Manchester United fans were boosted this week by the news that Benfica had started the process of finding a replacement for target Darwin Nunez ahead of the upcoming summer transfer window.
Nunez has been heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford in recent weeks after a scintillating campaign in which he’s scored score 31 goals while registering a further four assists across all competitions.
While he’s one of United’s key transfer targets this summer, competition for his signature is set to be fierce with many big European clubs also interested. This means landing the forward is by no means a guarantee.
Interestingly, though, as a contingency plan, United could explore the option of hijacking Benfica’s move for Nunez’s replacement – which looks like it could be Stuttgart forward Sasa Kalajdzic. The 24-year-old has drifted under the radar of many big European clubs, yet he’s an exciting player who has the potential to play at a much higher level than he currently is.
Kalajdzic joined Stuttgart ahead of the 2019/20 season when they were still in Bundesliga II. He made just six league appearances that season with a Cruciate Ligament Rupture side-lining him for most of the campaign. Stuttgart still managed to secure promotion that year and Kalajdsic returned ready for his debut campaign in Germany’s top tier.
The Austrian adjusted to the step-up seamlessly, registering an impressive 21 Bundesliga goal contributions in 33 appearances. A freak shoulder injury halted his progression this season as he missed four months of the campaign, but he returned at the beginning of the year and is very much looking back to his best with six goals in his last 11 appearances.
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In terms of a profile, what immediately stands out about Kalajdzic is his size. At 6ft7 he boasts being the tallest player in the Bundesliga. Unsurprisingly this makes him a dominating presence in the air, and his aerial duel success rate of 57.48 per cent as per Wyscout ranks as the second-highest of all Bundesliga strikers who have played 1000 minutes this season.
Based on how Erik Ten Hag has utilised Sebastien Haller at Ajax, with the big Ivory Coast international thriving as a target man for him, Kalajdzic could prove hugely beneficial next season if he was to join United.
Away from his aerial threat, Kalajdzic is also very hard-working. He’ll drop deep, run in behind and is willing to press opponents without the ball. Notably this season, only eight players from that aforementioned group have averaged more pressures inside the attacking third per 90 (9.93).
Lacking efficient pressing attackers has been one of United’s biggest problems this season with Cristiano Ronaldo, who has most often led the line for the Reds, ranking among the Premier League ’s worst forwards in this department. That’ll be a problem Ten Hag will aim to fix one way or another next season as pressing is a key staple of his tactical approach. Kalajdzic can help in this regard.
While Kalajdzic isn’t the same sort of blockbuster name as Nunez, he ticks many boxes in terms of what United are after. He’d also cost far less, meaning extra funds can be distributed to other areas. The Austrian is therefore not a player United should overlook lightly.