The first half of 2020-21 was not ideal for Manchester United by any stretch of the imagination. But in the final fourteen Premier League matches, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer took Manchester United on an unbeaten run, culminating in a final day triumph over Leicester City to secure Champions League football and third place in the table. It was a finish worth celebrating and with Bruno Fernandes firing on all cylinders, Manchester United fans will be hoping for better times ahead. But another year gone by without Premier League glory, Solskjaer and co. would have been hoping for silverware elsewhere. Unfortunately for the Red Devils, they crashed out of every one of their cup competitions at the semi-final stage. So even with Bruno Fernandes and a powerful trio of attackers alongside him, the Red Devils will undoubtedly be turning their attention to the transfer market for new additions. Anything less than Premier League or Champions League glory is simply not enough to satisfy the Manchester United faithful’s. Here is a Transfer Market Analysis of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United and who they can sign to achieve the dream of getting back to that level.
DO THEY HAVE ENOUGH TO WIN THE LEAGUE?Embed from Getty Images
Manchester United are a bit like Arsenal in the sense that ever since they lost some of their historic players, it seems as though every single year fans are begging for a new centre-back and a new defensive-midfielder. The difference for Manchester United is that with the (expensive) signing of Harry Maguire last year and the rise of a young player in Scott McTominay, Solskjaer’s side really aren’t too far away. United have had a history of developing fantastic young talents and McTominay is no different in that regard. It’s kind of been forgotten in all the discussion around the brilliance of Bruno Fernandes and the improved form of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, but we cannot forget that the 23-year old was the best player for United in the first half of the season. Even when they were floundering and lacking star power, McTominay was extraordinarily consistent and put together some fantastic performances at the heart of United’s midfield. Even Brazilian-born midfielder Fred did decent alongside him when Pogba was out injured and Nemanja Matic was in the worst form of his life. But the two of them together is just simply not enough to challenge for the Premier League title. Matic is aging and has seen better days, while Pogba only started playing for the team when Bruno Fernandes arrived at the club. As a result, you can’t help but feel that central midfield is still an area worth strengthening for Solskjaer. It would be sad to see McTominay pushed out of the side, but at the same time, does he have the quality to be a starter for a Premier League winning team? Probably not. He’s not too far away, but look at who Liverpool and Manchester City have in comparison. So if Manchester United are to strengthen in central midfield, who should they sign?
HUNTING FOR AN ‘8’ WHEN THEY NEED A ‘6’Embed from Getty Images
I mentioned Declan Rice and Denis Zakaria as top options for Arsenal in their transfer market analysis and I even included Rice in an article going into the 2019-20 season – 5 Players Manchester United Should Sign. I still think the versatile West Ham United midfielder would be a phenomenal singing for Manchester United and although they already have someone who can do the job in McTominay, Rice could be more of a long-term replacement for Nemanja Matic and also fill in at centre-back. Beyond Declan Rice though, Manchester United should look to bring in a player who is proven at the highest level of Champions League football. Someone like Saul Niguez would be an incredible signing for the Red Devils. He’s one of the most (if not the most) versatile players in the world and would fit like a puzzle piece into the energy and vibrancy that United have had under Solskjaer. Saul also has experience playing left-back, which could be a useful option for the Red Devils to have, should they fail to sign someone like Ben Chilwell. Calling Saul’s role in Atletico Madrid’s lineup to be that of a ‘number 6’ would be far too simplistic, but he can fulfill that role. But as we talked about with Arsenal’s pursuit of Thomas Partey, Saul might be perfectly happy continuing on with Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid.
Hakim Ziyech could have been another great player for United to have in that role considering he can also play anywhere in midfield, but Chelsea secured his signature instead. Solskjaer would do very well to sign Thiago Alcantara, but that might be too far-fetched. They could look instead to Corentin Tolisso, but the Frenchman hasn’t been able to establish a place in Bayern Munich’s eleven on a consistent enough basis and might be a costlier option than what it might be worth. So the quest for a new ‘number 6’ seems to be a difficult one, especially considering Declan Rice and Wilfred Ndidi seem to be untouchable at the moment…for whatever reason.
Instead of a ‘number 6’, United appear to be looking more into potential options in the ‘number 8’ and ‘number 10’ positions, where they already have two of the best midfielders in the world – Pogba and Fernandes. Jack Grealish and/or James Maddison would be stellar options for Solskjaer to have, but considering they’d probably be reserved for Champions League play or fulfill roles as injury understudies, both players would be better off staying put. As a result, United may be better off simply sticking with Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic as their primary ‘number 6’ options. Unless the Red Devils want to make a lavish bid for Wilfred Ndidi or Declan Rice, their best option at picking up a new defensive midfielder will be their pursuit of Saul Niguez – which continues to seem like an unlikely signing at this time.
TO SIGN OR NOT TO SIGN A NEW LEFT BACK?Embed from Getty Images
With Manchester United really not being too far away from a team capable of picking up silverware, much of their summer transfer window may involve questions of whether to sign new players or stick with the Red Devils they know. Luke Shaw never quite became the player we all hoped he would, but he still has the quality of a player capable of playing week in and week out for a top European side (should he stay fit). Brandon Williams also proved to be a useful option this season and remains just 19-years old. So the question remains – do Manchester United actually need a new left-back? Ben Chilwell has potential Andy Robertson up-side…but he is also more error-prone than Luke Shaw, who remains only two years his senior. Chilwell is one of the best attack-minded fullbacks in Europe. That part is undeniable. He creates loads of chances, can whip in crosses from set-pieces and has a way better eye for goal than Shaw. When it comes to the other end of the pitch, Shaw has a better track record in 1v1 situations and for a player that Mourinho questioned the fitness of, he gets dribbled past significantly less than Chilwell. Instead of Leicester’s left-back, I almost wonder if United should be going all in for their right-back – Ricardo Pereira. He’s one of the toughest tacklers in Europe, equally good going forward when compared to Chilwell and more experienced playing top level European football. The Red Devils don’t need a new right-back. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been fantastic in the position and I believe he will develop into one of the best in the world. But even though the Portuguese defender operates as a right-back for Leicester City, during his time with OGC Nice he did actually swap between right-back and left-back. Most managers prefer to have a left-footed left-back and Solskjaer’s reliance on Shaw and Williams suggests he agrees with that sentiment. But hey, it’s an option. Speaking of options – Matt Doherty anybody?Embed from Getty Images
When considering the top left-back’s in the world that could be on the move this summer, Chilwell is the first one that comes to mind. But I might suggest Alex Telles of FC Porto instead. Bruno Fernandes came out of Liga NOS to seamlessly fit into United’s lineup and there’s no reason to think Telles wouldn’t be capable of doing the exact same thing. He’s one of the best attack-minded fullbacks in the world, as evidenced by his 11 goals and 8 assists from 31 league appearances last season, but he’s also been doing it for four years at Porto, getting better and better with every season. His defensive stats are better than Chilwell’s and up against tougher competition in the UEFA Europa League he’s proven to be a tough tackler and someone capable of defending against the best. Now 27 years-old, Telles could be ready for a big-money move and Manchester United should consider the Portuguese defender as a solid option should their pursuit of Chilwell fall through.
JADON SANCHO & POTENTIAL OTHER LOST PURSUITSEmbed from Getty Images
Manchester United have never shied away from spending big sums of money to get big name players. From Paul Pogba to Anthony Martial to Bruno Fernandes to Harry Maguire, their squad remains one of the most expensive in the history of football. But the current sum of their squad hasn’t stopped them pursuing Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho. Jadon Sancho is probably the best young player to ever grace the Bundesliga. Not only that, but he’s probably one of the ten best footballers on the planet right now, without anyone really talking about it. Now I’m not just saying this because I’m a massive Borussia Dortmund fan, but I feel very happy to say as a Dortmund fan that Jadon Sancho is certainly staying at Signal Iduna Park this summer. The squad has always promoted youth and the young Englishman believes in the project that Dortmund are building. He’s also watched players like Shinji Kagawa, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Nuri Sahin (the list goes on), achieve wonders at Dortmund at a young age and then leave for a club presumably set to do better, only for the club to fail in actually doing better and the player’s career to go downhill from there. Sancho is evidently being cautious about when to make a move and I don’t think Manchester United will be securing his signature this summer. The United transfer team must have some serious ties with BVB though, as they are now pursuing former Dortmund player Ousmane Dembele in case a deal for Sancho falls through. I think United would be better off just developing Mason Greenwood and Daniel James, but I feel United’s temptation to sign a new winger given that both players might not be at the level of a Premier League champion just yet.Embed from Getty Images
At the other end of the pitch, United have again been linked with Kalidou Koulibaly from SC Napoli and a new, rising centre-back in Ben White, who spent the season on-loan at Leeds United from Brighton. It’s almost crazy to think Brighton even loaned out a player of White’s quality, but if United came in with a big-money-bid, there’s no reason to think the Seagulls wouldn’t let the 22-year go again. The problem with signing Ben White is that he is unproven at the Premier League level, yet given the success he had in the Championship as a young player his price tag will be insanely high. Victor Lindelöf spent four seasons trying to break through with SC Benfica before United took a chance on him and he’s no Harry Maguire, but he’s also likely better than what White could offer the Red Devils next season. I would personally love to see the former Leeds man prove himself at the top level and then make a big money move, like Harry Maguire did when he rose through the ranks at Hull and then Leicester City. Otherwise, we have no reason to believe that United wouldn’t get more bang for their buck with someone like Brighton’s Lewis Dunk, Burnley’s James Tarkowski or their own Victor Lindelöf. Kalidou Koulibaly would be an interesting one and is one of the highest rated centre-backs in world football. He’s a great tackler, good in the air, a fantastic passer of the ball and could compliment Harry Maguire better than anyone. If the Red Devils genuinely want to challenge for the Premier League title, this is the type of player that they should be going after. Whether or not the Senegalese defender wants a move and/or Napoli are willing to let him go remains to be seen. The Napoli man is also 29-years old, so if the asking price is too high the Red Devils could easily back out. But out of all the players discussed today not named Jadon Sancho, this is the one player that could really take Manchester United to the level they need to be. Unfortunately, it may be another lost pursuit.
DREAM VS. REALISTIC LINEUPS
The dream squad is potentially a Premier League winning team, so if that’s what Manchester United want, they need to ramp up their pursuits of players like Sancho, Koulibaly, Chilwell and Saul. The realistic lineup could also do very well in any competition, so if United are keen on a quieter summer, Ben Chilwell looks to be the most realistic new signing to break into the first eleven and make a difference.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTSEmbed from Getty Images
Although Manchester United are linked with the likes of Jadon Sancho, Saul Niguez, Ousmane Dembele and Kalidou Koulibaly, their pursuits of these big-name players may fail to come to fruition. At the same time, pursuing players like Ben Chilwell, James Maddison and Jack Grealish might not strengthen the squad to the same Premier League winning level that they desperately want at this time. As a result, much of United’s summer transfer window heading into the 2020-21 season may revolve around the question of whether or not the players they want to sign are actually better than the players they currently have at their disposal. Since Ferguson departed, United have always made a big summer signing year after year. This might be the first where they genuinely don’t need to in order to challenge for the Premier League title. They really aren’t too far away. But in order to get as close as possible and really challenge the likes of Liverpool and City, a player like Sancho, Saul, or Koulibaly could make all the difference. As a result, I encourage Manchester United to keep trucking away, do what they do best and make the big-money signing.
So there it is! A transfer market analysis of Manchester United as they look for better times in the 2020-21 season. The squad is probably the best it’s been since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure and with a few key signings they could be on their way to what all United fans will be hoping for next year – more silverware. Be sure to share your thoughts for which team you’d like to see next in the comments or on Twitter @mastermindiste and @DesmondRhys. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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