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.
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