Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could choose to axe up to six (maybe more) players from his squad this season with the January transfer window vastly approaching. Solskjaer has 28 experienced players in his squad this season, not to mention the talented youth players earning their plaudits from the academy. This means that there are a number of players who could be seen as surplus to requirements.
During the summer transfer windows, it was expected that United would get rid of a lot of the deadwood at the club but the post-coronavirus transfer market was not very positive for United, who needed buyers for the players they wanted to sell. It would have allowed United to strengthen on key areas ahead of the new season. Perhaps the much-needed changes could be made in January, or beyond?
United initially started the season in fine form with two wins and one draw in the first three Premier League matches before the first international break of the season, beating Leeds United 5-1 and Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 – drawing 1-1 with Southampton. It was a positive start to the season, which should have only got better for United – but there was a problem lying in wait.
After the first international break, United beat Newcastle United 4-1 in the league, were beaten 2-1 by Young Boys in the Champions League, beat West Ham United 2-1 in the league before a 1-0 defeat against the Hammers in the Carabao Cup, then losing 1-0 to Aston Villa in the league, beating Villarreal 2-1 in the Champions League and final, drawing 1-1 to Everton in the league before the second international break.
Here are six players with limited futures at Manchester United…
Diogo Dalot, 22 – right-back
The Portuguese right-back has made just five appearances for the club this season, playing a total of 288 minutes of football, which suggests his future could be up in the air. Granted, he was only given the minutes he has in rotation, more importantly because Aaron Wan-Bissaka was sent off in the Champions League against Young Boys, therefore he was suspended for the win over Villarreal – the suspension now lasts two matches.
This will give Dalot some minutes on the pitch this season, providing an appeal for the two-match suspension is not won by United, meaning he will likely play in the first group stage match against Atalanta on the 20 October. When he has played this season, the Portuguese right-back has looked terrible – although that may change in the future if he is given more time on the pitch, but that seems doubtful.
It is suggested that Jose Mourinho would be interested in signing the player for the second time in his career, this time for AS Roma, but it would all depend on whether the Portuguese manager had the money for a potential deal, considering the player has more than two and a half years left on his contract. Based on the fact that Solskjaer wanted to sign Kieran Trippier in the summer, it would suggest Dalot is not wanted.
Likelihood of player leaving in January: 2.5/5
Phil Jones, 29 – central defender
He did not play for the entire 2020/21 season and last played a match for the United first team in January 2020. This latest in a long line of knee injuries seems to have cost him dearly. He has played twice for the U23’s so far this season, getting 180 minutes of football under his belt. He was on the bench against West Ham in the Carabao Cup, which so far is the only appearances he has made at senior level, despite not playing.
It was expected that he would be involved in the first team, at least in the Premier League after not being named in the Champions League squad. But other than the West Ham match in the Carabao Cup, Jones has not featured for United. That could be a worrying sign because of his injury or it could be just to protect him, s he actually recovers from the knee injury.
It is hard to see Jones get ahead of Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly, which is seemingly the pecking order at the club this season. There is also Teden Mengi, who could also be ahead of Jones, possibly even Bailly. I think for him to have a career, leaving United is the best option both for the player and the Old Trafford club. Getting back to his best, which has not really been shown will be hard.
Likelihood of player leaving in January: 3.5/5
Eric Bally, 27 – central defender
The Ivory Coast international started the season late after his participation in the Olympics in Tokyo this summer. He has only featured in one match, playing 90 minutes in the 1-0 defeat to West Ham in the Carabao Cup. Bailly has been on the bench for United in a further five matches, but so far has not been used as a substitute. His injury record is also questionable, like Jones’ record at the club.
Bailly has the likes of Maguire, Varane, Lindelof, Jones and Mengi to contest with in the central defensive positions and it seems likely that both Varane and Maguire will be the main partnership, with Varane stepping in as the third-choice player, leaving Bailly, Jones and Mengi to contest for the fourth-choice player in this position. It seems unlikely that Bailly will play a lot of football – unless there are further injuries.
The rotation option seems to be the best option for him and he could perhaps contest Lindelof’s place in the team replacing him, which would involve him playing to the best of his abilities, not jumping into any rash tackles and maintaining his fitness level and not suffering any injuries – which seems unlikely in itself. It could be that the player will opt to leave, despite signing a new contract less than six months ago.
Likelihood of player leaving in January: 3/5
Jesse Lingard, 28 – attacking midfielder/winger
It was expected that his loan spell with West Ham last season would have been the precursor to him leaving the club this season, but the player decided to fight for his place, which still is not guaranteed at the club. Lingard has played more football than others this season, also achieving more but even that is not a guarantee that he will be chosen by Solskjaer to be a regular starting player in the team.
Lingard has six appearances for the club this season, playing just 136 minutes of football, scoring two goals and getting one assist. One of his goal was the winner in the league against the Hammers, with the assist coming against Villarreal in the Champions League – with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the goal to get United their first points in the competition this season. It was good to see him achieve that to be fair.
It would seem unlikely that Lingard and will push the likes of Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes out of their places this season but I am sure he will have a good go at doing so. Lingard’s contract will expire at the end of the season, so unless a new contract is signed, his future at the club seems over. United could sell him in January or lose him on a free in the summer.
Likelihood of player leaving in January: 4/5
Juan Mata, 33 – attacking midfielder
He is the fifth oldest player at he club this season, with two of those ahead of him being Lee Grant, 38 and Tom Heaton, 35 with both not likely to play much football this season. The oldest player is Cristiano Ronaldo, 36 with Edinson Cavani, 34 just ahead of him. Mata has made one appearance for United this season, playing 62 minutes in the Carabao Cup defeat to West Ham.
He has been on the bench seven times this season, but was not utilised for the last two Premier League matches, the 1-0 defeat to Villa and the 1-1 draw with Everton. When the likes of Rashford and Amad Diallo are back to full fitness and able to feature for United, there is a chance that Mata could not find much involvement on the pitch this season. It was not a great performance, although that might improve as the season goes on.
Of course, with his contract expiring in the summer, it is possible that Mata could retire from the game or even head into coaching with United, which is something that could be done whilst his current contract is active. He has been a positive player for United in his time at the club but it would seem that his best days are behind him. He has a good footballing mind, which is a shame to lose him, but it’s better not to plod on like this.
Likelihood of player leaving in January: 3.5/5
Donny van de Beek, 24 – central midfielder/attacking midfielder
The Dutchman only arrived at United last season and had a tough first season at the club with not a lot of playing time and only contributing one goal and two assists for the club. This season, it seems tougher for him as despite making three appearances, he has only played 141 minutes of football, which is not enough for a player of his calibre. That said, he’s not competing with Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominay or Fred for a place.
United have a lack of defensive minded midfielders at the club with just Matic the experienced one and McTominay playing as big a role in that position as he can. Perhaps a change in formation will give other players a chance but it is the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and to a point, Lingard that he’s competing with for a place in the team. That is why it is tough for him to get a place in the squad, despite what some fans say.
It is suggested that Van de Beek is seeking to leave the club in January, which was an avenue that he tried in the summer with his agent speaking to Everton and the move being denied by Solskjaer. The Norwegian manager says he has a place in the team, but in the early stages of the season, I can see why the player is frustrated but giving up without a fight is not really a good thing to do.
Likelihood of player leaving in January: 4/5
Solskjaer has a talented squad at United this season, a squad that at this time is underperforming with some supporters on social media calling for him to be sacked, which seems to be the case with fans like that – which has happened for each manager post-Sir Alex Ferguson; David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. These so-called supporters think they have the answers, with many suggesting that Mourinho was the one.
To see this time and time again shows that modern-day football supporters have no patience. They seem to assume that success can be provided for a price, which is never the case. With any manager, there are problem period and period of success – that is part and parcel in football. In a 20 team league, there can only be one winner but the expectation of these ‘United fans’ seems to suggest that United should win all the time.
The manager can only do part of the work. You can see this when these social media fans credit a win to individual brilliance but blame a draw or a defeat on the manager. It just does not make much sense. There will always be players who will moan about certain things but instead of moaning, fighting for a place and proving your worth is the best thing to do. Not every player can play a big part during the course of the season.
Let’s see what January, then the summer transfer brings for United. In terms of players at the club, there is a little about of work to get the players in for the problem positions and that should be achievable by the club and the manager. More importantly, United are still backing their manager, United are two points off the top spot in the Premier League and one point off the top of their group in the Champions League. Don’t panic!
Written by John Walker