With Manchester United set for a second straight season without silverware, all signs point to a big summer overhaul from newly-installed manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Norwegian has spoken of the investment it will take to rebuild the squad so that it bridges the gap to clubs like Barcelona, who dumped United out of the Champions League last week.
While part of the rebuild will involve bringing in new players, Solskjaer and the rest of the club hierarchy will need to make cold, ruthless decisions about the ones already at the club.
Here, we look at how likely the current midfielders at United are to remain at Old Trafford beyond this summer. Check out our analysis of the club’s goalkeepers, defenders, and strikers as well.
Paul Pogba is the player Solskjaer wants to build his team around. For all the talk that the Frenchman is inconsistent, fails to turn up in big games and relies too much on having exactly the right personnel around him in order to be at his best, there’s no doubting the 26-year-old’s talent.
He’s managed 16 goals and 10 assists across all competitions this campaign, the best season of his career to date, and should – under the right conditions – get better.
The complication with Pogba is that he’s flirting with an exit all on his own, with recent comments about linking up with Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid raising eyebrows. As fine a player as he is, his ego and attitude can also be distracting and has the potential to derail the re-build Solskjaer is trying to assemble.
He enters next season with just two years left on his current contract, which means he holds the cards in renewal negotiations, and he could force a move if he wanted to. But selling the World Cup-winner a second time might also be a viable option for the club. He has plenty of suitors and if United were to be offered a sum in the region of £120 million plus, they would have a conundrum to figure out.
But the overriding feeling must still be to keep hold of him for now. United would prefer to keep him this summer, but will Madrid test their resolve?
Likelihood of staying: 8/10
It’s games like today which show you the gulf in quality between Pogba and De Bruyne. Pogba is elite ‘on his day’, KDB does this with alarming regularity. Hat trick of assists on the biggest stage is world class.— Hesham Bilal-Hafiz (@hesham786) April 17, 2019
It’s never easy for a midfielder to come into the Premier League and instantly settle in, and Fred has no doubt experienced some growing pains during his first season at United. But the £50million man has started to come into his own over the last month, despite his grim showing against Everton, and there is faith at the club that he can find his feet.
United are said to be looking for a new central midfielder in any case, but that’s because they’re thin on proven quality at the position with the likely departure of Ander Herrera and the declining form of Nemanja Matic. Fred will get the chance to kick on in his second season and establish himself as an important member of the squad, regardless of who is brought in.
Likelihood of staying: 10/10
🗣️ "You can all see why we believe in him." 🇧🇷👊— Man United News (@ManUtdMEN) April 14, 2019
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is delighted with Fred's development and spoke highly of the Brazilian after the win over West Ham. #mufc pic.twitter.com/oUJV1mH54B
Scott McTominay has been one of United’s most impressive players this year, proving Jose Mourinho right after being singled out for praise last season. The young Scot starred against Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona – not many can say that.
There are question marks over just how good McTominay can be, whether he’s a limited player who will make up for that with graft, commitment, and desire, or whether he genuinely has the talent to be come a top-tier player. His athleticism and physique have seen him thrive this year and he has coped ably when tasked with marshalling opponents’ key players and breaking up attacks.
Regardless, at 22 McTominay has a bright future ahead of him, and United will keep him on for a while as they look to discover exactly what sort of player they have on their hands.
Likelihood of staying: 10/10
United fans have always been split on Ander Herrera, but even more so since rumours of a deal with PSG emerged. The Spaniard’s passion for the club and committed displays have made him a fan favourite, but with his wage demands reportedly rising to £200,000 per week – which PSG are apparently willing to meet – neither the club nor its fans are sure if the 29-year-old is worth the outlay.
It’s a shame, because despite the idea that he is “leaving for money” Herrera truly loves the club and its fans, and he has been earmarked as a potential captain. United will find better players than him in the market but few have the Roy Keane-esque spirit and bite he brings in midfield, in addition to his good vision and impressive passing range.
As a defensive midfielder with the ability to launch attacks he brings genuine quality that at times get overlooked. But unless there’s a surprising U-turn from either player or club, he’s not going to be a United player much longer.
Likelihood of staying: 3/10
Ander Herrera in the Premier League (2018-19):— UtdArena. (@utdarena) April 16, 2019
Manchester United will be replacing their best player in:
• tackles per 90
• interceptions per 90
As well as one of their best in:
• pass accuracy
• blocks per 90
• passes per 90
• recoveries per 90 pic.twitter.com/WUnOzTXB70
Nemanja Matic’s lack of mobility is becoming increasingly glaring, and though he had a mini-resurgence after Solskjaer’s arrival there is now a clear sense that the Serbian could be in a state of permanent decline.
He still brings title-winning experience to the club and is a player constantly able to be called upon for the big games, but it’s more likely that Matic is reduced to fourth or even fifth-choice midfielder next season, someone trotted out for cup games or when the first-choice players need a rest. The 30-year-old may accept that role, or both club and player could decide it’s time for Matic to move on.
Likelihood of staying: 5/10
Nemanja Matic will be allowed to leave #mufc if they manage to sign Declan Rice from West Ham. [independent]— utdhq (@utdhq) April 10, 2019
Despite showing glimpses of his talent Andreas Pereira has never been able to nail down a spot in his manager’s first-choice XI. Is he more of a defensive midfielder who can keep possession, or a wide, attacking player?
Mourinho was playing him out of position as a holding midfielder, to be fair, but even Solskjaer, who knows the Brazil international from his days as United’s reserve team manager, hasn’t quite been impressed enough to give Pereira a run of games.
The club triggered a one-year extension on Pereira’s contract last month, but that was likely only to ensure the 23-year-old cannot leave on a free this summer rather than a vote of confidence in his abilities. If a suitor comes calling, United will likely let him leave.
Likelihood of staying: 4/10
“I can’t wait to get a pre-season done.”
It was appropriate that the visitors donned their pink kit during the mauling rather than their traditional red because much like one colour is a faded version of the other, this team was a pale imitation of itself.
The players were second best in every individual battle, the ones they bothered to compete in at least. Often enough Everton were allowed free rein to latch onto loose balls, coast into space and operate with ample time under no threat whatsoever.
Gylfi Sigurdsson’s long-range effort for the second goal revealed all. Following a United corner, the hosts broke quickly with the Icelandic midfielder running at an increasingly sluggish Nemanja Matic. He was always going to check back onto his right foot, but the Serbian offered no resistance. Of the three players jogging back to the edge of the box, not one made any attempt to close Sigurdsson down.
There’s a rot at United now and it’s evident that it’s festered beyond tactics and philosophy. United ran 8.03km less than Everton on Sunday, an appalling figure especially with possession split evenly.
Everton 4-0 Man Utd FT:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 21, 2019
Pass accuracy: 80%-79%
Chances created: 11-4
Bumper win for the hosts on Easter Sunday leaves Ole's side with egg on their faces. pic.twitter.com/25YeP3KRqz
One of the first things Solskjaer targeted when he took charge was the desire to work harder than any opposition. A 5-1 victory at Cardiff City in his opening match was the first time United had out-run their opponents this season. Unfortunately, that display proved an anomaly rather than a sign of things to come.
Performances steadily deteriorated but an attacking intent coupled with kind fixtures to begin with papered over the cracks. The reality is United have ran less than their opponents in 15 out of 17 games under Solskjaer and with their injury list growing as the fixtures came thick and fast, they were eventually exposed.
More than any defeat, the lack of intensity, desire and work rate is clearly something the United boss cannot stomach, nor should he. Engineering a well-conditioned unit capable of meeting standards worthy of a United team seems to be Solskjaer’s predominant focus moving forward.
It was convenient to hide behind Jose Mourinho and his attitude that quickly turned toxic. Even though he made legitimate points, the Portuguese’s inherently negative tendencies rendered him an easy target. Of course, producing a fit squad was his responsibility and he failed in that aspect but there were always too many players simply unfit to wear the shirt.
That’s another reason why Solskjaer looks longingly towards the summer. Old Trafford is in desperate need of a clear-out but targeting players with the right profile will be key. With the likes of Manchester City and Paris-Saint Germain walking the Financial Fairplay tightrope, United have the resources to be successful in the transfer market with or without Champions League football.
There’s every possibility to land household names like Gareth Bale, Mesut Ozil or James Rodriguez largely unopposed should they choose to but luxury players are not the need of the hour. This team requires hungry, determined and fierce competitors. This team needs fighters.
A top-four spot is slipping away from them and perhaps that’s for the best. Admitting you have a problem is the first step towards recovery and United must accept that they have no business being on the same pitch as Barcelona at the moment.
There is no quick-fix, you’d think after seven years of fumbling around in the dark United would’ve arrived that conclusion. At least Solskjaer seems to grasp the reality of situation.
“You can’t change your whole squad. One step at a time. I am going to be successful here and there are players who won’t be part of that successful team but many of these do have it.”
Summer is coming, and heads must roll. United need to be ruthless with players who clearly don’t meet expectations. If six, eight or even ten players are shown the door, so be it. Whether it’s Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba or even David De Gea, no player should be at Old Trafford next season unless he wants to be – that much is essential.
For now though, the priority should be to finish the season strongly. That may even mean getting the youngsters involved and using their enthusiasm to reignite the team’s desire.
The likes of Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and James Gardner will play a vital part in breathing new life into a stale squad next season. Solskjaer would do well to make a statement with their inclusions now.
There’s a monumental task that awaits the Norwegian this summer and how he tackles it may well define his reign at Old Trafford. Fortunately for United, he seems like an individual determined to focus on necessities the club have ignored for too long – the basics.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was moved to apologise to Manchester United fans after a heavy 4-0 defeat at Everton he said was “difficult to describe because it is so bad”.
Solskjaer underlined his ambition to be successful at United and revealed some members of his side could be cast aside in pursuit of re-establishing the club as contenders on domestic and European fronts.
For the time being, this was a sixth defeat in their last eight matches as goals from Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lucas Digne and Theo Walcott handed Everton a convincing and deserved win.
Solskjaer said: “We have got to apologise to the fans because they were absolutely fantastic and that performance is not good enough for a Man United team.
“All the way from me to the players, we know that we let the fans down, we let the club down. That performance is difficult to describe because it is so bad.
“We were beaten on all the things, all the ingredients you need, added to the talent. There is no place you can hide on the pitch.”
Asked whether his players were hurting after a heavy loss, which keeps them sixth in the Premier League, Solskjaer responded: “I don’t know.
“You have got to ask them. I have asked them, you’re not going to get the answer from me.”
However, he has demanded an improvement in their effort levels, harking back to his own playing days under Sir Alex Ferguson,
The Norwegian added: “If you want to play at this club, it has to mean more. I want my team to be the hardest working team in the league, that is what we were under Sir Alex, that’s what we’ve always been.
“No matter how much talent you have got, you run more than anyone. We know our fitness is nowhere near good enough.
“But we have to stick together as a team. You can’t change your whole squad. One step at a time. I am going to be successful here and there are players who won’t be part of that successful team but many of these do have it.”
United’s hopes of a top-four finish have been dented but Solskjaer insists now is not the time to dwell on the setback, with Manchester City and Chelsea their opponents at Old Trafford next week.
Solskjaer said: “City on the other side at Old Trafford on Wednesday, that is the biggest incentive that we can have.
“It sounds too easy to say we have to look forward but we cannot dwell too much on this. In the long term we have to look at this but in the short term we have to look at City and Chelsea.”
Everton bounced back from defeat to Fulham last time out in scintillating style, to the understandable delight of manager Marco Silva.
He said: “It was a very good performance. We were the best team on the pitch since the first minute.
“We never gave them the chance to feel comfortable. We gave a quiet afternoon for our goalkeeper. We worked as a team since the first minute and scored nice goals also.”
The only low moment for Everton came early in the second half when Richarlison was withdrawn, the Brazilian clutching his left side as he limped off to be replaced by Walcott.
Silva added: “Let’s see how he will be. I didn’t speak with our medical staff. Painful in this moment.
“(On Monday), in two days, we will know better. Hope nothing special but when Richarlison has to be out of one match, it is a really difficult position.”
*Copy provided by Press Association Sport