It wasn’t always pretty, particularly at the start of the season, but United ended up in third place, securing that all-important Champions League football. Before and after the restart it looked as if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had figured out a system with Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford a formidable trio in attack. January signing Bruno Fernandes was excellent and the returning Paul Pogba looked encouraging ahead of next season.
Now the question is how big of a leap can United take? Like the discussion we had on Monday with Chelsea these two teams are in pole position to make big statements and blow their rivals out of the water. Can they close on Liverpool and Manchester City? That’s hard to say, they both need work, both at the defensive end of the pitch.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - Finishing third with this Manchester United squad is a massive achievement
But the first step has been achieved, they’ve got Champions League football and everything that comes with it, but there can be no resting on laurels here.
Who’s coming in?
Right let’s start with the big one, Jadon Sancho. United’s interest in the England international is long-standing and they are clearly desperate to bring him in this summer. As with Havertz to Chelsea is this desperation because they’re wary of other teams entering the race next off-season? If it is, fair play to them stealing a march on their rivals - but it’s hard to imagine Sancho moving unless he thinks it is the right move. Having Champions League football will certainly help. Does the deal get done? It’s way too early to tell at this stage unfortunately. If Dortmund stick to their guns over the asking price it’s probably unlikely. Kingsley Coman and maybe Jack Grealish are cheaper alternatives.
Jack Grealish of Aston Villa reacts during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Aston Villa at Goodison Park on July 16, 2020 in Liverpool, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government soci
Image credit: Getty Images
In goal it’s hard to know what United are planning, it really seems as if Solskjaer wants to stick with David de Gea but this is more than a blip for the Spaniard. Even if De Gea does go it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone like Jan Oblak comes in, as United have the extremely promising Dean Henderson on their books.
It’s clear they want a centre-back as well but it isn’t clear who they’re really targeting. Kalidou Koulibaly would likely break the transfer record for a centre-back, at least if you listen to Napoli chairman Aurelio De Laurentiis, whilst the new name on the block is Gabriel Magalhaes. The Lille centre-half has had an excellent season and has been linked to Napoli and Inter Milan - but now United are reportedly interested. Might it be too big a move too early in his career? Possibly but United need new faces. Inter Milan’s Milan Skriniar is another name mentioned but they don’t seem sure whether they (Inter) want to cash in on him or build around him.
Players linked with a departure
David De Gea
Okay so Alexis Sanchez and Chris Smalling are going to be moved on at the end of their loans, possibly in Italy, possibly somewhere else. Despite his goal on Sunday it’s probable Jesse Lingard will also go, he’s slipped very far down the pecking order and nearly went an entire league season without a goal or an assist. Phil Jones, Eric Bailly and Diogo Dalot are all other players who could be moved on if the right other comes in. Marcos Rojo will also leave as the clearout from before Solskjaer’s time continues. Talented youngster Angel Gomes is set to leave on a free.
Manchester United target 'surprise star' to complete midfield - Euro Papers
So that brings us to Luke Shaw, Pogba and De Gea. All interesting in their own right. Shaw is arguably playing the best he has for United but it still isn’t good enough, hence the emergence of teenager Brandon Williams. Reports have suggested that Shaw could go if someone like Ben Chilwell is signed.
A few months ago if you had asked about Pogba’s future most people would have leaned towards the Frenchman leaving the club. Yet the combination of his link-up play with Fernandes, and the Covid-19 pandemic, has meant that now he seems much more likely to stay, for one more year at least.
De Gea’s future is far less certain as we touched on above. It’s really hard to know what United are thinking. They are backing their player in the press but behind the scenes who knows. Henderson is evidently their keeper of the future, he is an excellent young player, but maybe they want to ride with De Gea and give Henderson one more year at Sheffield United to develop? That might make the most sense…
As this author wrote a few weeks ago the United attack is fearsome and is good enough to take them to a title, particularly if you can add in a player of the calibre of Sancho or Coman. However the back five is a real concern. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a great defender and Harry Maguire is a solid leader, if inconsistent as a player at times, but there needs to be more.
For all the talk about Sancho it feels as if unless United spend big on defensive players they are going to be plagued by the same issues. Even a return to form from De Gea might not be enough…