There’s plenty of doom mongering being undertaken by Manchester United fans this summer, and with how last season finished it would appear justified.
But, there should always be reason to look to the new season with optimism. And, for one of the biggest and richest clubs in the world, this is even more apparent.
Talented Welsh winger Daniel James is the only signing of the summer so far. But just how much will United’s prospects – and the mood of fans – improve should Solskjaer fill every void in his squad?
Let’s take a look at the likelihood of deals for United’s top targets being completed, and assess what that could mean for their prospects in 2019/20.
After James, a deal to bring in the promising young England Under-21 right-back from Crystal Palace appears the most likely to come to fruition next.
Like James, Wan-Bissaka’s is perhaps not the calibre of name most United fans want to be associated with, but he is a player that would instantly improve them. And, following a prolonged period of time in which converted wingers Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have filled in as United’s right-backs, enough is enough.
Following seven Premier League appearances for the Eagles in 2017/18, Wan-Bissaka truly soared last season, so much so that he seems unlikely to join United for anything less than £50m.
A bid is currently being considered by the Selhurst Park side, rumoured to be around £47m, plus add ons, which would ultimately make it £55m. And while the 21-year-old fails to fulfil the criteria of most modern-day full-backs in the sense that he is unpolished as an attacking threat, United’s priority is tightening up a corroding defence.
A look at Wan-Bissaka’s impressive 2018/19 stats shows him making on average 3.7 tackles per game last season and 2.4 interceptions – third and seventh best figures throughout the entire Premier League.
Any deal is likely to see him become the most expensive English defender ever – beating the £50m Man City paid Tottenham for Kyle Walker in 2017.
This figure hardly fills United fans with warmth. But this is the current market. United still believe they’re one of the biggest clubs in the world. Time to act like it.
KALIDOU KOULIBALY/ISSA DIOP
In addition to addressing the right rear wing of their damaged chassis, United are in desperate need of someone to act as the driving force at the heart of their dishevelled defence.
Phil Jones is too gung-ho and injury prone to ever fulfil the tremendous promise once expected of him, while for all his heart and determination Chris Smalling is some way short of ever becoming an elite defender. Eric Bailly has regressed horribly since a once-burgeoning career got off to a tremendous start in 2016/17. As for Marcos Rojo, it’s an embarrassment an £80,000 a week contract extension was offered last March when he is so clearly out of his depth.
Victor Lindelof was arguably United’s best performer last term, having emerged through a gruelling debut season, but the Swede needs a stellar partner alongside him if United are to thrive.
Napoli rock Koulibaly – only five centre-backs in Serie A recorded more than his 61 tackles last season – would arguably be at the top of most United fans’ lists.
The Senegal international has been one of the top-performing centre-backs in the world for the last few years and the Red Devils desperately require his towering presence.
Fellow France-born defender Issa Diop has emerged as a cheaper alternative, even if his price is also likely to be hiked up by West Ham.
JAMES MADDISON/YOURI TIELEMANS
Ideally, United would like both players, but seeing as both played for Leicester last season we’ll assume getting their hands on the two of them will prove to be too problematic.
Belgium playmaker Tielemans only spent last season on loan at the King Power Stadium from Monaco, and while Brendon Rodgers is said to be keen to sign the 22-year-old permanently, he isn’t short of suitors.
United have been linked with him in the past and interest will only have heightened following a terrific spell following a January loan move from Ligue 1 during which he notched three goals and four assists in 12 league appearances.
Maddison, meanwhile, made light work of his maiden campaign at the elite level – effortlessly installing himself as the Foxes’ new creative force after being signed from Championship Norwich for £20m last summer.
Also 22, Maddison netted seven goals in 31 appearances and added seven assists, form which even alerted England boss Gareth Southgate.
Both are versatile players, able to operate either in central midfield or higher up, where their creativity can cause havoc. Tielemans is a more diligent defender whose tenacity marks him out as a better all-round midfielder, but Maddison proved a revelation last term after making the step up from England’s second tier seamlessly.
United would love to get both, but would be vastly improved by either.
Jadon Sancho and Joao Felix would appear to be the most coveted attacking talents United are interested in, but fees or other clubs’ interest appears to have scuppered their chances.
Sancho seems certain to spend at least one more season in Germany, while Atletico Madrid appear in the driving seat to sign latest Portugal starlet Felix. That all might be a blessing in disguise for United, who really should be targeting another Portugal-based playmaker in Sporting Lisbon’s explosive Fernandes.
Do not be fooled by the fact the 24-year-old plies his trade in an inferior arena. Primeira Liga or not, a return of 20 goals and 13 assists from 33 games for any midfielder in any league is phenomenal.
Fernandes finished second in both categories, as well as for average key passes per game (3.2) behind Aves’ Rodrigo Soares (3.6) last season. For better or worse he takes risks, as his 75 per cent pass success rate reveals.
These figures were upgrades on 11 goals and eight assists from the previous season – Fernandes scored 31 goals overall from 50 total games in all competitions for Sporting inn what was a truly spectacular campaign.
The fact Fernandes – a versatile operator able to play in a more advanced role even though he is often deployed in a deeper central berth for Sporting – took a stranglehold on the Nations League final in which Portugal beat the Netherlands 1-0, only reiterates his growing influence.
The Maia-born midfielder – who made more key passes (3), fired more shots on target (3) and made the second most tackles (2) for Portugal in victory – started his career in Serie A, so settling in a new environment is also something unlikely to faze him.
Let’s make one thing clear, a positive summer in which United may acquire every target they hunt, is not going to transform their fortunes. They remain well shy of the level Liverpool and Manchester City have ascended to in recent years. They also have a tall enough task to try and simply keep pace with Chelsea, Tottenham and even Arsenal.
But if Solskjaer is somehow able to start the season with these four players joining the Red Devils’ ranks, the doom and gloom of 2018/19 at least can start to be erased.
United remain some way off challenging for a record-extending 21st English top-flight title, but an introduction of ingenuity and industry provides them with a great chance of returning to the Champions League and Premier League top four, which needs to be the aim.
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The former Swansea City player posted a video on Twitter that shows him being put through his paces under the scorching sun in Dubai.
James is training with Kaizen 3 Performance, a company that conducts off-season training for professional athletes and tweeted a clip on Sunday that revealed their work with the Welsh winger in Dubai.
New week, new player...,can you guess who? pic.twitter.com/TPj2EvL3aD— Kaizen 3 Performance (@K3Performance) June 23, 2019
The 21-year-old has signed a five-year contract, with the option to extend for a further year, to become manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first signing at Old Trafford.
The deal is worth a reported £15 million plus add-ons.
James, a graduate of the Swansea academy, scored five goals and made 10 assists in 38 appearances during an impressive 2018-19 campaign in which he broke into the Championship side’s first team.
Another United youngster in Scott McTominay has also been spotted training in Dubai with images of his workout take in front of the iconic Burj Al Arab.
Scott McTominay training in Dubai. 💪🏼🇾🇪— United Xtra (@utdxtra) June 23, 2019
📸 Ig/ Cbperformancedxb pic.twitter.com/ubccn6dHil
Copa America 2019 has made bewildering viewing for Manchester United fans.
The forlorn Alexis Sanchez endured at Old Trafford has been utterly transformed back on South American soil.
A decisive side-footed volley in the weekend’s 2-1 triumph against Ecuador sent Chile into the knockouts with a game to spare and moved him onto two goals in two excellent Group C matches. This equalled the haul from 27, universally wretched, run-outs for his employers in 2018/19.
The 30-year-old is bedecked in a red shirt for both sides, yet the contrast couldn’t be starker.
A binary reaction to this upturn is obvious.
Either it points towards brighter days to come from the malfunctioning forward in 2019/20 at the Theatre of Dreams, or it’s a golden opportunity to place an unwanted figure in the shop window. Especially when the shedding of divisive wages worth approximately £500,000-a-week are involved.
Both points are pertinent. Both points, however, neglect important issues about United’s future.
Why were Sanchez’s struggles for the Red Devils predictable even at the time of his January 2018 addition in exchange for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and why has the Copa brought out the best in him?
Until this issue is addressed, ruinous transfer market stumbles will continue.
Enlightening source material for reviled executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, in the continued absence of his fabled first director of football hire, are quotes from Chile boss Reinaldo Rueda when pressed about the disparity in displays.
“He has the motivation, affection and some relationships that he has in the national team and maybe he didn’t have them in Manchester,” the 62-year-old told reporters.
“He arrived at a difficult, inopportune moment, perhaps in the most unbalanced United in recent years.”
Sanchez’s abject failure on club duty and exceptional output in the international arena is – seemingly – as much about environment, as it is ability.
He is far from alone at United. Midfielder Paul Pogba excelled when winning World Cup 2018 with France and wantaway striker Romelu Lukaku has netted 25 times in 22 Belgium fixtures since his £75 million purchase from Everton in July 2017.
This is not to absolve Sanchez of personal responsibility. Misfortune with repeat injury, especially ankle and hamstring issues, cannot outweigh the fact that one goal in his first 11 United fixtures upon arrival is scandalous compared to the heights witnessed at Arsenal.
Whatever the cause, he began nearly half of his United appearances last term on the substitutes’ bench for a reason.
For Chile, his last 28-consecutive caps have been earned as a starter. A run that stretches back to June 2017’s Confederations Cup, containing 12 goals.
Regular stationing on the left wing has remained a constant, for club and country.
How he is utilised and entrusted to perform, however, is night and day.
Illumination about why he shines for Chile and suffers for United is not hard to find.
At the Copa, mistakes are followed by “affection”. This support is key for a footballer characterised in media reports as a loner.
Sanchez is averaging – per match – 1.5 dribbles, two bad controls and three shots.
In the Premier League, alone, last term, these figures stand at: 0.7 dribbles, 1.1 bad controls and 0.9 shots.
A lack of regular starts cannot account for the cavernous gap between outputs for club and country.
This United, clearly, do not tolerate the successful philosophy of former IBM chairman Thomas John Watson Sr. that: “The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.”
The tumult that Sanchez was thrown into is crucial.
Sanchez, at his best, is a lightning rod that randomly shoots out bolts of electricity. Constrain him and he short-circuits.
Arsene Wenger granted such space and 80 goals in 166 fixtures followed. The seasoned proving grounds of Udinese were similarly stimulating.
Adherence to the demanding ‘Cruyffism’ of Barcelona and deference to Lionel Messi led to mixed results. The pragmatism, to put it kindly, of Jose Mourinho at United accelerated a downwards spiral that replacement Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been unable, or unwilling, to correct.
Sanchez is now the poster boy for the risk-averse culture that has permeated Old Trafford since the summer 2013 exit of the bold Sir Alex Ferguson. It does not only apply to the Chilean; its denaturing effects are mirrored in the struggles of Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba, Angel Di Maria and several others.
Alluring artisans have been pursued by the administration at a time when foot soldiers, for better or worse, would have better fitted footballing requirements.
When club and player cannot offer what each needs to thrive, disappointment always follows.