As we reach the halfway point in a chaotic and disappointing season thus far for Manchester United, it’s obvious changes are going to take place. Ralf Rangnick has replaced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager and several of United’s established players look set to leave or are undecided on their futures. With all this being said, United’s squad is likely set to undergo another major overhaul with outgoings and hopefully incomings, so here’s our look at five key positions United must improve on to achieve success once more.
Starting from the back and United are likely to find themselves in need of buying a centre-back yet again. Many would have hoped that Harry Maguire’s £80 million arrival paired with Raphael Varane’s unexpected signing in the summer would have fixed United’s defensive woes but that’s not been the case.
United have a multitude of reasons why going for another centre-back might be a wise move, not least the fact that Maguire has had an awful season and Varane has not quite acclimatised to the club yet. Perhaps more pressing is the potential departure of Eric Bailly, who has failed to ever shake off consistent injury troubles and gain a run in the team. Bailly is likely to depart for a fresh start and a desired starting spot elsewhere, which would leave United with just Victor Lindelöf and Phil Jones as cover- although Jones is likely to exit this summer too.
In terms of potential targets, United could refer back to past target Pau Torres and maybe even look at more expensive option Jules Kounde. The quality and price of the signing will need to be a reflection on whether the club are looking for a new starter or someone who can play a squad rotation role, however it could be argued that United need to look for a strong signing as the club captain has not looked anywhere near United’s standards in recent months.
2. Defensive Midfield
It’s been painfully obvious for too long now that United are crying out for reinforcements in the midfield. Scott McTominay and Fred’s performances have been consistently underwhelming while Nemanja Matic looks too old to cut it anymore. The main issue United face is the lack of an out and out defensive midfielder.
It’s astonishing that a club of United’s stature has failed to address this issue for so long but ultimately it is a fundamental problem that has led to even more issues for an already fraught defence. It’s clear that Nemanja Matic is the right type of profile to fill this role but it’s also clear that he is long past his best.
United need to look to invest in a strong physical presence here, with an aptitude for defending and sniffing out danger. Good mobility is obviously preferable as well but the club should also focus on seeking someone who is more than comfortable on the ball and a player who can distribute effortlessly. This type of player would likely be a creative controller, somebody like Toni Kroos or Declan Rice, however these particular transfers are unlikely.
Admittedly finding a player with all these attributes is no easy task, but it’s essential United do find someone, a player capable of these things would aid United’s transitions in play hugely.
There’s been a case for Paul Pogba to play this number six role and he has in the past, however it’s abundantly clear the Frenchman is more suited to attacking and lacks the focus and defensive discipline to occupy such a pivotal role. Whoever United do decide to get in this role will more than likely be an improvement on existing options, even potentially being the transformative signing to make the team click.
3. Central Midfield
Not dissimilar to the defensive midfield role mentioned above, if United are to challenge for the biggest prizes then they should absolutely look to bring in a second midfielder too. While a defensive midfield option is priority, bringing in a high energy or perhaps even box to box midfielder would be a massive boost to the team as well.
It’s very possible that Matic, Donny van de Beek and Pogba all leave in the next six months so it’s vital United get reinforcements. An emerging option is Ruben Neves, who has played more of a defensive role in midfield but is more than capable going forward or playing any role in the middle. Once again, nearly any player coming in has a good chance of being an upgrade to the existing midfielders, but United could profit on going in for a ball winner like Fred but with much better ability on the ball.
N’Golo Kante has been a monster in midfield for Chelsea, providing defensive cover and progressing play, if United could sign someone of this ilk to play alongside another midfielder it could be revelatory. Another name mentioned has been Frenkie de Jong, the Dutch starlet has an attacking flair about him but is also brilliant defensively and on the ball, this could be another good option for the club.
Overall, the club may deem two midfield signings unnecessary, particularly if Pogba or Van de Beek stay, however United fans will be clamouring for a full-on midfield overhaul- and rightly so.
Amongst issues nearly everywhere on the pitch this season, United have also been very underwhelming in the full-back area. For a position that is so integral in modern football, and with the way United have tried to play, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have been nowhere near the required standard.
Most strikingly, United have suffered on the right-hand side the most, an area where many had hoped Wan-Bissaka would improve on. As time elapses it seems more and more unlikely that Wan-Bissaka will ever fulfil his full potential, mainly in reference to a lack of crossing ability or forward play. It’s a shame as the 24-year-old is fantastic defensively for the most part, but that’s not enough if United want to compete with the best that the Premier League has to offer.
It could seem harsh to give up on any improvements in a 24-year-old, but the reality is that United need to start winning now. Wan-Bissaka’s deputy is Diogo Dalot, who has shown more promise going forward, although the young Portuguese defender is very vulnerable defensively at times. All of this would suggest that United should look to invest in another right-back and perhaps offload one of the aforementioned players; Dalot has already been close to leaving before.
United had a longstanding interest in England right-back Kieran Trippier, however his transfer to Newcastle United is confirmed now. The club probably won’t bring in a right-back in January, but a summer acquisition could add quality and competition for the place, perhaps even spurring on Wan-Bissaka’s development. If all else fails, the club could turn to young talent Ethan Laird, who has most recently been on loan at Swansea City.
The striker role has always been occupied by the best of talents across the years at Old Trafford, and this is no different this year with Cristiano Ronaldo’s sensational return. United do currently possess a wealth of options in the striker’s department, but inevitable departures of Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial will leave the team short in the summer.
Although Marcus Rashford and most notably Mason Greenwood are serious options, both players have been utilised in different roles recently, occupying the wings or the number 10 position. United can’t afford to solely rely on a 36-year-old Ronaldo as the main striker next season and should look to bring in some top talent to play alongside or even replace the legendary Portuguese goal scorer.
The big name on everybody’s lips in football is Erling Haaland, the sensational 21-year-old from Norway.Touted alongside Kylian Mbappe as the next biggest talent in football, Haaland has scored an incredible 125 goals already in his short career. If United want an option for the future and a lethal goal scorer then they simply have to bid for Haaland.
While competition from Chelsea, Real Madrid and others would be hard to fend off, United do have the financial means to acquire such a promising talent. If the club is unable to land the Norwegian then they could turn to Harry Kane, who’s form has been on the up as of late.
Most recently there has been a lot of noise surrounding South American youngster Julián Álvarez and a potential move to Old Trafford, although this could just be agent talk amidst speculation.
While it’s unlikely the club will bring in many or even any new recruits in January, these positions are in a desperate need or reinforcements in the summer at least. With recent reports rumbling about an unrest in United’s dressing room, a mass exodus and big influx could be what’s needed at the club to finally compete at the top again.
Written by Sam Wilson