Manchester United are going into the final days of the transfer window scrambling for late deals to bolster their squad.
And now, after being utterly humiliated by Tottenham on Sunday, it is more important than ever that their deals get done.
So far, only Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek has been added to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad which remains short in talent outside of the strongest starting line-up.
It now looks set to be a frantic final period for the club as they aim to sign as many as three players to add competition for first-team places.
Recruitment at Old Trafford since Solskjaer’s permanent appointment last year has significantly improved with greater clarity on transfer targets and a willingness not to sign players for the sake of it, but there are concerns that has tipped too far with inaction from the club’s hierarchy. Sunday's result has only emphasised that.
The addition of Bruno Fernandes in January was a significant move – United have lost just one league match since the arrival of the Portuguese star and now carry a significant attacking threat in the final third of the pitch.
Yet fans will be disappointed that much more has not been done in this transfer window. We draw up a three point plan for the club for deadline day.
1) Clear out the deadwood
United’s transfer policy has been greatly derided in recent times for their inactivity and overpaying in bringing players into the club. However, an even more disastrous aspect of their sporting department has been the inability to move on players who are surplus to requirements.
This is largely due to the club handing out lucrative, long-term contracts to fringe players meaning that no other clubs can match their wage packet. That proved hugely problematic in moving Alexis Sanchez on, although the Chilean’s permanent exit this summer was significant.
Others are even tougher to shift. Phil Jones is closing-in on a decade long stint at the club despite never establishing himself as a first-choice starter and having had his stay heavily disrupted by injuries and fitness issues. He signed a new, greatly improved contract last year in a deal which most fans found totally inexplicable.
Jones is one of a host of players who has no future under Solskjaer. Andreas Pereira and Diogo Dalot have been loaned out to Lazio and Milan respectively but the club will be keen to move on Jones alongside his fellow defenders Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo, and goalkeeper Sergio Romero, on permanent deals. There is also the possibility that Daniel James and Jesse Lingard leave before the deadline, although this appears increasingly unlikely.
The more players are moved on and the greater the wage bill is cleared, the more scope United have to add to their ranks with first-team players.
2) Sort out the defence
Until the capitulation against Tottenham on Sunday, Manchester United’s defensive numbers were not something to be greatly alarmed by. The arrival of Harry Maguire last summer made a significant impact – they conceded just 30 Premier League goals last season compared to an alarming 54 in the 2018/19 campaign.
However, the Spurs result could force a last-gasp change of heart.
The club are active in pursuing a new left-back to provide competition for Luke Shaw – whose defensive numbers are solid but lacks productivity going forward, which is increasingly a significant aspect of modern full-backs.
Alex Telles – who is out of contract next summer and whose price has dropped as a result – is set to join in an £18million deal after travelling to Manchester on Sunday evening.
United had previously held an interest in Sergio Reguilon but were not prepared to include a buyback option for Real Madrid in any deal.
There had been suggestions that a new central defender will arrive this window too with the club looking for exits of Smalling, Jones and Rojo, but the return to fitness of Eric Bailly lessened the haste for this. Though, as already mentioned, the Spurs defeat could force a rethink.
3) Find a right-sided forward after Cavani arrival
Borussia Dortmund forward Jadon Sancho is the primary transfer target for Manchester United this window. It has long been reported that personal terms and agent fees have been agreed, but they are yet to match Dortmund’s asking price – said to exceed £100million. If a deal cannot be reached this summer, United have been linked with a loan move for Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele – but the Catalan giants would prefer a permanent sale.
The position of a right-sided forward has been a long-term priority for United with no specialist in the slot in the current squad. Mason Greenwood has had success in the position but the teenager is more natural and comfortable in the centre, where he would provide competition to Anthony Martial.
Edinson Cavani is not seen as an option for that position and is merely adding strength in depth down the middle, especially as Odion Ighalo's loan deal expires on in January.
There is no shame in United missing out on Sancho if the price tag is not attainable, but they have been aware of this situation all summer and it would be inexcusable that, with this knowledge, they did not attain a Plan B which they had worked on.
Sevilla forward Lucas Ocampos has recently been linked too, but it increasingly feels like clubs and agents are once again aware of United’s desperation and are willing to exploit that for their own ends.
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