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Marcus Edwards: The man to solve Man Utd’s Antony problem

Sam McGuire
Marcus Edwards, Sporting CP
© ProShots

Despite investing heavily in the squad since Erik Ten Hag was appointed as manager, Manchester United are in dire need of reinforcements all over the pitch and another rebuild could be on the cards this summer.

The Red Devils have spent almost €450 million since the Dutchman was hired but reports claim they are going to be in the market for centre-backs, full-backs, midfielders and attackers once the current campaign comes to an end.

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Everyone will have their own opinion on what should take priority, but the glaring issue with the United team right now is in the final third. Ten Hag’s side are comfortably the lowest scorers in the top 10 having found the back of the net on just 24 occasions across their 21 matches. Furthermore, only Sheffield United (17), Burnley (21) and Crystal Palace (22) have scored fewer and two of those teams are in the bottom three. Everton and Luton have scored the same number of goals as the Red Devils and they’re both in a relegation battle.

— Football Transfers (@Transfersdotcom) January 23, 2024

That tells you all you need to know about their attacking woes. With this in mind, the recent links to Marcus Edwards make a lot of sense.

Football Transfers recently revealed the Sporting CP winger is being scouted by the Premier League giants.

The 25-year-old attacker has impressed since the switch to Portugal back in 2019. He initially turned out for Vitória before his form convinced Sporting to bring him to the capital in January 2022.

His directness in possession and ability to influence things in the final phase has put him on the radar of a number of top European clubs. But is the €35m-rated forward the right sort of player to spark this Man United attack into life?

First, we’ll look at the data.

Edwards is a low-volume sort of forward in the sense he’s averaged just a little over two shots per 90 over the past 12 months. It means he isn’t, by definition, a genuine goal threat. He’s posted an Expected Goals per 90 average of just 0.25 during this period which supports that idea. He will score goals but there’s a reason his career-high return is just seven goals, a haul he’s managed on three separate occasions.

So he isn’t going to arrive at Old Trafford and bag 30 Premier League goals. But he could well play a significant role in ensuring others get amongst the goals.

For example, he’s a creative menace and has an Expected Assists per 90 average of 0.42. He’s also averaging 5.58 shot-creating actions per 90 in the Portuguese top-flight. Simply put, he just makes things happen when he’s in possession. It is easy to understand why too when you realise he’s so confident with the ball. For context, he’s averaged 6.29 progressive passes, 5.15 progressive carries and he’s successful with 2.57 take-ons on a per 90 basis.

The left-footed attacker forces the opposition into dealing with him. He makes them make a decision and this is what creates space and time for teammates.

So how does he differ to those already plying their trade at Old Trafford?

Though he would likely rival Antony for a place in the starting XI, it is best to assess the other options Ten Hag has at his disposal to play in wide areas. We’ll start with Marcus Rashford.

The England international has good shot volume (averaging 3.27 per 90) and his Non-Penalty Expected Goals average of 0.39 paints a picture of a genuine goal threat. His creative numbers are down though with an Expected Assists average of just 0.13 per 90. He’s an adept ball carrier and he’s successful with 2.15 take-ons per 90.

Rashford’s shot-creating actions (3.4) are considerably down on those posted by Edwards, as are his progressive passes (3.05) and progressive carriers (3.37).

Alejandro Garnacho has remarkably similar numbers to the Manchester United No10. He’s averaged 3.32 shots with a Non-Penalty Expected Goals average of 0.36. His Expected Assists average is 0.12 and he’s racked up 3.42 shot-creating actions on a per 90 basis. The Argentine is completing over two take-ons per 90 as well. The only real difference is when looking at progressive carries. In that particular metric, Garnacho actually surpasses Edwards with 5.75 per 90.

Edwards is more productive than Antony
© ProShots – Edwards is more productive than Antony

And now onto Antony.

The Brazilian averages over three shots per 90 but has an Expected Goals total of just 0.25 which suggests he’s taking low-value efforts. He’s more creative than both Garnacho and Rashford (with an Expected Assists tally of 0.21) but nowhere near as influential as Edwards. He completes fewer take-ons, attempts fewer progressive passes and carries while averaging fewer shot-creating actions. Granted, he is doing this in a more difficult league.

Edwards could potentially alleviate some of the pressure on Antony and this could benefit both the player and the club. If he’s available for a bargain fee, it could well be a smart piece of business to bring the Sporting attacker back to England.

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