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Who is Vitinha? The De Jong alternative on Man Utd's radar

Posted on June 17, 2022

The 2020/21 season wasn't a particularly memorable one for Wolves. In their final campaign under Nuno Espirito Santo, they laboured to a 13th-placed finish, a significant drop off from the previous season, where they finished seventh. A number of players struggled in Nuno's final campaign at the Molineux helm, noted in that only two players - Pedro Neto and Adama Traore - finished with a WhoScored rating above a 7.00.

One of those who flattered to decieve was high-profile summer loan signing Vitinha, though in truth, this was due to a lack of game time. Only five of his 19 appearances came from the outset, yet even so; a WhoScored rating of 6.23 was the lowest for Nuno's side.

As such, Wolves elected against taking up the option to make his move permanent for €20m. Returning to Porto, few could have foreseen he'd make such a sustained impact in their domestic success. Featuring largely alongside Matheus Uribe in Sergio Conceicao's favoured 4-4-2 setup, Vitinha was the driving force from deep for the Liga Bwin champions.

The 22-year-old finished 2021/22 with a WhoScored rating of 7.35, that enough to make the Liga Bwin team of the season, and his performances for Porto haven't gone unnoticed. Indeed, Manchester United are rumoured to have had a bid for Vitinha rejected, while Arsenal are also rumoured to be keeping tabs on the youngster.

For United, though, a reported big money move for Vitinha is a clear indication as to the type of midfielder they are targeting this summer. It's no secret that United are looking to bolster the ranks in the middle of the park in the off-season. Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata all departed Old Trafford following the culmination of their respective contracts on the back of a disappointing campaign for United.

Bodies are required for Eric ten Hag's side and while Frenkie de Jong is the number one target, there are obstacles to overcome if they are to land the Dutchman. De Jong is keen on remaining with Barcelona, even if the Blaugrana are looking to sell to midfielder in order to ease their financial woes.

United's lack of Champions League football next season is also a sticking point for the Manchester powerhouse and it could result in Ten Hag's side altering their targets as a result. De Jong is one of the best ball progressors in the game having returned a dribble success rate of 85%, that the best in Europe's top five leagues last season and it could be that he wants to continue playing in the Champions League rather than drop into the Europa League.

Vitinha, though, returned a dribble success rate of 72.7% in Portugal's top tier last term; no player managed better of the 59 players to attempt 50 or more dribbles. In addition, only Julian Weigl (62.9) made more passes per game than Vitinha (62) of central midfielders in Liga Bwin, while a 90.3% pass success rate ranked eighth in the division.

Given De Jong's ability to beat a press and pick out a teammate with ease, Vitinha's skill set is similiar to the Netherlands international and, if reports of a bid for the latter are to be believed, it is clear of the type of midfielder United are seeking to sign this summer. Will either player correct the lack of protection afforded to the defence? Ultimately, no.

It's no secret that United need a ball winner in the middle of the park to accomodate a player like De Jong or Vitinha, and that was obvious in that they were credited with an interest with Aurelien Tchouameni before his move to Real Madrid, while Ibrahim Sangare has also cropped up on United's radar. They do face plenty of competition for the latter from a number of Premier League rivals, including Chelsea and Liverpool, but it's an indication that Ten Hag is looking to potentially replicate the Edson Alvarez-Ryan Gravenberch midfield partnership at Ajax last season.

Alvarez carried out the nitty-gritty defensive work in the pairing, whereas Gravenberch, who this week moved to Bayern Munich, would advance the play by bringing the ball upfield, noted in that he completed more dribbles (65) than any other central midfielder in the Eredivisie last season.

An added bonus for Vitinha, and potentially United, is that the Portugal international is more than capable of winning the ball for his side if required. This was crucial for a Porto side that played with only two central midfielders for the bulk of last season as only two players won possession in the midfield third more times Vitinha (124) in Liga Bwin, so he is able to rob opponents of possession before then setting up field on his own, or shifting the ball onto another teammate to aid the attack.

He won't immediately fix United's midfield shortcomings, nor will De Jong if they do manage to land the Oranje star, but there is a clear desire to bring in a central midfielder to advance the play from deep in the same way Gravenberch did under Ten Hag for Ajax last season. Vitinha may not be a household name in the same mould as De Jong, but if United are reportedly trying their luck elsewhere if they fail to land the latter, then the former could prove a viable, and cost effective, alternative.