Scouting Report: Is Granit Xhaka Destined for Manchester United?

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Scouting Report: Is Granit Xhaka Destined for Manchester United?
Phil Walter/Getty Images

Could Borussia Monchengladbach's Swiss international Granit Xhaka, a 21-year-old 6'1", 181-pound central midfielder, be a summer transfer target for Manchester United?

To cover that scenario, this article grades Xhaka's display against Ecuador at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and provides a scouting report on his season for Gladbach.

 

Xhaka vs. Ecuador Grade: B+

Source: FIFA.com.

Playing in front of Swiss defensive midfielders Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami, Xhaka covered 12,107 metres, the most of any player on the field, per FIFA.com.   

Source: FIFA.com.

Along with right attacking midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, who had a free-roaming role, and overlapping left-back Ricardo Rodriguez, Xhaka opened up play for Switzerland in their 2-1 win over Ecuador.

  Pass Completion % Key Passes Assists
       
Granit Xhaka 89 3 0
Ricardo Rodriguez 91 3 2
Xherdan Shaqiri 89 4 0
       

 

Source: Squawka.com.

Xhaka did not receive a higher grade because he did not record a single tackle or interception, nor was he the man of the moment. 

Yes, Xhaka worked hard, but it was Rodriguez, from left-back, who made the two game-changing plays plus a last-man tackle. 

 

Borussia Monchengladbach Positives

Source: Kicker.de.

During the club season, Xhaka established a formidable midfield partnership with Bayer Leverkusen's Gladbach loanee Christoph Kramer.

Gladbach manager Lucien Favre utilised Xhaka and Kramer to overpower opposing teams while controlling possession. 

Source: Bundesliga.com.
Source: Bundesliga.com.

League Only Christoph Kramer Granit Xhaka
     
Pass Completion % 88.6 86.6
Passes Per Game 57.8 62.8
Long Pass Completion % 81.3 77.9
Long Passes Per Game 3.3 8.1
     

The noticeable advantage Xhaka has over Kramer is long-range passing, averaging 4.8 more long passes per game. 

No midfielder at United matched Xhaka's willingness to spread play in 2013-14. 

(League Only) Long Passes Per Game Long Pass Completion %
     
Darren Fletcher 4.6 70.5
Granit Xhaka 8.1 77.9
Marouane Fellaini 2.0 86.5
Michael Carrick 6.0 79.7
Tom Cleverley 3.8 78.5
     

Xhaka zeroed in on then-Gladbach (now Club Tijuana) left winger Juan Arango and pierced Werder Bremen's defence. 

Source: Bundesliga.com.

When asked to extend plays, Xhaka took the ball past then-Nurnberg (now Eintracht Frankfurt) right-back Timothy Chandler and created a goalscoring chance for Gladbach forward Raffael.

Source: Bundesliga.com.

Swiss national team manager Ottmar Hitzfeld, a seven-time Bundesliga and two-time UEFA Champions League winning manager, believes Xhaka is comparable to Bayern Munich central midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger

"I brought [Schweinsteiger into the first-team of] Bayern Munich as an 18-year-old," Hitzfeld said, per FIFA.com"I see a lot of similarities between Granit and Bastian."

 

Borussia Monchengladbach Negatives

Xhaka can be difficult to handle. 

Unhappy with his form, his lack of playing time and Gladbach's direction, Xhaka made a series of disparaging comments during his first season at the club, per Tagesanzeiger (h/t ESPN FC):

He [Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, then at Gladbach] is the same age as me. 

We had a dispute in the tunnel. Not even my parents act with me the way he did. We had a discussion the day after and I made it clear that I don't accept everything. 

Then it comes across that I am an arrogant Swiss, but I don't care. I know what I am capable of.

In my Basel time, I picked up three titles and it was nothing but positive for two years running, but in Monchengladbach it was something new to me.

After I arrived, I heard my new teammates saying: 'we have got to hope that we don't go down.'

I thought to myself: 'what kind of a mentality is that?'

I was told by journalists that I should not be so outspoken. I told them: 'sorry, that is the way I am, I am not here to fight against relegation.'

You can spin it as "Dare To Zlatan"-like confidence, but Xhaka feels a sense of entitlement as one of the best young players of his generation. 

Source: FIFA.com.

Xhaka speaks his mind and holds his ground. 

Hypothetically speaking: What happens if he gets into United manager Louis van Gaal's doghouse? 

Van Gaal will not grovel in fear of Xhaka leaving—which was why Gladbach management were patient.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl and club management treated Xhaka with kid gloves, which allowed him to rebound after a character-testing debut season.

"Granit is 20 [now 21] years old and trying to establish himself in a big competition," Eberl said, per Bild (h/t Ian Hudson at Goal.com). "That's no problem for me cause we like players that are ambitious."

Personality aside, Xhaka's main problem is his hit-and-miss tackling. 

He went on a five-game run with successive yellow cards, led Gladbach in cautions (10) and fouls per game (1.8). 

Despite being on a yellow card, Xhaka felt compelled to throw himself into a high-risk challenge against Freiburg right winger Felix Klaus, which led to a red card for two bookable offences. 

Source: Bundesliga.com.

Xhaka is an immense talent, but his game is still incomplete. 

 

Bottom Line

In terms of upside, Xhaka is on a higher level than current United central midfielder Tom Cleverley, who needs an Aaron Ramsey-esque transformation to stay at United. 

Van Gaal will want the best young talents at United, and Xhaka—who played an invaluable part in Switzerland's 2-1 win over Ecuador—is certainly a viable target.

 

@allanjianga

Statistics via WhoScored.com

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