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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