Manchester United are 6/4 favourites to oust Arsenal from the FA Cup when the pair meet at Old Trafford this evening and the Red Devils are also fancied to beat their north London counterparts to the signing of a much-coveted midfielder.
Bayer Leverkusen’s Lars Bender is the man in question, a player who has been linked with an Emirates switch on multiple occasions over recent seasons.
Louis van Gaal has reportedly taken a liking to the German anchorman following a recurrence of top target Kevin Strootman’s knee injury.
While the Dutchman is obviously a supreme talent, it’s questionable whether he’s the player to solve Man Utd’s midfield quandary, with his all-action style best utilised in a box-to-box capacity, not screening the defence.
Bender, however, is a master of the art of sabotaging opposition attacks from his station in front of the back four.
He averages 3.1 successful tackles per outing in the Bundesliga this season, as well as 2.8 interceptions.
His possession recovery figures are comprehensively better than any current midfielder on the Reds’ roster, with Belgian battler Marouane Fellaini coming closest with 2.4.
The former Everton beanpole is another player whose primary focus is on attacking as opposed to defending.
An imbalance of adventurous middlemen in the ranks is the reason why Dutch utility player Daley Blind has been used almost exclusively in a defensive-midfield capacity this term
While the Ajax academy product has performed admirably in this role, he is by no means a specialist, unlike Bender, whose combative approach is exactly what United require.
His stellar tackling stats are supported by an especially impressive 4.9 victorious aerial duels won per domestic outing.
It’s Fellaini again who comes closest to matching the German in this metric, winning 3.6 of his battles in the air.
Of the midfielders Blind boasts the next best at 1.7.
In terms of technical proficiency, 19-cap Bender has improvements to make, which may explain why possession-obsessed Arsenal have never followed up several seasons of courting the player with an attempt to buy him.
His pass completion rate is a poor 68.7%, which is rendered worse when an average passes attempted figure of 41.3 per match is taken into consideration.
While Blind may be an inferior enforcer, the Dutchman is certainly stronger when it comes to building attacks from deep, with 89.6% of his passes finding their mark.
Deploying both alongside one another would ensure United had the ideal blend of ferocity and finesse in their midfield, which makes Bender a bargain at a reported £12m.