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The current state of the Manchester United squad; Who needs to come? Who should stay and who should go?

Since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and the departure of his right-hand man David Gill, it’s no secret that Manchester United’s scattergun approach in the transfer market has been little short of woeful. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that the only resounding success since the departure of Sir Alex has been the controversial short term signing of Zlatan Ibrahimović whose credentials and age were ironically questioned by fans and media alike.

There have been some high-profile additions who have blown hot and cold in recent years, such as Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata and the likes of the less high- profile Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf. However, there have been some signings which on evidence has beggared belief they were ever deemed good enough for a club and team like Manchester United.

But where does the buck stop and where does it end? Let’s start in the boardroom, where since the departure of David Gill, Ed Woodward has sanctioned and dealt with transfer dealings at the club. It’s impossible to argue with the commercial and business knowledge that Woodward has possesses, as he is more than happy to make the world aware that United are as strong as they have ever been from a commercial perspective. But it’s obvious to the naked eye that his football knowledge is not up to scratch and he is more concerned about bringing players to the club that may provide the most commercial benefit.

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He has now been made to look a fool by the now departed Jose Mourinho in denying the much-maligned Portuguese manager the specific centre-backs he so desperately craved in the summer, where since the start of the 2018/2019 season Manchester United have leaked an incredible 32 goals in comparison to the 28 they conceded the entirety of last season which means United lie in sixth place in the table.

An alternative view is with the majority of previous signings having limited success individually and to the team, had Woodward lost trust and had enough of backing his managers in the transfer market.

The next point is how can this be resolved?

The first step Woodward and the club need to take to address United’s recruitment issue is by employing a highly qualified and knowledgeable director of football who has a tried and trusted recruitment policy with a credible track record. This will take a lot of pressure off the shoulders of Woodward and allows him to leave the recruitment to an individual with vast football knowledge which allows him to give the commercial side of the club his full attention.

Now to the squad, which has been left so unbalanced from the startling transfer policy over the last five years, starting with the goalkeepers.

Goalkeepers

Currently at Manchester United: David De Gea, Sergio Romero, Lee Grant, Joel Pereira

David De Gea: Little discussion needed around this one. De Gea has been United’s best player for the majority of the last five years having won four of the last five Manchester United Player of the Year awards. Widely regarded as the best keeper in the premier league if not on the planet, his form has been questioned this season but what goalkeeper wouldn’t struggle behind United’s shambolic defence, based on evidence in recent years his credentials should never be questioned, an average first half of the season by his enormous standards does little to damage his reputation. It’s unfathomable for United to consider letting De Gea go in the summer unless a bid exceeding £100 million is made, but with Thibaut Courtois having only joined Real Madrid last summer it’s difficult to see where De Gea could go.

Sergio Romero: Argentina’s number one goalkeeper is arguably the best back up goalkeeper on the planet and would walk into most other premier league clubs. He’s proven to be a hugely reliable back up to the Spaniard and it says a lot about his quality that when he does play he regularly puts in a Man of the Match performances that De Gea would be proud of. However, for his own aspirations having been a back up for his entire time at the club and will continue to be while De Gea is on the books, he may look to move on for more regular playing time and it would be hard to disagree should he decide he wants to leave Old Trafford.

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Lee Grant: One of the most underwhelming signings in recent seasons, signed to fill the hole left by Joel Pereira who departed the club on loan at the beginning of the season. Grant is a handy third choice keeper to have on board having done a fine job for Stoke City in the Premier League only two seasons ago. However, his future at the club may depend on the future of other back up goalkeepers at the club. Should Romero and the promising Pereira decide to stay it’s difficult to see where Grant will get any minutes even in the FA Cup. Much might depend on his own aspirations and with Grant turning 36 in a matter of weeks he might be happy playing third or fourth fiddle at a club the size of Manchester United. However, if he wants to get some minutes he may be better off looking elsewhere.

Joel Pereira: Another one who’s future next season may depend on other goalkeepers at the club. Jose Mourinho tellingly stated what a promising keeper Pereira is, but should Romero decide to stay, it’s hard to see Pereira getting many minutes and he may be better off heading out on loan again, but should Romero decide to leave Pereira may fancy his chances as a back up to De Gea and based on comments from Mourinho he may prove an adequate one.

In David De Gea and Sergio Romero, United have possibly the best goalkeeping paring on the planet and unless one of them leaves the position does not need addressing, with Pereira and Grant providing useful backups.

Keep: De Gea, Romero, Pereira

Loan: Pereira (if Romero stays)

Sell: Grant

Defenders

Currently at Manchester United: Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian, Antonio Valencia, Diogo Dalot, Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelöf, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling

Ashley Young: A loyal servant to Manchester United having enjoyed 223 appearances over seven years at the club the converted fullback has proved to be a reliable and consistent option for every United manager since Sir Alex. He is a man hugely proud and passionate to play for United and who always gives 100% which is a quality any manager can value. However, with Young turning 34 in the summer and with current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the next permanent manager likely to favour an attacking approach it’s hard to see Young having the legs, quality or energy to bomb up and down his wing for 90 minutes. You only have to look at the other side of Manchester and to Pep Guardiola who almost instantly sold any fullback over the age of 30 as soon as he realised they wouldn’t be suitable for his attacking approach to understand that Young’s best days at United might be behind him, and in truth it’s difficult to accept a 34-year-old being a first choice fullback for Manchester United. However, he may be a useful option on the bench or as a backup for his experience and his qualities stated above as well as mentoring the inexperienced Dalot through his integration into Old Trafford.

Antonio Valencia: Valencia also turns 34 later this year and another loyal servant to the club having made 115 more appearances than Young, and like Young is also a converted winger. One of the best wingers in the league under Sir Alex, in recent years Valencia has played exclusively at right back where up until recent seasons he has arguably been one of the best fullbacks in the league as well. However, a spate of injuries seems to have seriously hampered his form in recent years where he’s almost become a liability. A victim of the robotic football played under Louis Van Gaal and more recently Jose Mourinho coupled with age and injuries, his mobility has waned where he’s almost frightened to exceed past the halfway line and when he does his crosses rarely beat the first man. Astonishingly made captain under Jose Mourinho despite unforgivably not being able to speak English despite having been playing in England for over 10 years, he doesn’t possess the same role modelling or crossing qualities as Young and he shouldn’t be afforded the same assurances. A great servant but time to move on.

Phil Jones: A man who it’s easier to find more memes than highlights, Jones appears to have prolonged his Manchester United career by his promise rather than his performances. Decimated by injuries throughout his career Jones appears to get into a good run of form but then picks up an injury which coincides with an extended period on the sidelines. A man Sir Alex once declared could be the greatest player the club has ever had, it’s fair to say Jones hasn’t lived up to those expectations, with Jones always culpable of a comical error and never seems to be in control of any situation. He doesn’t seem to have developed since the departure of Sir Alex and whether through injuries or errors can’t be deemed a reliable option and it’s maybe time he moved on.

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Chris Smalling: At United for a similar length of time as Jones, Smalling is also culpable to rash errors, but he does have a better injury record than Jones and does seem to relish defensive situations more than Jones. Questioned for his ball playing abilities, deemed the reason he doesn’t make England squads, Smalling is a more reliable option than Jones and may benefit from a real leader beside him.

Marcos Rojo: The Argentine is probably a better defender than Jones but is rasher than any centre back at United and amazingly more injury prone than Jones. When he has been fit as really flattered to deceive. Simply cannot be kept on the books.

Matteo Darmian: An admirable professional whose attitude can never be questioned, the Italian international started off his career at United well but his deficiencies have since been found out. Arguably United’s best defensive fullback but doesn’t have pace, offers next to nothing in attack, and therefore wouldn’t be a suitable option for any attacking manager.

Victor Lindelöf: The Swedish player of the year arrived at United as one of the most promising Swedish defenders in years. However, his first season at United was a difficult one where he looked low on confidence all season and really struggled to get up to speed and physicality of the Premier League. However, Lindelöf has gone from United’s worst centre back last season to their best and most consistent this season. In recent weeks and months developing into an impressive leader despite his tender age and putting in a number of accomplished performances in both the premier league and champions league. A player who seems to have eradicated most of the errors from his game last season and looks a lot more assured. However, has the odd rash moment that seems a contagious disease amongst united centre-backs. However, like Smalling will benefit from the addition of a more established centre back in the summer.

Eric Bailly: Regarded as United’s most natural and best defender he also possesses more pace than any of the others. Inconsistency and injuries have disrupted his time at United. As culpable if not more culpable than United’s other centre-backs for reckless challenges, he’s been forgiven for his one on one capabilities in defence and his bravery and could be world class if he erases those errors from his game. Another that merits a run of games alongside a more established, experienced centre back.

Diogo Dalot: Hailed by Jose Mourinho as the best fullback in Europe for his age, Dalot was only signed by the club last summer, signed for his pace and crossing ability Dalot has only had a handful of chances to prove his worth blowing hot and cold in his appearances which is understandable given his tender age and being in his first season at a huge club. Probably isn’t ready for a regular run in the team yet and may have to accept a deputy role for the rest of this season. With a full pre-season under his belt, he’s shown glimpses that he could be United’s long term right back and deserves a run next season.

Luke Shaw: Touted as a left-back of huge promise with many suggesting he could be the greatest England left-back of his generation he arrived at United as the worlds most expensive teenager, but with questions on his lifestyle and fitness. Despite these doubts, he was in sensational form before a horrific double leg fracture against PSV in the Champions League in 2015 ruled Shaw out for the best part of a year. Until this season his career at United has been hugely disrupted by injury, but he started the season in brilliant form and was United’s player of the month for the first two months of the season, but that form has slightly waned since. He’s a player that appears to be at his best when his back is against the wall and he’s under pressure for his position which he hasn’t been for a while which may clarify his slight dip in form. But he’s a player whose performances merits an extended run in the team to fulfil his potential.

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Axel Tuanzebe: A player of huge potential who up to date has had a brilliant season at Aston Villa and deserves a go in the Premier League next season, he’s looked more assured at villa than any of the United centre-backs have this season, albeit playing in a division below and also has the ability to play right back. Timothy Fosu-Mensah is an interesting case who started off his career at Old Trafford brilliantly starting in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley against Everton in 2016 at the age of 18 and went onto become an established member of the squad. However, he’s had two mixed loan spells at Crystal Palace and more recently relegation-threatened Fulham where he has been in and out of the team, which is curious given his remarkable breakthrough at United. However, questions remain on his position as he is comfortable at centre back and defensive midfield as he is at right back which may raise the question that with these mixed loan spells maybe he needs to be shipped out on loan one last time and trialled in another position possibly at centre back or central defensive midfield. Could he provide back up to Nemanja Matic next season?

A centre back is desperately needed at United to shore up the defence and provide calm and composure and to provide leadership to a back four that are so rash and naïve. The likes of Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli and Kostas Manolas from Roma have been touted as possible targets who could make a massive difference to the comical and frankly unacceptable defence, much like Virgil van Dijk has to Liverpool whose own defence until his arrival was abysmal and now it’s leaked the least goals in the premier league. He is the perfect example if the board at United ever needed encouragement on the value of splashing out as much as necessary on a world class centre back. Demetri Mitchell may be bought back in from his loan at Hearts to provide fullback cover.

Keep: Ashley Young, Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw, Axel Tuanzebe, Diogo Dalot

Sell: Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian

Buy: Centre half, Fullback

Midfield

Currently at Manchester United: Andreas Pereira, Scott Mctominay, Fred, Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic

Paul Pogba: World class and must be kept at all costs, one of the most complete midfielders in the world on his day and has shown under Solskjaer if you show him some love and put an arm around him, he will reward you with performances.

Fred: Has really struggled to adapt to the pace and physicality of the premier league this season and loses the ball a lot more than he keeps it, but he is a bundle of energy and always works hard. He’s not alone in foreign players coming into the Premier League and struggling to adapt in their first season. However, many players who have gone on to become world class players in the Premier League struggled in their first season such as Luis Suarez and so on that basis, Fred deserves another season to prove his worth.

Ander Herrera: A huge fan favourite and no one loves or gives more to the club than Herrera. Always gives 100% and is a hugely valuable squad player, who will seldom be the best player on the pitch but rarely has a bad game. Not given enough credit for his ability with the ball due to his tenacious commitment without it, Herrera will always be valued by any manager and deserves a place in the squad.

Scott McTominay: A physical midfielder in the mould of Nemanja Matic who despite not being as creative as other midfielders in the squad is a managers dream who will follow instructions to a tee and always get stuck in defence. Yet, he’s unlikely to get regular games at United next season and may benefit from a season on loan to develop, where he needs to develop with his on the ball skills if he wants to have a long-term future in United’s fast attacking traditions.

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Nemanja Matic: A hugely experienced and physical premier league midfielder who is a disciplined destroyer who breaks up attacks better than most. His form had seriously waned under Mourinho where he had become slow and pedantic with and without the ball and played virtually every pass backwards or sideways. But he is another who seems to have been hugely reinvigorated under Solskjaer and plays with much more urgency and will always look to play his first pass forward. Worthy of another season at least but may need an able deputy to give him a rest every now and then.

Marouane Fellaini: Seems to be a victim of Mourinho’s sacking where his slow, defensive and pragmatic approach appeared to suit his strengths. However, under Solskjaer’s new attacking approach he’s fallen way down the pecking order where the emphasis is on fast, forward one and two touch passing which in truth Fellaini is simply not capable of. However, if United need to have a different game plan off the bench none are more suitable than Fellaini who has rescued united so many games with last-minute winners. However, his future seems bleak.

Andreas Pereira: A curious case who despite being United’s best player during pre-season began the first two games of the season where he started brilliantly against Leicester and were it not for a certain Paul Pogba may have walked away with the Man of the Match award. However, he appeared to be scapegoated and hooked at halftime in the defeat at Brighton and has not had a Premier League start since. Questions remain over his position whether he is a capable central defensive midfielder and whether he is disciplined, adept and strong enough at looking after the ball. Pereira has an obvious natural talent with an astute passing range and intelligent football brain but has maybe not found his best position in this United team and may benefit from a more advanced role in a midfield three or just behind the striker where he has a lot more freedom similar to Paul Pogba.

A holding midfielder is required to provide cover and competition for Matic with none of the other central midfielders in the current squad natural solutions to fill the role.

Keep: Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic, Fred, Andreas Pereira

Loan: Scott Mctominay

Sell: Marouane Fellaini

Buy: Holding Midfielder

Forwards

Jesse Lingard: A United Academy product who is a huge role model for young fans and players associated with United, he’s a hugely versatile player who plays mostly as an auxiliary right winger but is more than capable playing as a number 10 and in a midfield three. He’s another who is a manager’s dream and always one of the hardest working players on the pitch with genuine pace, who’s very unselfish and makes brilliant runs off the ball to open space for others. A huge asset to the squad and won’t be leaving anytime soon. Arguably still yet to find his most suitable position or formation in this current squad.

Juan Mata: Has been a huge hit with the fans during his time at United and has been in and out of the team pretty much since his arrival at United. Whether as a number 10 or an auxiliary right winger he’s the best link player at the club with a shrewd football brain but has a glaring weakness in his pace, Under Solskjaer’s new attacking style he really slows the pace of an attack down in a 4-3-3 and always has a tendency to cut inside. Mata turns 31 this year and isn’t going to get any quicker and it’s hard to see how he has a future in a 4-3-3 system out wide under whoever the new permanent manager is. The only way he has a future is in a 4-2-3-1 system as a number 10 but even in that system, it’s difficult not to think that someone like Lingard or Pogba won’t be much better options hitting teams with pace on the break. A great servant but another one who may be a victim of Mourinho’s sacking.

Alexis Sanchez: A rare prodigious talent who got fans really excited when they found out he was coming to united as what they hoped was finally the worthiest candidate to fill Cristiano Ronaldo’s number seven jersey that so many have failed miserably to fill. A man who carried Arsenal for years but another who really struggled in Mourinho’s defensive pragmatic approach where his free roaming role he had at Arsenal was stifled and he seems more affected than anyone by the Portuguese manager’s tactics. He hasn’t become a bad player overnight and his reputation before he joined United merits seeing what he can do under a more attacking manager and approach. However, if he fails in the next six months he may be worth letting go, owing to his age and the enormous drain he has on the wage bill.

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Romelu Lukaku: Another who arrived under huge fanfare, after a hugely successful spell at Everton where he scored a hugely impressive 25 goals in his final season to finish as the second highest goal scorer behind Harry Kane in an Everton team who created far fewer chances than the so-called big six. He scored 27 goals in his first season at United to conclude a decent first season at the club. However, there’s no doubting his goalscoring credentials but so much has been made of his atrocious first touch which has a huge tendency to either break down attacks which are so important under Solskjaer or his touch is so heavy it ensures United lose the ball. He needs to improve on this if he doesn’t want to find himself permanently on the bench behind the more aesthetically pleasing Marcus Rashford. But he possesses so many other qualities that a striker needs like raw power and pace that has the ability to strike fear into opposition defenders.

Anthony Martial: Arrived in Louis van Gaal’s first season as a relatively unknown young French striker but one who’s proved to be a huge hit with the fans if not all his managers. At times his attitude and work rate have always been questioned, but he’s another rare talent who possesses breathtaking dribbling ability, control and pace that few others do. If he can find more consistency in his game and apply himself and turn up with the right attitude for every game there’s no reason why he can’t go on to become one of the best left-wingers in the world.

Marcus Rashford: Like Lingard another one who has graduated from the Manchester United academy and is another huge favourite amongst fans. Cut from the same cloth as Anthony Martial, he possesses brilliant technical quality as well as breathtaking pace and skill. However, with his desire to be an out and out number nine many have questioned his finishing abilities and whether they’re good enough for him to be considered a long-term United number nine. Lukaku and Rashford complement each other so well in terms of they both bring different qualities to the role and if they can brush up on their respective weaknesses there’s no reason why they can’t be United’s two number nines for the next five to ten years.

A right winger is needed in the summer to cater for the possible departure of Juan Mata as well as to provide more balance in United’s forward positions, where United have three forwards who have spent most of their respective club careers on the left wing and the two players currently playing on the right wing more natural number 10’s who tend to drift inside. A left-footed right winger with pace is needed to provide more width and balance with the hugely promising Tahith Chong not ready to be a first team regular.

Keep: Lukaku, Martial, Rashford, Lingard, Sanchez (depending on performances for the remainder of this season)

Sell: Mata

Possible United Squad Next Season

Goalkeepers: David De Gea, Sergio Romero, Joel Pereira/Lee Grant

Defenders: Ashley Young, Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelöf, Kostas Manolas/Kalidou Koulibaly, Axel Tuanzebe, Luke Shaw, Diogo Dalot, Demetri Mitchell

Midfield: Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, Andreas Pereira, Nemanja Matic, Fred, Holding Midfielder

Forwards: Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Tahith Chong, Alexis Sanchez (based on rest of the season performance), Right Winger

Written by Niall Read

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