With centre backs Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez the only Manchester United representatives left in the World Cup, manager Erik ten Hag will be able to start to take stock of what his squad issues are ahead of resumption of United’s season in 10 days’ time.
As far as has been reported in the press, the only injury doubts to come back from the tournament are Alex Telles, who in any case is on loan at Sevilla, and Diogo Dalot, who has a suspected hamstring injury sustained as Portugal were surprisingly defeated by Morocco in the quarter finals yesterday.
If Dalot has pulled a hamstring, it is an immediate headache for Ten Hag, who has not identified a backup for the right back and indeed has been linked with several players as cover.
The only other experienced right back at the club, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, played a major part in United’s two friendlies in Spain this week but looked rusty and unimpressive, leaving the manager with a big problem should the Dalot injury be concerned.
Does he risk Wan-Bissaka? Should he switch Tyrell Malacia to right back, as he did once or twice before the World Cup? Could Victor Lindelof do a job there?
And come January, is there cash to splash on €50m valued Denzel Dumfries, whose World Cup performances were erratic? Another rumoured summer target, Sergino Dest, is ensconced on loan at AC Milan, who are reportedly set to exercise their option to buy. Will United go for Lyon’s Malo Gusto – a cheaper option – and would playing second fiddle to Dalot be the right move for the Frenchman? Likewise for the emerging 21 year old, Jeremie Frimpong?
Could Ten Hag recall the excellent Ethan Laird from his loan deal at QPR, or even try Brandon Williams in the position?
The other problem role is, obviously, centre forward. Cristiano Ronaldo has left the club, Mason Greenwood remains a long-term absentee and the likes of Joe Hugill and Charlie McNeill are a couple of years away from being ready. This leaves injury-prone Anthony Martial as the only recognised striker at the club, with Marcus Rashford a makeshift option.
One reported target, Benfica’s Gonçalo Ramos, has gone from €40 million to €100 million to unavailable until the summer. PSV’s Cody Gakpo remains the most likely option, but his price, too, has increased over the World Cup and could be close to €75 million. Barcelona would be keen to offload Memphis Depay 6 months before his contract expires and likewise Lyon might be glad of some compensation for the outgoing Moussa Dembele.
But are these players the right profile? Gakpo is more of a winger and Memphis – also a converted winger – struggled in his previous spell at Old Trafford. Dembele may not be seen as a long-term option. But beyond them, there would seem to be few realistic targets given that it is a winter window when United are reportedly strapped for cash.
Another player who could be recalled from loan is Amad Diallo, who has the ability to play through the middle and has been excelling recently at Sunderland. But that might be coming a little too soon for him. What he would offer as well is another option on the right wing, which is also developing into a problem position with Jadon Sancho’s struggles for form and fitness and Anthony Elanga’s miserable form so far this term.
It seems unlikely that United will be spending anything close to £100 million in January, nor do they want to spend the whole of the window haggling. A solution is needed at the start of the window, not the end, which will make the problem even more complex.
A sale, perhaps of Wan-Bissaka or Donny van de Beek, could raise an extra £20-£25 or so, which might just be enough to get the Gakpo deal over the line. As for a right back, it remains to be seen whether there is anything left in the kitty to strengthen. At this stage, it seems unlikely.
Laird, Amad and Gakpo could be the three most obvious solutions to Ten Hag’s dilemma, and could also be the most likely.