Manchester United’s season could be heavily impacted by their moves in the January transfer window with Erik ten Hag under growing pressure at Old Trafford.
Ten Hag has already spent £388m/$485m since his arrival at United in June 2022, but the squad has struggled for consistency, with the majority of his new faces yet to show their best form.
Despite the ongoing uncertainty over the club’s ownership, Ten Hag will have a budget to work with at the start of 2024, and is expected to be busy with both sales and transfer arrivals.
Benfica star Joao Neves has emerged as a potential option, with Ten Hag’s team lacking options in midfield, and the Portuguese international is on the radar of clubs from across Europe.
Joao Neves stats and career story so far
Neves is a product of the famed Benfica youth academy which also developed Manchester City duo Bernardo Silva and Ruben Dias and Barcelona forward Joao Felix.
After playing a crucial role in Benfica’s 2021/22 UEFA Youth League, Neves was brought into the first team squad at the start of last season, and made his senior debut in January 2023.
Incoming Benfica head coach Roger Schmidt was so impressed with Neves’ rise, he opted against a late transfer move to replace Chelsea-bound Enzo Fernandez, as the teenager helped Benfica to a first Portuguese league title since 2019.
After initially being used as a rotating option, Neves has now established himself as a first choice pick in 2023/24, alongside either Orkun Kökçü or Florentino Luis in a double defensive midfield pivot.
After making just six league starts in 2022/23, the 19-year-old has been an ever-present this season, featuring in all 11 league matches until the end of November. He has scored once and assisted once in league action this season.
What position does Joao Neves play?
Schmidt has kept faith with a 4-2-3-1 formation at Benfica and Neves is a key part of his tactical set up as a deep lying midfielder.
Neves is the primary option in the two-man defensive shield in front of the defence, with Kökçü and Luis rotating in, depending on the opposition.
Despite not boasting the physicality of his midfield partners, Neves has shown real tenacity in being able to play out from tight positions in the Benfica engine room, with comparison drawn to Barcelona’s Gavi.
The crucial standout statistic from his start to the 2023/24 is a Primeira Liga topping total of 22 tackles won ahead of players with years more experience. He is also No.1 for touches by a midfield player in the Portuguese top-flight (810), which shows his dual ability to win challenges and constantly demand possession.
Goals are less frequent, but he has a superb habit of scoring important ones, with his first Benfica goal coming as a late equaliser in their title confirming 2-2 draw at Sporting Lisbon in May. He followed that up with another added-time strike against them in a 2-1 win in November 2023.
18-year-old João Neves has scored the first senior goal for Benfica.
90+4′ equaliser against Lisbon rivals Sporting. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/UVge320eDW
— Squawka Live (@Squawka_Live) May 21, 2023
How much would Joao Neves cost?
Multiple reports from the UK have linked United with a move for Neves but The Metro claim he will not be sold for less than his full £105m/$131.5m release clause at the Estadio da Luz.
Benfica have no immediate plans to sell, but they maintained a similar stance on Fernandez after the 2022 World Cup, before eventually accepting Chelsea’s Premier League record breaking £106.8m/$134m offer.
United will not pay the clause, as it stands, but that situation could change by the start of 2024.
What did Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva say about Joao Neves?
Neves is attracting admiring glances from clubs and his teammates for both Benfica and Portugal.
However, the eye-catching Premier League angle could come via a Mancunian battle for him, with former Benfica star Silva and United captain Bruno Fernandes both impressed by his rapid rise.
“I’m very happy for Joao Neves and the kids who are playing for Benfica and in the national team. Could he play in the Premier League? Quality players can play in any league,” Silva told an interview with Portuguese outlet Jornal de Noticias.
“I see him focused on the club, it’s the most important thing at the moment. He’s very young, with a promising future ahead.
“He’s integrated into the national team in the best way possible, and he is another one who can try and help us to win the European Championship. If I can, I’ll make a move for him to go to Manchester City over United, of course.”
Silva’s cheeky remarks come on the back of Fernandes’ admission that he wants to partner up with Neves on the red side of Manchester if a deal can be struck.
“He’s a great player, I don’t know if he would have a place at United or not. It depends on the coach and his ideas,” he said.
“But he’s an excellent player and an excellent kid, very professional, he will have a bright future wherever he goes. I would love to have him by my side. It depends on him. What I want most is the best for him.”
Do Man United need Joao Neves?
United need to bring in reinforcements in January, and Neves would certainly be an upgrade on their current midfield, but Ten Hag is unlikely to pay over £100m/$125m for a teenager.
Ten Hag also prefers a Neves-friendly 4-2-3-1 formation with Casemiro, Christian Eriksen, Scott McTominay and Sofyan Amrabat rotating between the two defensive midfield roles.
Casemiro’s superb start to his United career last season has been balanced against a drop in form and injuries in 2023/24 with Eriksen struggling without the Brazilian.
McTominay has impressed with his endeavour and eye for goal, but he remains an uncertain starter, and Amrabat looks to be a square peg in a round hole.
Neither Casemiro nor Eriksen will be long term fixtures in United’s midfield, and a move for Neves would be a huge statement of intent over their midfield plans.
However, the chance to work with Pep Guardiola will also be a tempting option, if City take Silva’s advice in 2024.