive attackers.

Mainoo, Man, Ten-Hag, Utd
The academy product may become United’s best midfield player since Paul Scholes if he is allowed to express himself wherever on the pitch.

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