At a time when football finances are reeling due to the pandemic, it’s looking more and more like Manchester United will have to buy players in up to six different positions this summer.
First, there is increasing speculation that goalkeeper David de Gea will leave at the end of the season. United are reportedly keen to offload his £375,000 per week wages and the player himself could be drawn back to Spain following the arrival of his baby girl last week.
Dean Henderson has between now and the end of the season to prove that he is capable of filling the Spaniard’s shoes at Old Trafford. If he looks less than convincing, then John Murtough and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could feel it’s necessary to replace De Gea.
United’s defensive frailties at times this season has led to a general understanding that Solskjaer is looking for a world-class centre back to partner Harry Maguire. Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo have been allowed to leave and Phil Jones could follow. Axel Tuanzebe has been given very little game time by the manager and Victor Lindelof is generally selected ahead of Eric Bailly. So whilst there are options – young Teden Mengi, who is performing well for Derby on loan being another – the perceived wisdom is that a signing will be made.
A holding midfielder would also appear to be a necessity for the Red Devils. Nemanja Matic is the only natural DM but he is not the player he once was and Solskjaer has been forced to stick mainly with Scott McTominay and Fred. Neither of them are defensive-minded enough to protect the defence on their own, which leaves the manager with little option than to play both, sacrificing more attacking options. It is a big limitation from a tactical point of view.
It also remains to be seen whether Paul Pogba will leave this summer. If he has not signed a new contract by June, United will surely try to sell him this year rather than allow him to leave on a free in 2022. His natural successor was meant to be Donny van de Beek, but the Dutchman has not set the world on fire since arriving from Ajax in September and even if he does settle in, United would still, arguably, be one creative midfielder short.
The right wing was seen as last summer’s priority and is still a potentially weak area. Mason Greenwood has not hit the heights he did last season and although Amad Diallo looks brimming with talent and potential, it would be a big gamble to rely on him at this stage. With Juan Mata looking likely to move on – although United could trigger a one-year extension to his contract – some support in that area could be required.
Finally, a striker is fast becoming the highest priority of all. Greenwood’s stuttering development – 17 goals last season vs. four so far this term – and Anthony Martial’s abject form of late have left what appeared to be a strong area quite barren. Edinson Cavani was seen as a two-year stopgap but his stay now looks to be coming to an end after one. His father recently revealed that he is unhappy in England and in talks with Boca Juniors about a summer move, while The MEN reported this week that United are frustrated at Cavani ruling himself unfit when their medics have given him a clean bill of health.
Ironically, with these six positions all looking to be in desperate need of reinforcement, most of the transfer speculation in the papers this week has been around a search for competition for Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back – one of the few roles not included on our list.