The transfer window has officially opened today and after a woeful season, Manchester United must look to strengthen in several key areas if new boss Erik ten Hag is to lift spirits at Old Trafford.
Having finished the Premier League season with a goal difference of zero, it is clear that all areas of the team need improvement.
While possession expert Ten Hag and defensive specialist Mitchell van der Gaag will look to resurrect as much of the current squad as possible, the next 63 days will be crucial in adding some much-needed quality.
At the back, 57 goals conceded made for grim viewing, with lapses in concentration, susceptibility to one-on-one situations and poor reverse gears all leading to an unwanted Manchester United Premier League record.
As a result, Manchester United have been linked with Jurrien Timber of Ajax, with The Guardian reporting that the club has been ‘in contact’ regarding a potential £43m move this summer. His speed and agility offer something different to any centre half at Old Trafford, while his ability to dribble out from the back could help solve the lethargic nature of the side’s build-up play. Having completed more league minutes than any United defender last season, his availability would be an additional boost to a team that seem to suffer a defensive injury crisis on an annual basis.
A poor defensive record is not always solved by defenders, however, and it seems that Manchester United have finally realised what so many have known for so long: they need a defensive midfielder.
Frenkie de Jong, while not an entirely defensive player, was referred to as one of Ten Hag’s ‘two sixes’ at Ajax by the man himself. His ability and composure on the ball is a stark contrast to the options available at Old Trafford, with Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba both leaving on free transfers. While classy, the Dutch maestro could not be accused of being “show-y”. He passes and dribbles in such an efficient manner that each twitch of the ankle seems a deliberate ploy to open up space – as seen in the injury time box-to-box run which led to Wales finally conceding their 20-game unbeaten home run on Wednesday.
Marca reports that a deal worth up to £68m has been tabled, with Barcelona rumoured to be on the verge of accepting.
In the forward positions Manchester United looked to be over-staffed ten months ago, but a reminder of how quickly things can change in football has left Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho as the only senior options in the squad. While there is hope that Anthony Elanga can continue his development, disappointing loan spells for both Facundo Pellistri and Amad mean that they are unlikely to be relied upon in the coming season.
Should Erik ten Hag continue in the spirit of reunions, Ajax winger Antony could be a target. Reports that his entourage are in Europe seeking an agreement over personal terms surfaced yesterday, with a £51m transfer mooted.
The Brazilian is a true Jogo Bonito footballer, an entertainer with a level of flair akin to Luis Nani. Under three separate managers, Manchester United have had a left-sided bias in their attacking play which other teams have often found easy to defend. Adding a left-footed attacker who enjoys stretching teams from the right-hand side could be the key to unlocking the compact defences commonplace when underdogs visit Old Trafford.
While new managers rarely sign so many of their ex-players, Erik ten Hag’s word to De Telegraph (via MEN), might offer some encouragement:
“I think that all top clubs in Europe have Timber in their sights, but I think that currently applies to a lot of Ajax players.”
And with so many unknowns within the Manchester United squad, perhaps the new boss could use some old friends?