For Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Manchester United, it has not been an easy season by any stretch of the imagination. As things stand, they are in the FA Cup, have reached the last-16 of the Europa League, and are still competing for a Top 4 (Or Top 5) slot to play in the Champions League next season. However, preparation for the upcoming summer transfer window work should already be underway window. We look at a position-wise analysis of what United need to change and what their options are.
If there is one position Manchester United can claim to have an embarrassment of riches, it is the goalkeeper’s spot. David De Gea has been, without a doubt, the best United player in the post-Ferguson era. Having won four Player of the Year awards in five seasons and a regular member of the Premier League Team of the season, De Gea has saved United from several catastrophes over the last few years.
However, in the last 18 months or so, De Gea has had a number of poor performances and has made several high-profile errors. As per the xG metrics, at his best, De Gea was comfortably conceding way lesser goals than an average goalkeeper is expected to save. But recently, these numbers have dropped and the number of goals conceded is more or less similar to what an average goalkeeper concedes. He definitely is still one of the best in the world, but, if required, United have a capable deputy in Sergio Romero who hardly lets United down.
Romero, since joining the club in 2015, has been a reliable performer whenever called upon and taken over the reins in cup competitions such as the FA Cup and Europa League very ably. While he might not have the ability to truly challenge De Gea for the No.1 spot long-term, United have a keeper in Dean Henderson who has the potential to do just that. Henderson is having a brilliant season at Sheffield United and has even been linked with moves to PSG and Chelsea.
He signed a contract up to 2022 last summer and has stated his ambitions to become a regular goalkeeper at Manchester United. Chris Wilder, the manager of Sheffield United, has stated they cannot keep him on a permanent basis but with them looking set to secure European football next term, it may make sense for Henderson and Manchester United for him to spend another year at Sheffield United before returning to truly challenge a 30-year old De Gea in 2021 for the number one spot. Having said that, if David De Gea does not have a strong finish to this season, then United might have to make a very difficult call and actually bring Henderson back to challenge De Gea for the number one spot in the 20/21 season itself. It will be interesting to see how things pan out.
Having signed Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot in consecutive summers, Manchester United look well-stacked in this position for years to come. While Wan-Bissaka is adept defensively and has work to do going forward, Dalot looks natural while attacking and has to sort his game out defensively. This combination means United could play several styles in different formations and with Wan-Bissaka and Dalot aged 22 and 20 respectively, United do not have to worry about this position any time soon.
United also have a promising youngster in the form of Ethan Laird coming through the ranks. Laird, who made his first-team debut in the Europa league against Astana, is tipped to have a bright future in the game and having just signed a new contract, Laird will get more first-team opportunities going into next season.
When Manchester United signed Luke Shaw in 2014, many had hoped that he would be the man to make the left-back spot his own. However, things have not quite gone according to plan and several major injuries have meant that Luke Shaw has largely had a stop-start Manchester United career so far. Even this season, he missed around 2 months of action, and at this point, if United are to go to the next level, they will need a new left-back.
Jamal Lewis of Norwich and Ben Chilwell from Leicester are two viable options and United have been linked with both in the past. Chilwell is expected to cost more than Lewis, and while it would be good to get a left-back, this is not one of United’s priorities. Whether United push for a left-back is dependent on the form of Luke Shaw and progress of young Brandon Williams, who has impressed so far, during the remainder of the season.
After a very iffy beginning to the season, Manchester United’s center-backs have performed well recently. Harry Maguire has taken a bit of time to settle but he has shown his ability on the ball and is commanding in both boxes. Victor Lindelof has been a touch suspect at times, but Eric Bailly has returned from his long-term injury and has had good performances when played. In some ways, Bailly and Maguire complement each other better than Lindelof and Maguire do.
Axel Tuanzebe made a few promising appearances at the start of the season but he has been hampered by an injury for the past couple of months. He still has a lot of promise and he will be looking to make an impact in the remainder of the season. As far as Phil Jones is concerned, it is best for all parties if they part ways this summer. Chris Smalling has had a positive experience with AS Roma and they have expressed interest to make the deal permanent this summer. It will be the right decision and both can move forward in their respective ways.
It is highly unlikely that United will be looking to recruit a high-profile center-back. If at all, they will possibly look at a young prospect who could serve them long-term. If that is the case, someone like Ben White from Brighton who is on loan at Leeds or Ben Godfrey from Norwich may be sound options who United could look to sign.
Defensive midfielder –
With Nemanja Matic’s contract running out at the end of the season, and apart from the fact that he has shown signs of decline in the last couple of years, this position is arguably one of the most important positions for United to fill. Scott McTominay and Fred have both filled this role during the course of this season, but neither are a natural #6 and are better suited to playing in the box-to-box role.
United have been linked quite a lot with Ghanian midfielder Thomas Partey in recent weeks and he would be a truly transformative signing. He has proven his quality at the elite level, and with his ability to be a defensive screen as well as having the ability to play out very comfortably with the ball at his feet, he could be a brilliant addition to the side. He reportedly has a clause in the roundabouts of 50 million pounds and at that price, he could prove to be a bargain. Another option Manchester United could look at is Kalvin Philips from Leeds United. He has been very consistent for the Championship side pushing for promotion and is reportedly close to an England call-up, as well. Wilfred Ndidi from Leicester City have had a great season but with them set to secure European football next season, one wonders whether they would be willing to sell him.
Attacking midfielder or Pogba Replacement? –
With Bruno Fernandes making a very positive start to his Manchester United career after signing in the winter window, it is clear that he will have a big role to play going forward. His ability to play in between the lines and provide a goal threat always makes a huge difference and it has already had an effect on Manchester United’s performances. Meanwhile, Fred has been absolutely brilliant this season and in fact, he has arguably been United’s best and most consistent player. Fred’s ability to play the ball under pressure and provide intensity in midfield makes United more dynamic as a side.
The other position is all down to what Paul Pogba and Manchester United decide to do as they head into the summer. If Pogba does stay and is willing to commit his future to United, a midfield trio of Pogba, Fernandes and potentially, Thomas Partey could be truly magnificent and is up there with the best in the league. However, if the two parties decide to part ways, Jack Grealish and James Maddison have been heavily linked as potential replacements.
Both Grealish and Maddison have shown their ability over a couple of seasons and could provide goals and assists from the midfield. Both have played out on the left during the season and that offers another tactical option. It will be interesting to see what happens with Pogba and what effect it could have on United’s summer window in more ways than one.
Now, this, if anything else, has been a problem position for United since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. They have played attacking midfielders, right-backs, left-wingers all at right-wing, but have not got a viable and long-term solution to this position. There is one big target for this position, and unsurprisingly, many clubs are chasing him. Jadon Sancho has been absolutely incredible since his move to Borussia Dortmund from Manchester City and has firmly established himself as one of the best young players in the world right now.
If Manchester United are able to pull this signing off, it could truly transform them as a side and it could be one of the key pieces in taking United back to the very top. If United are not able to complete this signing, they might look at alternative options such as Federico Chiesa from Fiorentina to whom they were linked with last week.
Marcus Rashford, before his severe back injury, was having the best season of his career. Coming in off the left, he occupied the central areas quite a lot and essentially played as an inside forward. Solskjær has confirmed that Rashford is expected to return before the season ends and that will be a big boost for both club and country, ahead of the Euros in the summer.
Signed last summer, Daniel James started brightly but in recent weeks he has shown signs of this being his first season at the highest level. Going into next season, if United manage to sign a natural right-winger, James could play a crucial role in deputising on the wings on both sides.
Center forward –
Anthony Martial was handed the central striking role last summer and has done relatively well, considering the lack of quality in midfield and in general, United not creating many clear cut opportunities. Martial has got 15 goals and 5 assists in all competitions and considering that he missed more than 2 months of the season, that is a commendable record. His off-the-ball movement still needs work and as Solskjær has mentioned, he wants his strikers to score more scruffy goals.
On the other hand, in his first full season, Mason Greenwood has been breath of fresh air. He has already gone past 11 goals in all competitions and has provided an impact in several different competitions. He will only improve as he is still so young and United may look to sign another player who could play across the front line and offer more options. Timo Werner would fit the bill with his ability to play across the front three, but at the moment, he is more likely to go to Liverpool. If Manchester United decide they want to invest in a big-money striker, Moussa Dembele of Lyon or Raul Jimenez of Wolves could be options United look at.
It will be interesting to see what United decide to do in terms of incomings as well as outgoings and this summer window’s importance cannot be understated. If United are to regain their place at the top, shrewd decisions will have to be made and the 20/21 summer transfer window will be.
Written by Anirudh Srinivaas Eswaran.
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