If Jose Mourinho’s words are to be taken seriously, it appears that Manchester United are set for an unusually busy January.
Chastened by neighbours Manchester City’s meteoric improvement in 2017/18 and feeling the strain caused by a number of absences, the Portuguese manager refused to rule out some winter business in the wake of Monday’s impressive 2-0 triumph at Everton when saying: “Can we improve now or do we wait until the summer to try to do it? I cannot say.”
This revelation is set to feed the transfer hunger of the Red Devils’ support, who have not seen an outfield player snapped up in mid-season since Spain playmaker Juan Mata’s arrival from Chelsea in January 2014.
Here, Sport360° looks at three positions which need an immediate upgrade and who should be drafted in.
Realistic: Danny Rose, Alex Sandro
Outsider: Philipp Max
No matter the affection he is held in by the club’s faithful or current run of three-successive starts, it appears that the clock is continuing to tick down on Luke Shaw’s United career. A desire to improve his options at left-back is, simply, a continuing obsession for Mourinho.
Both men have endured sketchy club campaigns. The powerful Sandro was forced to work his way back into the XI prior to the winter break after Ghana veteran Kwadwo Asamoah was preferred by coach Massimiliano Allegri, possibly because of the residual effects of a failed £60 million (Dh298.7m) summer switch to Chelsea.
Rose became persona non grata during the summer after he questioned Spurs’ ambition, while Wales’ Ben Davies excelled when his older colleague was sidelined for nine months by a serious knee injury.
Sandro is the more dynamic of this pair. He is built like current United right-back colossus Antonio Valencia and boasts a superior attacking return – three assists and one goal from 12 appearances in the 2017/18 Serie A compared to Rose’s blank from five Premier League run-outs.
Another option for whom goal creation appears a doddle is Augsburg’s emerging Philipp Max. The 24-year-old – on the fringes of Germany’s squad – has notched a remarkable nine Bundesliga assists this term, three more than any other player in the competition.
At 24, there is also significant room for improvement as he continues to blossom.
Realistic: Malcolm, Mesut Ozil
Outsider: David Neres
Wide men are a rare breed at Old Trafford these days. From the failed summer pursuit of Internazionale speedster Ivan Perisic to the inconsistent contributions recorded by forwards Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, this is an area of real weakness when compared to their neighbours from across the city and their plethora of attacking threats.
A pair of transfer targets have been consistently linked to United in recent weeks, boasting contrasting attributes.
Rumours about a reunion with Germany’s Mesut Ozil refuse to die down. Mourinho’s former charge at Real Madrid continues to dodge an extension to an Arsenal deal which expires in the summer, leaving the possibility his current employers will cash in.
Although renowned for his playmaking ability, the 29-year-old has often been employed on the wing. In this respect, the Premier League’s resident assists king will represent a far-more effective option than Mata.
A talent search throughout European football has also reportedly seen United focus in on Bordeaux’s emerging threat, Malcolm. The 20-year-old has wreaked havoc cutting inside onto his left foot, scoring seven times and assisting four more in 2017/18 for the fallen Ligue 1 giants.
Rated at more than €50m (Dh221.1m) by his current employers and also chased by the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal, the Brazil Under-23 international represents a costly investment.
Another avenue to explore for United could be Ajax’s red-hot Brazilian prospect David Neres. The 20-year-old has proven an adept pick-up by the Amsterdam talent factory, the €12m (Dh53m) required to pluck him from Sao Paulo in January 2017 being rewarded by electrifying displays in a first full season in which he leads the way in the Eredivisie with a combined eight goals and nine assists in 2017/18.
If the 4-3-3 utilised at Everton is now the blueprint moving ahead, Neres would be a perfect option to add.
Realistic: Julian Weigl, Joao Mario
Outsider: Lucas Tousart
For all the talents of Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic, there is still something lacking in United’s midfield mix. A slump in form by Ander Herrera has not helped, while prospect Scott McTominay remains a work in progress.
In style, a replacement for outgoing veteran and pass master Michael Carrick is a pressing need. This is where Borussia Dortmund and Germany’s Julian Weigl fits in.
The diamond in Dortmund’s midfield boasts defensive diligence and an ability to recycle possession redolent of Spain’s modern greats in Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso. But prising him from the Bundesliga in mid-season will require an unlikely set of circumstances to succeed, placing him as a likely summer target along with Lazio and Serbia’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
This is where Portugal and Internazionale’s Joao Mario comes in. The 24-year-old has been linked to a £40m (Dh199.6m) exchange deal along with unwanted Armenia playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan, after his own struggles for regular starts – his 2017/18 Serie A contributions comprising of nine run-outs from the bench and four spots in the XI.
This is not to take away from his talents, a pass-success percentage of 89 this term in Serie A showing what his game is about.
Another prospect worth studying for United is Lyon’s Lucas Tousart. The 20-year-old possesses the hulking frame needed to win midfield battles, but also the grace in possession required to set the tempo in matches.
Indeed, his purity of technique and size mean comparisons to Carrick are natural. The Valenciennes youth product is happy to set the platform for team-mates such as Nabil Fekir to excel, an attitude Mourinho will surely appreciate.
Indeed, the history is quite toxic with ex United and Liverpool players dominating the heated exchanges.
Here, we take look back at some of the most infamous rows between Mourinho and pundits.
Mourinho v Jamie Redknapp
Incident One: April 2014
“You speak with Jamie Redknapp and he tells you everything about it. It was about winning – you have your pundits and Jamie Redknapp, who is a brilliant football brain, they can explain to you everything.”
After Chelsea’s impressive 2-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield, Mourinho offered this sneering retort in the wake of Redknapp’s criticism of the Portuguese’s sarcastic response to referee Mike Dean awarding Sunderland a winning penalty at Stamford Bridge the previous weekend.
Incident Two: January 2015
“I don’t know what you understand by a stamp. Maybe you are already influenced by the campaign on the television with the certain pundits saying that Costa has crimes – they must be nuts, the guy who says that.
“Sky calls it a crime. I have to say that he goes to the ball, he chases it, the opponent goes to the floor and he puts his foot there when he is looking at the ball.
“It is a great campaign. We know how much that pundit loves Chelsea. So you are sitting there, you are very well paid and you are a manager putting their a** on the bench.
“These guys have a good seat, earning a lot of money, no pressure, they are never wrong. They have to be fair and they have to be honest.
“I don’t know his name because when I see it I switch off the television.”
Mourinho launches one of his most astonishing attacks in the direction of Redknapp after he was left furious by the former Liverpool midfielder’s claims Diego Costa should have been sent off for a stamp on Liverpool midfielder Emre Can during their League Cup semi-final tie.
Of course, Costa was later handed a three-match ban for the incident so evidently the “campaign” Mourinho spoke about stretched further than the Sky Sports studio.
Mourinho v Graeme Souness
Incident One: March 2015
“The difference between me and Souness is this. Souness as a player [points upwards]. Jose Mourinho as a player [points downwards]. Jose Mourinho as a manager [points upwards]. Souness as a manager?
“Another difference. I was not a frustrated man because I was not a top player. He is clearly a frustrated man.”
Souness is another former Liverpool to draw the ire of Mourinho after he described Chelsea players as “pathetic” after they surrounded referee Bjorn Kuipers prior to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s sending off during their Champions League exit to Paris Saint-Germain.
Incident Two: May 2017
“I have seen in the football media that certain pundits cannot understand why our players are tired. A pundit is not honest if they cannot forget their colours or if they try to hide the truth from their audience. It’s not my fault if their managerial career was very poor.”
Savage stuff from Mourinho as he mocked Souness’ managerial career after the former Liverpool, Newcastle and Blackburn boss questioned the handling of United stars ahead of the Europa Cup final with Ajax.
The Scot had claimed Mourinho was giving his squad an “easy excuse” for not winning matches by saying they were tired from a congested fixture list.
United would go on to taste European success so perhaps the Red Devils was justified in fielding under-strength XIs in the Premier League.
Mourinho v Jamie Carragher
Incident One: March 2015
“The world is a bit strange. Maybe because of diet and maybe the quality of the products we are eating, memories are getting shorter. Because, you know, when Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness speak about it, it’s because they are having a problem for sure.
“Jamie stopped playing a couple of years ago and, in two years, he forgot everything he did on the pitch.”
On the aforementioned PSG game which saw Mourinho lock horns with Souness, he also slammed Carragher after the former Liverpool defender said that it was “disgraceful” his players surrounded the referee before going on to say Mourinho’s team would never be loved.
However, the row did inspire a quality retort from Chelsea’s social media accounts.
Mourinho v Gary Neville
Incident One: October 2015
“I know the culture now, even in England. Before it was not the culture in this country, but, especially the pundits. They have a new job, which has become a very important job, it’s changed the culture a lot. Some of the pundits are really brave. To criticise someone with my history, you need to be brave, as there is a risk someone like myself will say, “Shut up. You’ve won nothing in your life”. But I won’t do that. I just work and hope that the good results are coming.”
A degree of context is required for this one as the backlash is more on the entire punditry complexion rather than Gary Neville himself. However, it did come out around the same time the former United defender had heavily criticsed Chelsea displays and even suggested the Portuguese had lost the dressing by doubting the squad’s motivations.
Mourinho v Eric Cantona
Incident One: November 2017
“It was a battle because Brighton were very good. I think they were good from minute one until the last minute. Good approach, defensively very well organised.
“I keep saying to defend well is very important. For some pundits no, but to defend well is very important. And they defended very, very well, and they were quite dangerous on the counter-attack.”
Mourinho had endured criticism of his playing style and his comment about “some pundits” came a day after United great Eric Cantona told the BBC he was more of a fan of Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola’s brand of football than the Portuguese’s “defensive way”.
Cantona even went on to say he would “prefer to have him (Guardiola) as manager of Manchester United”.
Mourinho v Paul Scholes
Number 1: January 2018
“I think the only thing Paul Scholes does is to criticise, which is a different thing. Not every one of us has to be phenomenal like he was as a player. That doesn’t all mean we have to be phenomenal.
“Paul (Pogba) tries to do his best all the time and sometimes he plays very well. Sometimes he doesn’t play so well. It’s not Paul’s fault that he made much more money than Paul Scholes. It’s not Paul Pogba’s fault, it’s just the way football is.
“But I think Scholes will be in the history (as) a phenomenal player, but not as a pundit. I prefer to look at him as a phenomenal player that gives so much to the club I am proud to represent.
“Every day I try to do my best. If one day Paul decides to be a manager, I wish he can be 25 per cent as successful as myself. Fifty per cent is 12-and-a-half silverware, 25 per cent is around six (trophies). If he is 25 per cent he will be quite happy.”
In the latest swipe at an ex pro, Mourinho took a swipe at Paul Scholes after United got back to winning ways with a 2-0 win at Everton. Scholes recently said while working as a TV pundit that Pogba was “just strolling through games” and “doesn’t look fit”.
The Frenchman responded with one of the best midfield performances of the season.
It comes after Nike reportedly advertised a Barcelona shirt for sale with the Brazilian’s name on it – fuelling speculation of a January move.
But Liverpool do not seem prepared to allow their star player to leave unless Barcelona can come up with an offer to beat last summer’s bid of £115million.
Negotiations between Everton and Besiktas look uncertain following reports the Turkish club have upped their asking price to £27million for Cenk Tosun, the Daily Mail claims.
We gave our Man Of The Match to Cenk Tosun for agreeing to get on a plane and join this mess of a team pic.twitter.com/NP8mIXu8nn— TheToffeeBlues (@EvertonNewsFeed) December 30, 2017
The Toffees were hoping to land the 26-year-old for £25million and are said to be reluctant to increase their bid, with boss Sam Allardyce saying “we’ve done all we can”, the paper reports.
Swansea may be looking to West Ham’s Diafra Sakho as part of their strategy to bring in out-of-favour players who are looking for more play time ahead of the World Cup, according to the Guardian.
But any potential move by Sakho, who has not yet made the starting XI for the Hammers this season, may rely on any possible agreement by Swansea to lose Alfie Mawson and Ki Sung-yueng, who are said to be on West Ham’s radar.
Speculation linking Moussa Dembele to Brighton appears to be growing – but the club are keen to know his level of interest in any potential move before making an offer, the Daily Mail says.
It comes as several other Premier League teams also seem keen on targeting the Celtic star, including Stoke, West Ham and Southampton.
Manchester United are reportedly in discussions with Paris Saint-Germain to bring Lucas Moura to the Premier League.
According to The Sun, contact has been made regarding the 25-year-old Brazilian, but China’s Hebei Fortune are also said to be interested in the winger.
SOCIAL MEDIA ROUND-UP
@BBCSport – ‘Who else is going to do it?’ – Mark Hughes is confident about keeping his job as Stoke boss
@Telefootball – West Brom make a formal complaint to the Premier League over their “terrible” fixture congestion
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Monaco defender Terence Kongolo could be heading for Huddersfield on loan, it is reported. The Huddersfield Examiner said boss David Wagner confirmed a deal was “close” to being met for the 23-year-old.
The near completion of Alejandro Grimaldo’s move with Napoli could open up the possibility of Faouzi Ghoulam’s move to Manchester United, according to Portugal’s Record newspaper.
The club appears set to trigger his £53million release clause now that 22-year-old Grimaldo could replace him at the Italian club.
Provided by Press Association Sport