Monday 13 July 2015 18:22, UK
As Morgan Schneiderlin finalises his move to Manchester United, Nick Wright looks at what the former Southampton midfielder could offer Louis van Gaal’s side...
Four years after helping Southampton win promotion from League One, Morgan Schneiderlin has made his next step up.
“I think he could play at any of the top clubs in the league,” said Gary Neville, after watching the Frenchman play a key role as Saints defeated Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford in January. “I'm talking about Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, United, Liverpool, Tottenham. He's that good. Over a two-to-three-year period now he's shown himself to be the real thing.”
That move has come to fruition, with United now set to secure the 25-year-old's signature.
Schneiderlin has spoken candidly of his desire to play Champions League football in recent months, and his angry reaction to being denied a move away from Southampton last summer was evidence of his lofty ambitions.
Schneiderlin had watched an exodus of Mauricio Pochettino, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Calum Chambers from St Mary’s Stadium, but the south-coast club refused to let another prized asset depart and it wasn’t long before Schneiderlin would understand why.
After an inspired recruitment drive, Ronald Koeman began building his new-look side around Schneiderlin, and rather than moving backwards, Saints defied all expectations to secure a seventh-place finish. With Schneiderlin patrolling in front of the back four alongside Victor Wanyama, they also boasted a defensive record second only to champions Chelsea.
The likes of Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic were rightly praised for their roles in Southampton’s brilliant start to the season, but it was no coincidence that their top-four charge was derailed by a run of defeats for which Schneiderlin was injured in December.
And after a stellar campaign – undoubtedly his best yet since joining Southampton from Strasbourg in 2008 – it is entirely unsurprising that some of the Premier League’s big guns were hovering over St Mary’s again.
The France international's performances last season suggest he more than justifies what is reported to be a hefty price-tag.
With Michael Carrick now 33, Louis van Gaal is in need of a long-term successor in the holding role – and it makes perfect sense that he identified Schneiderlin as his prime target.
After all, Schneiderlin is similarly efficient in possession. The Southampton man enjoys having the ball at his feet and his pass completion rate of 89.3 per cent in 2014/15 was only a fraction below Carrick’s 89.6 per cent.
Interestingly, though, Schneiderlin played key passes twice as regularly as Carrick (0.8 per game v 0.4), suggesting he is also effective when venturing further forward.
And as well as scoring four Premier League goals for Southampton last season, Schneiderlin created 20 chances for his team-mates, more than both Carrick (eight) and Daley Blind (17), Van Gaal’s other option in the holding role in 2014/15.
Schneiderlin is a rare breed of midfielder who couples finesse with the destroyer qualities needed in that deep-lying role. Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic was the only midfielder to make more than his 79 tackles last season, and Schneiderlin also averaged 2.6 interceptions per game compared to Carrick’s 1.7.
We can also gauge Schneiderlin’s suitability to United by comparing him to the rest of the top four’s first choice holding midfielders – and the stats indicate he is more than a match for Matic, Manchester City’s Fernandinho and Arsenal’s emergent star Francis Coquelin.
Of that quartet, Schneiderlin leads the way for both tackles-per-game and pass accuracy – arguably the two most important metrics for a defensive midfielder. And with four goals in 26 appearances, he also boasts a far superior strike rate to his rivals.
United are also set to complete a move for Bayern Munich midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. Schneiderlin does not boast the same level of experience as the German World Cup winner, but he is proven in the Premier League and is five years younger than the Bayern man.
It has been a rapid rise for Schneiderlin, but he seems ready to take another step up.