Updated: Aug 21
At the time of writing on the 24th of July, Manchester United have announced the signings of three players: Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen, and Lisandro Martinez. For a club needing a large-scale rebuild, up to ten players according to previous manager Ralf Rangnick, this is simply not enough.
That said, if we look at each signing individually, they are good players.
Malacia is a player Ten Hag likes, who offers good competition for Luke Shaw at left-back (competition having been shown to boost Shaw’s game), Christian Eriksen is a Premier League-proven option to bolster the midfield, and Martinez should slot right into a Ten Hag system at the back. That said, none of these three players are truly guaranteed starters. The man most likely to start is Martinez, but many fans are sceptical, given Raphael Varane’s exceptional career and captain Harry Maguire’s resistance to being dropped to the bench.
This (small) collection of signings poses the question, ‘what still needs to be done?’- a question we’ll try to answer in this article.
Opinions on the biggest holes in the squad inevitably differ, however the general consensus is that a midfielder is needed to play in the double-pivot Erik Ten Hag is likely to deploy. This follows multiple seasons of the infamous ‘McFred’ duo showing they are incapable of running a game of football, which can be seen as ironic considering one of their best attributes is running.
Instead, an intelligent midfielder is needed who can take the ball off the centre-backs on the half-turn and help the side build out from the back. The most likely signing in this position is Frenkie de Jong, however this transfer saga does not look like it will end soon.
For those of you that may have understandably muted the words 'De Jong' from your feeds, I'll give a quick summary. It has been widely reported that the Dutch international would not be opposed to joining Ten Hag, though he would rather stay at Barcelona where he is currently owed around £17 million in deferred wages by the Catalonia club- a fee he doesn’t want to leave without. This follows a full agreement on a transfer fee between the two clubs, leaving personal terms to be the final hurdle the under-fire John Murtough needs to jump.
It is said that Ten Hag is desperate to sign him, indicating how big of a role he could play in the midfield. But is one player enough? If the De Jong deal is finally complete, there are a few options as to who would partner him. One is Fred.
Fred is a player currently on the fans’ good side, having shown talent in the past, but he, as well as Scott McTominay, has not been consistent enough to warrant a guaranteed place in the side.
Christian Eriksen is another option. Having played in a deeper role than usual in his time at Brentford, he could be a partner for De Jong, however Eriksen shines brightest when allowed to attack, meaning it could be a waste, and a defensive risk, to play him in a pivot.
A third choice is Donny Van de Beek. The fan favourite is another attacking midfielder who could be played in a deeper role, with Ten Hag playing him here alongside Fred in the 3-1 win over Crystal Palace, in which the team scored twice within 15 minutes of his arrival as a substitute. Van de Beek is an intelligent player, who backs himself as an 8, but he will need to show more if he is to cement his place in the side, following an underwhelming performance in this role against Aston Villa in our final game of the tour.
Moving on, we have the attack- an area Ten Hag has publicly announced he wants reinforcements in, explaining how, “It's vital if you want to get success.”
This response came following the news that Cristiano Ronaldo is looking to leave the club this summer, leaving one senior striker in Anthony Martial. With that in mind, Martial tends to thrive amidst a lack of competition, in which you could describe him as a typical ‘confidence player.’
At the start of the summer, a right-winger seemed to be a target for the club, in which Ajax’s Antony was a priority. At this moment in time, the club are still said to be interested, but are deterred by his price tag, which reportedly sits at around £65 million.
But do we really need another attacker?
This may seem like an obvious yes, and no United fan will turn down the opportunity to sign an exciting forward, but are there options if one isn’t signed? Let’s look at each position.
On the left, we have Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Anthony Martial. Marcus Rashford is the man who has come through as Ten Hag’s preferred left-winger, and it was not too long ago that certain supporters would put him in the top five in the world in this position.
This is not enough to establish a future though, in which Rashford over the past year has looked like a shell of his former self, with outlandish long-range shots and attempts at taking on half of the opposing team on his own, summarising his seemingly impaired decision making.
Sancho and Martial are two other options, with Martial playing his best of the left in the eyes of some. That said, they have both made other positions their own, meaning though there is flexibility for a fluid front three, there is not the depth required.
Switching sides, we have the right-wing position, a position Jadon Sancho is currently playing in. Following a short spell of good performances off the left, Sancho has been reverted back to the right-wing role that he often thrived in at Borussia Dortmund. Aside from him, Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes could offer a different style of play here, however it is unlikely to be a long-term fix, with both players playing their best at number 10.
Where we really run into issues is the man up top. Though Martial has performed well in pre-season, it was not so long ago that many were wishing to sell the Frenchman, following a largely unsuccessful loan spell at Sevilla. Martial’s inconsistency over recent years raises question marks over whether he can be the man to take us forward, especially in the case that Cristiano Ronaldo’s wish to leave the club is granted.
A potential solution to this problem could be to deploy a false nine, a position Dusan Tadic thrived in with Ten Hag at Ajax. However, this comes with its own issues, with Bruno Fernandes and potentially Christian Eriksen being the only two players who come to mind when thinking of false nine options, two players who, again, usually play elsewhere.
So what needs to be done?
It seems simple really: buy some players.
This is largely easier said than done, and may even be wishful thinking as long as the club is run the way it is, but we can confidently say that (at least) a player is needed to bolster the attack.
An ideal choice would’ve been RB Liepzig’s Christopher Nkunku as he can play in most attacking positions, however he has recently signed a new contract with the German club, making him out of the question. Instead, Manchester United may (hopefully) be forced into signing two players in the case of Ronaldo’s departure: a striker and a right-winger, as was originally planned.
At this moment in time, it seems that the aformentioned Antony is the clubs only right-wing option, a player Ajax will be very reluctant to sell.
However it gets even more difficult at striker. Having missed out on Darwin Nunez to Liverpool, there aren’t many options left, with the club having been linked to players such as Sasa Kalajdzic, who at 25 years old, remains largely untested on the big stage.
This leaves a big dilemma for Ten Hag and his side going forward, with many gaps in the team remaining to be filled, with only two weeks remaining until the start of the season.
Will Manchester United’s 2022 summer transfer window be yet another failure of the current leadership, or will the right support be given to the new manager?
Follow the rest of the window here on UtdActive.com, where we cover every step of the way.