Three positions Manchester United must improve to kickstart next season
Image: André Zahn CC BY-SA 2.0
Jose Mourinho's transfer woes at Manchester United were well-documented. Two years ago, the club failed to sign Ivan Perisic for allegedly refusing to meet his £50 million release clause. Rumours now point the Croatian World Cup star towards Arsenal on loan.
Last summer, the Portuguese lamented the club's refusal to sign a centre-half. Unable to conceal his disappointment with his squad, Mourinho's relationship with several players deteriorated, leading to his sack following a comprehensive loss to Liverpool in which he refused to play Paul Pogba, even off the bench.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's appointment alleviated pressure on the Red Devils. His attacking style covers up the squad's defensive flaws to a fair degree, although those deficiencies finally caught up to the Norwegian against Burnley. While it seems ironic that Solskjaer could coax fine defensive performances against potent offences like Tottenham and Arsenal, the Clarets' two goals illustrate how teams can soak up United's pressure and hit them on the counter.
While Ole Gunnar's United recall the free-scoring teams of old with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba firing on all cylinders, there remain offensive concerns for the Red Devils, mainly down the right.
Next summer's transfer window should be pivotal for United. Chief executive Ed Woodward's transfer policy receives low approval ratings from fans and pundits. Calls for a sporting director to handle the football business grow louder. Whether a talent guru arrives or Ed remains in charge, three areas must be addressed in June.
No one can argue that Nemanja Matic's arrival didn't consolidate the midfield. Ander Herrera was tempestuous and rash. Marouane Fellaini was a presence in both boxes but not between them. The Serb delivered strength, discipline and composure. At 31, however, the league's pace is passing him by.
He has had highs and lows here but always remained professional until the very last day. Thank you for that Wembley goal and for keeping our Champions League campaign going this year. Best wishes, @Fellaini ❤️ https://t.co/cOx88cATqI
To be fair, Solskjaer's strategy revolves around crisp passing with the intent to move forward. Matic has adapted to that style despite his limited attacking skills. One move from the left flank in Burnley's half epitomised his transformation. Under Mourinho, he would have passed back when crowded. Here, he danced through three Clarets then drew two more before he laid off for an open teammate.
While it's encouraging to see the player often referred to by Chelsea teammates as Mourinho's son buying so readily into Solskjaer's method, his attacking skills remain limited. In part, he is catching opponents by surprise. That won't last. Someone with the same steel but a little more quickness is needed.
Victor Lindelof has come into his own under Solskjaer but he still lacks an adequate partner. Phil Jones and Eric Bailly pick up knocks more often than Wile E Coyote. Chris Smalling always has a mistake to share.
Recent reports say Kalidou Koulibaly [Napoli] and Toby Alderweireld [Tottenham] top United’s defensive wishlist. Each would add much-needed steel to United’s brittle backline. Both played significant parts in their respective clubs' strong 2017/18 campaigns. Either one partnered alongside Victor Lindelof can produce a partnership not seen at Old Trafford since Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
A position that hasn't been filled since Cristiano Ronaldo left for Real Madrid, United have tried many men on the right flank without a standout emerging. Like Mourinho, Solskjaer shuffles through Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, and Romelu Lukaku but none fit the role. All four are better suited to other positions.
Lingard wanders inside all the time, feeling at home in a number ten or false-nine position. Mata makes Lingard seem like a recluse. Despite lacking pace, he scampers across the attacking third at will, just as likely to be found at the left corner flag as the right touchline. Lukaku can be quite effective delivering service from the right but his brute strength belongs at the other end of it in front of goal. Rashford proved his worth as a central forward when given the chance by Solskjaer but is more dangerous cutting in from the left when deployed on the wings. United must sign a proper right winger before the club forgets what one is.
The most interesting solution to the problem is Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho. What a statement it would be for United to land the talented right winger who flew the City coop. Best, the political angle would merely be icing on the cake. The young England international already owns six goals and nine assists in just 19 appearances for Die Schwarzgelben this season. His youth, pace and quality complement that which United already boasts.
Whatever United plans for the summer, improvements are needed. Liverpool and City aren't going to stop spending. Arsenal and Chelsea flex their muscle too. Sooner or later, Tottenham will join the fray. United must compete in the transfer market or be left behind.