Following United’s win against Leicester in the last match of the season, OGS stated that this milestone was not the end of the journey for this United team. With this season’s objective in the bag, the attention turns to the summer transfer market and the Europa League final stages. Ole seems to have already done his homework and gave his shopping list to the Board and it is widely acknowledged that United will spend big again this summer, albeit there could also be some notable exits.
This article shall analyse the squad needed by United to go one or two steps further next season and possibly bridge the gap between third and first in the league. Naturally, all teams will try to improve during the summer, including the ones ahead of us in the table, so the objective should be to succeed in improving more than competition. Arguably, United have a starting eleven team which can beat anyone on their day, as shown during the last term. The level of football shown at times post-Covid was terrific and got all of us supporters on the edge of our seats like never before in the last seven years. When you think that those starting eleven have an average age of 25, it is obvious that the team will improve naturally as they gel together and grow one year older. However, at the tail end of the league, the performances flattened out and it was clear that fatigue had crept in. Playing eleven finals (including the FA Cup semi-final) where you just cannot lose took its toll on the players, as Ole persisted with the same team for practically the whole period. This factor made it obvious that the Manager did not have much faith in the rest of the squad, which has to be corrected for next season with the Premier League and the Champions League both as priorities. Teams competing in these competitions need to have at least 16, preferably 18 players that are considered to be first teamers and that whoever goes into the first eleven, the performance of the team would remain at the level expected. The Manager does not think that his United have that characteristic at the moment and while there will be players bought that go straight in the first eleven, there will be other incoming players that have what it takes to challenge the first eleven all the way.
In this first part of the article, we will focus on the back five at United and separate by position in the team, starting with the keeper.
David De Gea had a mixed season. He had performances where as normal, he showed that he is one of the best keepers in the world and saved us from losing points, while there were instances where he was erratic and made uncharacteristic mistakes. These instances have been on the up lately and question marks have been raised on whether David is the keeper that can help United to the pinnacle. Before replying to the question, one should look at the situation of Dean Henderson. The young keeper has had a great season with Sheffield United and managed to keep 13 clean sheets in the Premiership, ranking fourth in the list. Unless Dean agrees on another season-long loan at Bramall Lane, he would demand to be number one at United next season, which I don’t see happening. And frankly, I don’t think that Henderson is ready to guard the United goal. It’s one thing having a good season and distinguishing yourself at Sheffield United and it’s another thing doing it at Old Trafford, with all the pressure of the stature of the club and the media.
A number of keepers were mentioned that could replace David – Oblak and Kasper above all. Oblak would certainly be an upgrade on David, not sure if Kasper Schmeichel would be. If I had to decide, I would hive one more season to De Gea at United and make a decision on him at the end of the coming season. In the meantime, Henderson would have had another season at Bramall Lane and Ole can then decide whether any of them can fill the role or whether to make the keeper position a priority signing. I don’t think it is. On the other hand, I can see United selling Romero this summer and a new number two acquired. Romero has been excellent for an understudy at United but it seems that the snub in the FA Cup semi loss to Chelsea was the straw that broke the camel’s back. My favourites for the position is one of two ex-United keepers, Ben Foster from Watford or Tom Heaton from Villa. So De Gea and Foster as one and two in goal.
Given that the main priorities for United seem to be to bring in a central defender, another creative midfielder, a right winger and possibly a main striker, I can see United – or at least that’s what I would do – resorting to loan deals to fill other ancillary positions, and possibly targeting teams which have been relegated.
Starting from the right full back position, for me it is a no brainer for United to try to bring Max Aarons on loan for a season, to provide competition to Wan Bissaka. At just 20 years of age, the youngster was ever-present for relegated Norwich last season and he never seemed to be out of place. On the left, Luke Shaw seemed to be improving as the season progressed and I would start him one more season as first choice. Unless Ole wants to shift Williams on his natural foot to the right, we are covered for next season in the left back position. I can see both Fosu-Mensah and Dalot to be released if a proper offer came in for them, while young Ethan Laird should be given the opportunity to make a loan move to a Championship club.
United currently have eight central defenders on their books, if one also includes Academy captain Mengi. Maguire stays, period. He has been excellent this season, despite a couple of awkward moments. Harry’s leadership qualities, positional play and aerial dominance have improved our defence. Lindelof also had a decent season. He is a good defender but I doubt if we will win the Premier League or the Champions League with him in the first team. Same goes for Bailly. Unless an attractive offer is received, both him and Lindelof should stay though. Tuanzebe on the other hand should be loaned out for a season – possibly to Villa – for two main reasons. First, he cannot be in the same squad as Bailly, since they are both injury-prone. Second, in a team like Villa where the defence is under pressure in most matches, a playing season will help him to get to the next level. I think that Smalling, Jones and Rojo should be sold and possibly £30 million or more obtained for their services. A left-footed defender would then be acquired. There were several names mentioned, from City-bound Ake, to Gabriel of Lille, Pau of Valladolid or Badiashiole of Monaco and Koulibaly of Napoli. The latter is the pick of the bunch but also double the price of any of the others. I think Ole will finally strike a deal for Gabriel at €30million and save some funds for other positions. Mengi would then be the fifth central defender at the club.
Hence Maguire, Gabriel, Lindelof, Bailly and Mengi.
Article contributed by Contributor Roderick. Comments are appreciated on our Facebook page.