How would Lionel Messi fit into each Manchester team?

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

The Argentine stunned the world of football earlier this week after requesting a move away from Barcelona this summer.

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Camp Nou's stalwart was widely considered to retire as a one-club player, but after crashing out of the last three Champions League quarter-finals and failing to win a trophy this campaign, Messi has finally decided to find a new home to showcase his talents.

Renowned as one of the greatest players to ever grace the game, the 33-year-old is likely to come attached with a hefty wage bill, which eliminates several prospective destinations. So far, the media have speculated that the Europa League and Champions League runners-up, Inter Milan and Paris Saint-Germain, are both interested in acquiring Messi's signature to elevate their status, whilst others have posed the intriguing scenario of him pairing up with Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus.

However, in the interest of many Premier League fanatics, the dream of Messi finally playing in England is very much alive. Whist Liverpool are stating a lack of interest and Chelsea are busily finalising the deals of Thiago Silva and Kai Havertz, Manchester City and Manchester United are arguably the Premier League's favourites to lure the icon.

This is how both Pep Guardiola and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would fare with one of the greatest players to ever grace the stage.

Manchester City

At first glance, the Etihad stadium seems a perfect new home for the Argentinian. Messi enjoyed a wealth of success under Pep Guardiola during his time at Barcelona, lifting 14 trophies in 4 season. His technical ability and free-flowing nature in attack suits Guardiola's system flawlessly and he would undoubtedly launch the club one step further, as it chases the elusive Champions League trophy.

Throughout his illustrious career, Messi has been deployed in varying positions across the front line, either as a wide playmaker, an out and out winger, a deep-lying forward or a conventional No. 10. As a manager known for frequently tinkering his starting line-up, Pep would look to utilise the Argentinian's flexibility. Even if he's initially listed as a winger by Guardiola, City's freedom in forward areas should allow Messi to play his natural game and drift inside.

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However, due to City's abundance of talent in wide areas, Messi would likely play the majority of his games as the central striker, dropping back into midfield to collect the ball as the likes of Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez attempt to break the defensive line from the wing. Pep would ideally operate this system in Manchester City's easier fixtures, as the magician could hurt teams who look to sit 10 men behind the ball and occupy tight spaces in and around the penalty area.

Nevertheless, against more formidable opponents where possession is shared, Messi would find himself most useful as the right winger. Although Gabriel Jesus has been criticised by supporters and the media for his lack of ruthlessness in front of goal, the Brazilian is capable of pressing defences and reducing their time on the ball. When facing possession hungry teams, City's current No. 9 would likely maintain the most forward position in Pep's line-up, with Messi pushed out to the wing where he can link up with Kevin De Bruyne on the right-hand side of midfield. The Argentinian's natural instinct is to drift inside, which would then allow his Belgium teammate to overlap into crossing positions - an area in which he totalled several assists last season.

As for Messi's long-time friend, Sergio Aguero, the City legend may experience a significant reduction in his game time if the club completes this signing. Whilst he remains the squad's most prolific goalscorer, Guardiola is unlikely to choose a forward line with two players over the age of 32 every week. Rotation would once again prove the strategy for Pep as he strives to keep his wealth of world-class players satisfied with time on the pitch.

Manchester United

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may not be the favourite to land his signature, but after negotiations with Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho seem to have fallen through, the Norwegian is understandably jumping on Messi's recent decision to leave Barcelona.

Whether by luck, judgement or Bruno Fernandes, Solskjaer has revolutionised Manchester United into a fierce attacking unit and re-established the club as a competitive Champions League side. Crucially, the Red Devils are now able to attract the world's best players once again, with Messi being no exception.

Whilst Manchester City is perhaps considered the more favourable destination, there are still plenty of incentives for Messi to join United. If the Argentinian decided to move to Old Trafford, he could help return Manchester United back to the top and silence the few critics who doubt his ability to perform in the Premier League.

One constant of the last few years at Old Trafford has been redefining strikers as wingers in order to allow their talented young players enough game time. At one point or another, the natural strikers, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, have all been repositioned as wingers during their time at club, with the English pair the two most recent players to occupy United's wide spaces. Although the jury is still out on Rashford's best position, it is clear that Greenwood would benefit from more time as the main central striker.

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Therefore, if Messi signs, it is likely he will spend the majority of his time on the right wing, linking up with Aaron Wan-Bissaka who would overlap from the full back position. Whilst this would currently leave United's exciting teenager out of the side, Greenwood would then challenge for his spot as the club's No. 9, interchanging with Martial in both the Premier League and Champions League. At only 18-years-old, Greenwood has plenty of time to develop his game and, as one of Solskjaer's best finishers in the squad last season, the youngster belongs up front.

With the creativity of Messi, Fernandes and Pogba, combined with the pace of Martial, Rashford and Greenwood, Manchester United would finally return to the formula that worked during Sir Alex Ferguson's era of dominance. If Messi does choose United and Sadio Mane happens to replace him at Barcelona as the media suggests, neutrals could only hope for a truly scintillating title race.

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