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Is Matheus Nunes a good alternative to Frenkie de Jong for Manchester United?

A brief profile of the press-resistant Sporting CP midfielder

Matheus Nunes playing for Sporting CP in Portugal's Primeira Liga
Stephen Ganavas

AUGUST 12, 2022

Who is Matheus Nunes?

Many of Portugal’s best players break onto the scene very early, generally through their progression through the youth sectors of one of the country’s big three clubs – Porto, Sporting and Benfica – and high-quality performances for Portugal’s ever-excellent youth international teams.

But bucking that trend is Matheus Nunes. Nunes came through the academy of a small local club in Lisbon called Ericeirense, only moving to Estoril – who had just been relegated to the Portuguese second division – in 2018 just before his 20th birthday. Just six months later in January 2019, and 400 minutes of game time later, he would get his big break, moving to Sporting where he would join up with their youth team.

And the rest is history. In 2019/20 he made his league debut, featuring in each of Sporting’s final 10 league fixtures at the end of the pandemic interrupted season. And then he would become a regular feature in 2020/21, playing over 1,250 minutes as Sporting broke a long drought in finally winning the league. And finally in 2021/22 he would have his proper breakout season, becoming a key player that started almost every league fixture.

What is Matheus Nunes' style of play?

If you want someone press-resistant, there might not be a better option than Matheus Nunes. He has been a dominant member of Sporting’s midfield over the last two seasons, and ticks all the boxes a team like Manchester United need in the middle of the park, offering something very different to their current set of midfielders.

Most importantly, Nunes has no fear of receiving possession under pressure. He knows he can weasel himself out of tight situations and can relieve pressure on his team with his ability to retain possession. He adds a lot as an outright dribbler as well, not just as a carrier. He has some really sharp ball rolls and drag backs in his arsenal; he’s tricky rather than having a wicked turn of pace to beat players.

A skill of crucial importance is his ability to evade pressure from behind. This is crucial not just in relieving pressure but advancing past the midfield and generating transition opportunities in attack.

Defensively, I am increasingly of the opinion that midfielders for big teams don’t really need to be that good one-on-one. Rather, they need to have the mobility to defend spaces and position themselves well in transition. For example, Arturo Vidal knows how to tackle still, but he hasn’t been able to run for five years and is therefore a total liability for a team that will do a lot of defending running back towards goal. And Nunes clearly has the mobility to achieve this and be functional in a conventional defensive role as a six or eight.

Nunes is a good, solid short passer. He is not super aggressive, but pretty accurate and reliable. His long-range stuff is more sporadic and conservative, mainly looking to stretch the play to open up opportunities for wide players.

Matheus Nunes is an excellent dribbler and ball-carrier that can beat the first wave of press effectively and kick-start transition moves.

Matheus Nunes can still develop as a long-range passer, especially if a coach intends to play him as a lone pivot. He has the ability to switch play decently, but he could really dictate games with a bit more range and variety to his passing.

Which clubs have been linked with Matheus Nunes?

Liverpool have been the main club linked with Matheus Nunes. However, Manchester United, Wolves, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Leeds United, Newcastle United and Everton – essentially half the Premier League – have been tangentially linked with the Portuguese midfielder.

Of course, the madness of the Portuguese media will have some part in that. It’s unlikely that all of those clubs have been significantly interested in Nunes over the past year or so. Nevertheless, as we’ve outlined above, he would be a sensible alternative to Frenkie de Jong for Manchester United.

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