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Did Sofyan Amrabat Deserve More Game Time This Season?

Sofyan Amrabat has not been the signing many Manchester United fans envisioned prior to his loan deal being completed back in August, but that’s not the first time that’s happened to a player coming to Old Trafford. The list of footballers who were highly rated before signing for the club is endless, with only Bruno Fernandes truly able to say he excelled after making the change to Manchester.

Amrabat’s performances in the World Cup put the world on notice as Morocco marched to the semi-finals, and his time at Fiorentina added to the excitement surrounding the defensive midfielder. The 27-year-old has played just 1,292 minutes so far this campaign, starting on just 14 occasions as a defensive midfielder and left-back.

With Amrabat in the United team this season, visually before anything else, they have looked a lot more comfortable in possession. Especially while building from the back and breaking through an opposition press. Today’s game against Arsenal was a huge example of this, with the former Fiorentina man dropping into the back two alongside the two centre-backs and linking play from defence to midfield.

Sofyan Amrabat
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – MAY 12: Sofyan Amrabat of Manchester United shoots as he warms up prior to the Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal FC at Old Trafford on May 12, 2024 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Are United better with Amrabat?

Amrabat has a pass completion rate of 86.1%, which is better than the likes of Casemiro and Scott McTominay. The Moroccan is also playing 7.14 progressive passes per 90 minutes, which is bettered by only Bruno Fernandes among Manchester United midfielders.

Switches of play are a huge part of modern football, allowing the team in possession to switch the point of attack if they’re in the opposition’s final third, or play over the press in their own final third and be a bit more direct. The 27-year-old has the most switches per game out of any United midfielder this season with 0.78, completing 6 in just 7.7 90s this season. By comparison, the likes of Christian Eriksen have played 12.4 90 minutes, and completed just 9 switches.

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It’s the variety of areas statistically that seem to show United are more secure in possession with someone who appreciates the art a bit more, like Amrabat. Casemiro’s best phases of play come when he is facing it, whereas Amrabat is someone who doesn’t need to be facing the rest of the field to be productive. He’s comfortable collecting the ball with his back to it, and this is one of the reasons United build more seamlessly up the pitch when he’s in the team.

United have struggled to build attacks at times this season, especially getting the ball from the backline into the final third. Amrabat excels past all of his Manchester United team mates in regards to this statistic, averaging 5.97 passes into the final third.

The midfield has been criticised for their lack of carrying the ball from zone a to zone b this season, but the loanee has shown time and time again that he’s absolutely capable of doing this with ease. With 46.8 carries per game, and an average progressive carrying distance of 98.4, he is the best carrier in the Manchester United midfield.

The defensive side:

Defensively, especially in midfield this season, United have been way too easy to play against and simply to passive. Amrabat’s passing is clearly an asset for United in regards to when they are in possession, but what do his statistics say about his defensive work?

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When it comes to tackles won, only Casemiro wins more per match. Amrabat, however, wins more tackles in the defensive third than anyone else. He has the second highest tackle percentage out of any United midfielder, with only Scott McTominay boasting a better record, and he also completes 3.90 tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes, the second highest of any Manchester United midfielder in the squad. The Red’s have won more points per game in the Premier League this season with Amrabat on the pitch than Casemiro. They’ve also allowed fewer goals with the Moroccan on the pitch than when the Brazilian is.

His aerial duel percentage is the second best in the United midfield, his recoveries per 90 minutes is only bettered by Christian Eriksen. Amrabat is also winning the ball 0.43 times a game in the oppositions final third, more than Casemiro and Kobbie Mainoo.

It’s fair to say Sofyan Amrabat has been unfairly criticised during his time at Manchester United, and he is a much better player than the current public perception. This, as we’ve previously mentioned, is a common occurrence with players that sign for the club, with the Theatre of Dreams being a Coliseum of Nightmares over the last decade.

The Verdict:

It’s clear that Manchester United’s performances are more controlled and secure with Sofyan Amrabat on the pitch. Kobbie Mainoo is the only other United midfielder with a true appreciation for possession, as well as the ability to keep it and progress it. Casemiro doesn’t have the same ability on the ball as the Moroccan, and United really struggle to build out consistently without him on the pitch.

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In games like Liverpool away at Anfield, United showcased how they can progress the ball with profiles like the former Utrecht midfielder in the middle of the pitch, and Diogo Dalot inverting central to aid the play. The ability to have a calming presence centrally is pivotal to Erik ten Hag’s style of play, which begs the question as to why Amrabat has not featured on more occasions this season.

Casemiro’s struggles have been well documented, although absolutely amplified by United’s structure out of possession at times, and it’s impossible to imagine a coach as experienced as the Dutchman has not been able to see them on more than one occasion this season. Amrabat’s time at United has been over shadowed by some major accounts on social media painting unfair narratives about his performances.

It also showcases the fact that the structure of a football team is vital to the performance levels of a new signing. Endo at Liverpool have come into a solid structure at Anfield and flourished at times this season. If the Japanese midfielder had of signed for United this summer and played his football in their midfield, the public perception would have been vastly removed from the one we’re currently seeing.

Amrabat will likely go on to a good side in Europe next season after his loan deal expires, and Manchester United fans may have see another player perform away from the club to a level they never reached during the time at Old Trafford.

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