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Why Chelsea and Manchester United are chasing Radja Nainggolan

He's highly rated across Europe, but what makes Nainggolan so good?


Raidja Nainggolan is a name that’s been making headlines in Italy this season and not only does he have Chelsea hot on his tail, Manchester United, too, have become interested in Roma’s all-action industrious midfielder, but what makes him so sought after across Europe?

Defensive industry 

First and foremost, Nainggolan is an extremely industrious midfielder. He puts himself about the pitch tirelessly, despite rumours that he’s partial to the occasional cigarette, and his stamina has made him a crucial asset to Roma’s first team. Bearing in mind that defensive duties aren’t the key aspect of his game, the fact that he’s won 55 tackles this season is a testament to the efforts he makes to break up opposition play. It might be less than Ander Herrera (64) and N’Golo Kante (80), but tackling is the first port of call for these two defensive-minded players.

Nainggolan is also a strong player in the air, winning 27 aerial duels, which is more than Herrera (26) and the diminutive Kante (18), proving to be a reliable option in defence both on the ground and in the air. To add to that, he’s also made 37 interceptions in his 35 Serie A appearances this season, is capable of pressing the ball high up the pitch and doesn’t shy away from a robust challenge.

Distribution from the middle 

It’s not just winning back the ball that the Belgian excels in, but also what he does with it after having won the ball back. Nainggolan has made 1446 passes from midfield for Roma and had created 64 chances in the process, far more than United’s Herrera (37) and Chelsea’s Kante (22). This demonstrates his effectiveness and astute vision on the ball, something that perhaps Manchester United lack in particular, especially when Paul Pogba is injured.

Nainggolan’s goal threat

So Nainggolan can defend, distribute the ball accurately, but he also can have a decisive impact in the final third of the pitch, too. Often he’ll be seen breaking up an opposition attack, laying off the ball and breaking forward into the penalty area to have an influence around the goal, which has resulted in eleven goals and four assists, an impressive record for a midfielder.

This slightly altered role is something he’s had to adapt to in Luciano Spalletti’s Roma, but one in which he’s thrived. The player himself commented on the benefits of a freer role: “I like this new position because it gives me more freedom and I can get forward in attack… I think I can perform better there.”

Manchester United or Chelsea?

It’s no surprise, therefore, to see Manchester United and Chelsea interested in Roma’s Belgian midfielder as Nainggolan’s attributes are perfectly tailored to the physicality of the Premier League. His combative spirit, tireless energy and physical approach make him well suited to English football.

In terms of the teams he’s caught the eye of, he would fit in at both. For Chelsea, Nainggolan would be the ideal complement to the defensive outlook of Kante. He’s creative in the same way as Cesc Fabregas is, perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, but without comprising the strength of Chelsea’s midfield given than he is able to put in a defensive shift too. It negates the need for Nemanja Matic, therefore, and adds more creativity to Chelsea’s otherwise primarily defensive midfield. He would significantly help the balance of Antonio Conte’s side in a comparable way to Arturo Vidal during Conte’s days at Juventus.

For Manchester United, Nainggolan could provide a suitable replacement for the veteran Michael Carrick. In a midfield three comprising Nainggolan, Herrera and Pogba, the defensive presence of the former would provide the platform for Pogba to venture forwards. Nainggolan, too, would be able to pass accurately from deep and help transition defence into counter-attacks in the same way that Carrick does. Wherever he ends up, Nainggolan would undoubtedly be an excellent addition.

Would Nainggolan be best suited for Chelsea or Manchester United? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Oli Stein

Football Editor

Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has been RealSport's football editor since September 2016.

He's a Tottenham Hotspur fan first and objective football writer second!

Oli is also a defensive end for American football club the London Blitz, starting his career on the offensive line with his Bristol university team.

Why Chelsea and Manchester United are chasing Radja Nainggolan

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