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Which areas do Manchester United need to strengthen in the summer and who could come in?

Manchester United have improved since Jose Mourinho took the place of Louis van Gaal as the club’s manager ahead of the summer in 2016. Shortly after commencing his role, the Portuguese manager stated that it could take three years to take United from where they were, to a position whereby they could challenge for the Premier League title and beyond. This season, United moved quickly to overcome their sixth-placed finish in the league last season, earning a UEFA Champions League place by winning the UEFA Europa League.

United have spent the majority of the season in second place in the Premier League, despite a few instances where Liverpool took over the position, which was short-lived. Last season, United finished in sixth place in the Premier League, earning 69 points. Currently, after 30 matches being played this season, United are four points short of last season tally, with 65 points. Mourinho’s side have scored more goals so far this season, scoring a total of 58 so far, conceding just 23 goals. Last season, United scored only 54 goals, conceding 29.

Whilst the strengthening of the squad continued last summer in during the January transfer window, there are areas of the team which still require some improvement, which will also result in departures this summer. United need to kick on and that will mean getting rid of players who are a weak link in the side, replacing them with players able to do what they are tasked with – which will be to win matches, dominate both in defence and attack, and create the kind of play to bring fluid, attacking football which the supporters crave for. Here are some areas United need to strengthen;

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Defence: Three areas to make Manchester United’s defence stronger, identifying the players who could be replaced

Central Defence: This season there are some weak links in this area; Phil Jones has not managed to overcome his injury-plagued career at United and reports suggest he is being tracked by Everton, as is Chris Smalling, providing Sam Allardyce remains the manager of the club at the end of the season. Despite being at Old Trafford since the summer of 2011, his injuries and the stop-start in his development seem to have caused a host of problems. Jones has partnered Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo in the last two seasons, also playing well with Daley Blind, who could also be facing an exit this summer.

Blind has become a peripheral figure in the Old Trafford dressing room, seemingly injured currently but not playing in a fashion which impresses the manager of the supporters. Having a strong defence is one of the key attributes to winning trophies and this defence is not as strong as it could be. There are doubts surrounding Chris Smalling from much of the fan base. Eric Bailly is one of the strongest in his position, Marcos Rojo has recently signed a new contract and Victor Lindelof needs more time to find his feet. If Smalling, Jones, and Blind exit United, who could replace them?

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Possible Central Defensive Additions: United have been linked with many players in the past few weeks, let alone the players they have been linked with over the last few years. Raphael Varane of Real Madrid, Samuel Umtiti of Barcelona, and Toby Alderweireld of Tottenham Hotspur are three of the players to be linked to the club in the last few weeks. Obviously, all three will not become United players and it is unlikely that all three of Smalling, Jones, and Blind will leave United, so that should remain in your mind. Big changes are normally a big gamble.

Many United supporters have been convinced that Alderweireld and Umtiti are players that would make United’s defence a lot better and Varane has been a target a few times, at least according to reports in the media. Dealing with Real Madrid will always bring rumours of David De Gea heading in the opposite direction – which is not something any supporter of the club would want. United will have Axel Tuanzebe back at the club in the summer, after his loan spell at Aston Villa, which could see him earn a place in the squad, which could replace a player who leaves.

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Fullback: United seem to have many problems in these positions this season – something stemming from previous seasons, in which it was known the depth in this area was not great. Antonio Valencia has been good at times, but he is starting to decline, no matter how many people choose to ignore it. He’s not a fullback and certain factors of his game show weakness in this area. Some will moan about this, but it is a fact. There are also problems at left-back with Luke Shaw and the fact he’s opening himself to criticism – which some suggest is bullying. Matteo Darmian is a likely exit this summer too; some suggest he’s off to Juventus.

United have options in these areas in the Academy with Joe Riley and Demetri Mitchell able to play in the two positions – but both are inexperienced. Mitchell has spent the second half of this season on loan with Hearts but is currently injured and it is not known if he will play again before the season’s end. Timothy Fosu-Mensah is another on loan from the club, who is able to play at right-back, amongst a number of other positions. United need experience, which will help the younger players learn – seeing as there are no experienced actual fullbacks at the club.

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Possible Fullback Additions: United have already been linked to a few fullbacks this summer; Alex Sandro is said to be Mourinho’s top target in the left-back position this summer. It would cost United a lot though with a £70 million asking price on the Brazilian’s head. Kieran Tierney is another who is linked to the Old Trafford club. The Celtic defender signed a six-year contract last October and would be available in the region of £20 million, much cheaper than Sandro. Saying that Tierney is able to play in both fullback positions and as a central defender. His ability to play in a wide variety of systems will be of benefit.

Timothy Fosu-Mensah will be a player of value in this area, as will Demetri Mitchell and Joe Riley, providing they continue to develop. Fosu-Mensah and Mitchell have had some good experience on loan this season, despite Mitchell currently being on the sidelines through injury. Both will add depth in the area, giving more options for matches against the smaller clubs and possibly even the likes of the Carabao Cup and Emirates FA Cup next season, depending on the opposition. Mourinho looks like he will be building a team with able players, ones who want to achieve history, not become history – which can be said for some of the current crop.

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Midfield: Tipped to be the area Mourinho will strengthen this summer, also identifying those who may leave the Theatre of Dreams

Central Midfield: This summer United will bid farewell to Michael Carrick who is set to retire at the end of the season. He may not be leaving the club though, with an option to become a part of Mourinho’s coaching team. Marouane Fellaini could exit the club too with his contract expiring at the end of the season and so far, the renewal offered has not been accepted. This season there has been many problems with United’s midfield; the over reliance of Nemanja Matic, the injury, suspension and loss of form of Paul Pogba, plus the injuries and lack of form of Ander Herrera.

The emergence of Scott McTominay is one of the great things to have happened this season, plus the way he has settled into the team partnering Matic in the centre of the pitch. United could have a midfield of Matic, McTominay, Pogba and Herrera next season, which would leave space for two additional players. United have some talent in the Academy, so Mourinho could blood in the likes of Ethan Hamilton next season, but in terms of strengthening, it will only add depth to a team needing a killer midfield to content for titles next season. The midfield this season has been pretty poor by United’s standards.

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Possible Central Midfield Additions: United have been linked to many players over the last few months. Jean Michael Seri, Jorginho, Toni Kroos, Marco Verratti, Fred, Arturo Vidal, and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic have all been linked to the club recently – with many more going back further over time. Some will be strong links, others thrown in by click bait journalists citing Don Balon as a source. United will need to do something with the midfield this summer as the departure of Carrick and Fellaini are not the only problem area with Herrera subject to a trial for match-fixing later in the year – which could see him banned from the game.

Mourinho will need to make the midfield strong. That is an area which has been lacking this season, and last, and one which could be a lot better. Pogba should be putting in the work he needs to put in and should not only want to play in his preferred position. He wanted to come back to United to prove a point, so far he’s proved nothing other than the doubts Sir Alex Ferguson may have had in him back in 2012. There is still time for Pogba to come good though, despite being linked to a move away from the club this summer, which may be something or nothing.

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Attack: Mourinho has stated he does not need attacking players, yet the right-wing is still an issue at the club

Right-Wing: United lack a strong right-winger at the club. This season, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and even Ander Herrera have played in this position – Mata being the best in this position – but it not being his strongest position. Antonio Valencia, playing at right-back, has dominated in attack in this area, which leave his defensive area open. Bringing in a right-winger is crucial but Mourinho has suggested that his attack is strong and no new additions will be brought in this summer. He does have the Academy to turn to though, yet many players may not be deemed ready.

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Possible Right-Wing Additions: Tahith Chong could be an option for promotion to the first team, despite not yet making his full debut at United. The 18-year-old has bags of talent and seems to have taken to the U23 level of football like a duck to water, scoring a single goal so far at that level this season. Sir Matt Busby once said ‘if there were good enough, they were old enough’, which shows the mentality of blooding in youth from the Academy. Alexis Sanchez could play in this role, despite his comfort playing on the left or through the middle. If Mourinho is happy with his attacking talent, it may be something we have to be happy with too.

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