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Six Manchester United players who could be facing the axe as early as January

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

Manchester United’s deadwood problem

Since Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United eight years ago, United’s recruitment has been questionable; there’s been some great signings like Bruno Fernandes but some terrible signings like Alexis Sanchez. These recruitment issues have caused a major build-up of deadwood in the United ranks over the years leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a lot of the previous manager’s mess. 

Subsequently this causes an influx of players to be left at United who are clearly not good enough, but they are eating the wages up, increasing United’s overall wage bill making it harder to offload these players and thus harder to recruit other players because the wage bill needs to be lowered.

The root to this problem is the structure at the club. Once Ferguson retired, a lot of the footballing men at the club also left. leaving a complex hierarchy that needs experienced personnel with the football clubs’ best interests at heart, to the role of businessmen. These businessmen include Matt Judge and Ed Woodward in particular. 

The main issue with these businessmen is priorities. Their priority is capital, and what will save and raise the most amount of money as possible. They don’t put the team’s best interests at heart but more the club’s financial position treating it like a business. 

As a result, when in the transfer window, despite the managers best wishes, players can be signed due to their public relations value rather than their footballing ability. Signings like Alexis Sanchez and Angel Di Maria where PR signings that were there to please the fans resulting in huge shirt sales and media attention. 

This doesn’t help the team at all as it can often mean bringing in a player that doesn’t have his heart set on a move and thus doesn’t respect the United shirt enough and soon becomes deadwood as their effort levels drop. To combat this, Solskjaer has started a rebuild on the team as well as the actual structure at United bringing in Darren Fletcher and John Murtough into roles that footballing men are more suited to. 

Murtough was recently hired as the ‘football director’ who’s role is to discusses directly with Solskjaer on targets before the negotiators approach the club and player. Previously, Woodward had had a lot of power in these situations, and this led to the deadwood being brought in but now with a footballing man discussing these transfers it can help reduce this. However, as seen with this current transfer window, despite the changes in structure, United are still struggling to sell off their deadwood. 

This is due to the astronomical wages these players have been put on under the poor recruitment. In previous years, too many signings were because of money rather than the passion and desire to play for the club. This summer the approach has changed as United are bringing in players like Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo who are all players who are hungry and want to play for the club. This is a testament to Solskjaer’s progression with the rebuild as players of this calibre were not signing for United previously. 

With these new signings having a real desire to play for United, it means the club doesn’t have to offer them huge wages making them harder to sell off in the future. To ensure that this deadwood problem doesn’t get worse, Solskjaer must keep only looking at players who will fight for the badge and aren’t in it for the money. 

Solskjaer and United should keep looking at upgrading the recruitment and changing staff to fit the clubs DNA and morals better. These gradual changes will ultimately make United a much better run club in general taking them back to the efficiency under Ferguson. 

At the club now there’s several players that United need to ship out. This includes Phil Jones, Andreas Pereira, Diogo Dalot, arguably Juan Mata and potentially Jesse Lingard and Nemanja Matic. Some view Mata as a vital member of the squad especially for his presence in the dressing room and thus not to be considered as deadwood, whereas others perceive him as past his best and now eating up wages. 

Lingard, on the other hand, is loved by a lot of United fans but could become deadwood if he stays at United because he’s unlikely to get many minutes for the team. Meanwhile, with the injury of Scott McTominay and the unlikely chance that a midfielder comes in so late in the window, Matic could prove a crucial part of the squad especially as he’s the only natural defensive midfielder. 

However, some feel due to his age he’s no longer at his best and can be a liability. Due to his unique skill set that United currently lack, I feel he is more important than some people realise and could be key for United this season so shouldn’t be sold off unless another defensive midfielder is brought in. Diogo Dalot is still a young player being only 22 and with Aaron Wan-Bissaka lacking competition some feel he must stay. 

Solskjaer, on the other hand, doesn’t seem particularly satisfied with Dalot and looks keen to get him out on loan or permanently sell him and thus he might be seen as deadwood especially in Solskjaer’s eyes. A player Solskjaer has looked at with great interest is Kieran Trippier. He’s a 30-year-old English right-back playing for Atletico Madrid in Spain and being a Manchester boy would love to go to United. 

This would fit the requirements that Solskjaer is trying to create as despite his age he would work incredibly hard and provide great competition for Wan-Bissaka. Therefore, if United can move Dalot on loan, that could open the opportunity to bring in Trippier who would strengthen the right-hand side even more. With Phil Jones and Andreas Pereira, most fans believe they are deadwood and their time at the club is up. Since Fernandes’ arrival, Pereira has barely had a look in and was loaned off out to Lazio last year but wasn’t majorly successful. 

If Lingard is to stay at the club, he would be third choice which would be a waste of his time and United’s. Phil Jones at one point looked like he could be a great player with Sir Alex Ferguson saying “I think Jones may be one of the best players we have ever had.” But he’s been plagued with injuries in the last couple years and with the recent signing of Raphael Varane it just pushes him further down the pecking order. Jones is on high wages, and many believe he must go as he’ll never play and is wasted at the club but due to his horrendous injury record and high wages it’s difficult to find any suitors. 

Overall, I feel the structure at this club is improving under Solskjaer’s management and with more time he could make it more and more effective. United must focus on only bringing in players that want to play for the club and keeping the wage bill down else they’ll struggle with deadwood issues again as they can’t ship these players off as their wages are too high. 

Then to keep taking this team forward, Solskjaer must get Pereira and Jones out definitely and then look to ease out Dalot, Lingard, Matic and Mata in the coming years if suitable replacements are available as it’ll reduce the wage bill and as these players are getting older it will bring fresh impetus into the club which could lead to a successful tenure for Manchester United under Solskjaer.

Written by Ethan Bents

Juan Mata linked to Fenerbahce this summer could continue youth conveyor belt at Manchester United

Manchester United attacking midfielder Juan Mata has reportedly opened the door to an Old Trafford exit this summer with links to Turkish club Fenerbahce, the club that both Robin van Persie and Nani left the Theatre of Dreams for in recent years. Mata has been forced out of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans by the arrival of Bruno Fernandes.

Mata has been a great player for the club since his arrival, which was the most positive aspect of David Moyes’ reign as manager of the club, apart from his sacking, of course. Since signing for United from Chelsea in January 2014, over six years ago, Mata has played 252 times, scoring 48 goals and 42 assists, which has been a big help.

This season, Mata has made just 34 appearances for United, starting 20 times with 12 of those being in cup competitions. He has scored three goals and assisted five more, which is not bad considering his lack of playing time. If this was going to be his last season at the club, he will be a big loss for the squad and the dressing room but United will move on.

Turkish outlet Sansursuz Futbol have suggested that the 32-year-old is eager to leave United this summer for the Super Lig with Fenerbahce the club interested in acquiring him. They would need to purchase the player as he signed a new contract which would keep him at United until the summer of 2021, also having the option of another year to be added.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has admitted that he will exploit the transfer market this summer, giving the indication at along with additions, there will be departures. This is a good thing as every team will need to grow. Mata’s departure could be good for the talented youth at the club. Angel Gomes could have taken advantage, had he not left.

However, with players such as Hannibal Mejbri, James Garner, and Dylan Levitt all seeking to fight for a place in the first team, Solskjaer could see a conveyor belt of talent heading his way from the youth ranks, which will strengthen United as they gain experience. Mata would leave a hole in the squad but holes can be filled.

Looking at Manchester United’s attacking depth for the 2019/20 season

Manchester United has some of the fastest attacking players in the Premier League this season. The departure of Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan and the rumoured departure of Alexis Sanchez is going to create more chances for youth to shine at the club, which is something that is clear Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is about.

Anthony Martial has been given his old number nine shirt back, a number he wore when he had his best season at the club to date. Perhaps he can now kick on and put the last two years behind him and find the route to success with the club. Marcus Rashford is a player who has risen in stature and was chosen to play ahead of Lukaku last season.

A player who is now getting the same finishing training that Cristiano Ronaldo received at the club, with Solskjaer clearly looking to get Rashford firing in the goals. After his brace against Chelsea last week; one from the penalty spot, he’s certainly heading in the right direction to increase his goals this season, scoring 13 in all competitions last season.

Attacking midfield depth; five players able to play here, four of them likely to be rotated here during the season.

This is an area which some would include in the midfield, however, with the 4-2-3-1 formation which Solskjaer predominantly uses, this is considered part of the attack, which is why it has been included in this part of the series of squad depth articles. In this area, which in the 4-2-3-1 formation, focuses on the number ten position, or the second striker role.

There are five players that could play in this position; Jesse Lingard, Angel Gomes, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, and Alexis Sanchez, providing he remains at the club, which may not be the case with the links to Inter. Of course, Solskjaer could draft in more youth if this position becomes problematic. Lingard seems the clear starter, based on the Chelsea match.

If Pogba was played in this position, the midfield would struggle, unless the trusted players performed to the best of their abilities and found a way to deal with their roles, leaving Pogba to play a more creative role. However, with Gomes, Mata and to a point, Sanchez, Pogba may not need to play in this position.

Winger depth; seven players able to play in these position but two of those may not be suited.

Since Daniel James arrived from Swansea City for £15 million in the summer, there was a clear problem on the wing for United. The right-wing position was literally none existent with the likes of Mata, Lingard, Rashford, Martial and even Lukaku playing there. Since James arrived, there are more options with United able to utilise the pace of players.

There are seven players able to play on the wing; Martial, Rashford, James, Mata, Sanchez, Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood. Five of the seven offer pace, ability, determination and hunger. Mata offers the ability to read the game, although a central position, when he plays, would be better for the squad.

James made his Premier League debut a week ago, coming on in the second half against Chelsea, scoring less than ten minutes later. His pace was problematic for Chelsea and he used his own mistake in the box to carve his name into the history books at the club. Greenwood, Chong, Martial and Rashford also have the pace, although one of the latter two will play a different role. The depth is alright here.

Striker depth; four players are able to play in this area but two of them are destined to lead the line

This is the area which despite Lukaku leaving the club this summer, could well be problematic for Solskjaer. He never replaced the Belgian and unless he has a plan to sign a free agent, will probably stick to what he has in the squad. Martial has led the line against Chelsea and Rashford is also capable of playing here.

Looking at the depth, there are other options which include Greenwood, Sanchez (if he stays), and Lingard (to a point). It may look a bit weak if you look past Martial and Rashford but for one position in the team, there are four options, with more if you look to the academy. D’Mani Bughail-Mellor has scored a few goals for the U23s already this season.

I am not suggesting that he’s ready to play for the first team, however, was Rashford ready before he scored the brace against Midtjylland back in February 2016, then following suit against Arsenal in the Premier League days later? Solskjaer has a few different options and if he tries other players out in this position, he might find that he has more.

I would suggest that this is going to be between both Rashford and Martial for the large part of the season. If Rashford leads the line, Martial could be rested with James playing on the left-wing. If Martial starts, Rashford could play on the left, or James could play there, giving Rashford a rest. It is obviously not the best but could work.

If Sanchez stays this season, I am not saying he will be a starter, but he will be an option, but if rumours are true, he has asked to leave the club and could be on his way out. Could Solskjaer sign a free agent to bolster his side? There are options, although not great ones. I think he would prefer to utilise the talented youth players in the mix.

With Rashford working on his finishing and Martial looking to overcome a turbulent time at United, it could be the winner that everyone is hoping for. There are good players in both of these two and it is about time that they showed themselves and stood up to be counted. If Solskjaer manages to turn the tide with this squad, he can do anything.

The formation above shows the depth in all four of the attacking positions in the 4-2-3-1 formation. If different formations are played, the depth will still be there but it will obviously increase/decrease in various positions. Solskjaer will have a plan of what he is aiming to achieve this season. He also has an idea of the players he will need to target either in January or next summer.

Sir Alex Ferguson once said that ‘attack wins you matches but defence wins you titles’. The defence is the strongest part of United’s squad with the attack being the second strongest area in the squad. The midfield has weaknesses which need to be strengthened but that could be done without money, giving youth players opportunities over time.

Obviously, supporters of the club expected major changes this summer, which was never going to happen. Every summer you see supporters demanding that players are sold etc but in most cases, it does not happen as it is not an easy thing to do. Then, toxicity comes into the fan base and people moan incessantly, which is boring.

copyright: JW