There may be something slightly warped about the idea of needing to sign a new midfielder in order to bring the best out of your record signing who is also a midfielder. But it has become more apparent this season that Manchester United are severely lacking in the options needed to ensure Paul Pogba is best utilised at Old Trafford.
A midfield partnership of the France international and the increasingly overworked Nemanja Matic has shown no signs of flourishing against sides United would consider their biggest threats. Against Tottenham Hotspur, that was ruthlessly reinforced as Pogba marauded freely across the pitch despite playing in a system that called for a little more discipline, while Matic chased shadows. That was before Marouane Fellaini's brief outing on a night that served to underline the lack of a real structure or able personnel needed to control games from midfield.
Another body to play in a midfield three could be the answer, with the club now making that sort of addition their top priority for the summer with Jose Mourinho satisfied with his attacking ensemble after Alexis Sanchez's arrival, according to The Independent.
The seemingly imminent retirement of Michael Carrick, who probably would have been the answer to their current woes 10 years ago, hastens the need for a controlling presence to help find balance to Mourinho's midfield. While one aim behind that will be to give Pogba more freedom, bringing in a player to help dictate the game and lighten Matic's workload might be just as big a payoff. Marco Verratti, Thiago Alcantara and Luke Modric are names comfortably consigned to the realms of fantasy as far as United's efforts are concerned next summer, but who is a viable candidate for the role? IBTimes UK considers the names.
With Modric surely unavailable, what about his deputy for club and heir for country? Mateo Kovacic would appear to tick all the boxes required to solve the issue at hand for United; extremely efficient on the ball, superb dribbling ability, effective in launching counter attacks and very hardworking.
Alongside Isco and Marco Asensio, the 23-year-old Croatia international would surely be considered part of the future core of a Real Madrid starting XI that is expected to undergo major surgery this summer. But into his third season at Los Blancos, he appears no closer to permanently placing himself in the starting XI, starting just one La Liga match this term – albeit in El Clasico last December. United are among the teams who will be carefully monitoring developments over the next six months, according to AS.
Julian Weigl and Carlos Soler
According to a recent report from the Independent, United feel confident they will be able to sign one or both players during next summer's transfer window. Weigl, 22, and Soler, 20, are already established figures at Borussia Dortmund and Valencia respectively with the latter enjoying a thrilling rise that has helped revive Valencia this season.
Spain Under-21 international Soler only made his senior debut in December 2016, finishing the season strongly and earning himself a new contract until 2021 that saw his release clause rise to €80m (£71.5m, $94.4m). Given Valencia's financial constraints, he will likely leave for less than that with Marca recently suggesting Valencia's failure to qualify for the Champions League this term will force the club to balance their books through a high profile sale.
Weigl meanwhile is more in the mould of Carrick of the two, a deep-lying playmaker whose positional awareness and precise passing ability moving forwards have seen many mark him for greatness since arriving at the Westfalenstadion from 1860 Munich back in 2015. Should United's aim be to directly replace their current captain, the Germany international may be their best bet.
Other names in the frame
Leon Goretzka may have once presented a solution, but with a pre-contract deal signed with Bayern Munich, he is no longer an option. Sergej Milinković-Savić has established himself as perhaps Serie A's brightest midfield talent at Lazio, but with a skillset similar to that of Pogba, he perhaps shouldn't be a priority midfield target next summer with United's problems lying elsewhere.
Arturo Vidal once helped bring the best out of the France international during their success together at Juventus but at 30, his powers appear to be on the wane. Miralem Pjanic, the man to revitalise the Old Lady midfield post-Pogba, Vidal and Andrea Pirlo, might be just another pipe dream.