Manchester United’s season hasn’t gone as planned so far, but sitting just six points outside the top four and eight points off top with 27 matches to play is hardly a poor position. United has the luxury of plenty of youth talent and transfer funding to be able to fix some of the problems that have cost the side points over the last three months. Some positions, though, remain unclear, which is why I have given my take on what Jose Mourinho needs to do in January for key positions.
I think the staff required to fix United’s fullback situation is at the club. Matteo Darmian should start at left-back, in my opinion, with Luke Shaw slowly regaining fitness to earn his place next season. Antonio Valencia’s form is good, but so long as Mourinho is willing to give Timothy Fosu-Mensah a chance in the starting side, I do not think he will be disappointed. If Valencia goes off the boil or stays injured, Ashley Young and Joe Riley are options to back Fosu-Mensah up. Riley can also play on the left, as can Daley Blind.
The problem at centre-back at United is unclear, because so many defenders have question marks around them. Phil Jones is constantly injured, and questions around Marcos Rojo’s ability are expected, but perhaps not conclusive. Daley Blind is the best defender at the club in the smaller matches, but when United is being dominated, he can be a liability in the centre. Chris Smalling has been very poor all season, and there are questions as to whether Axel Tuanzebe can become part of the squad. United needs a defender, and I have wanted to see Aymeric Laporte (from Bilbao) at the club for a while now, but I’m not sure January is the right time to trigger his £37 million release clause.
United doesn’t have problems in midfield in terms of lack of staff- in fact, United’s midfield has been very good so far this season, so long as three of Juan Mata, Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba are the players on the pitch. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Morgan Schneiderlin (both of whom need match sharpness) and the aforementioned Fosu-Mensah also remain options, meaning there are enough players to play in midfield for United and create a fluid system.
That being said, there are issues with players who are at the club and shouldn’t be anymore. Marouane Fellaini, good as he has been, does not suit United’s system and his presence prevents the side from playing fluid, attacking football. Bastian Schweinsteiger was a good player one day, and he could be an emergency option, but in my opinion there are youth players who would benefit from his place in the side, especially considering Andreas Pereira has gone out on loan. As good as he may be, Schweinsteiger isn’t a long-term option. In addition, there continues to be a long-term search for the next Michael Carrick, or a system that can function and win matches without him.
Many people have not noticed this, but the players out wide for United should not be. Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford are not wingers, ever, and there are questions as to whether or not Jesse Lingard and Memphis are good enough to play for United. Ashley Young is a decent option but shouldn’t be starting in the long-term. Henrikh Mkhitaryan might be an option, but he also might be better off in a free central midfield role alongside Pogba, meaning the only real option out wide is Anthony Martial.
United may move for Antoine Griezmann next summer, but he won’t play on the right side either. This means that, either United needs to find a way to make Mkhitaryan work out wide, or wingers need to come in to the club. There is currently a dearth of good right-wingers in the world, and the youth ranks, with only Adnan Januzaj even close, and he doesn’t seem good enough either. By next summer, if a player emerged as a right-winger at a high level for United, that would represent good enough progress, considering how poor the January window can be.