Despite the normally buoyant Manchester United transfer rumour mill being unusually quiet, manager Erik ten Hag has said at several press conferences that he is still hoping to strengthen his squad in this transfer window.
At the pre-match presser ahead of yesterday’s 3-1 win against Reading, the boss said “In the coming days, should we have an opportunity, I would go for it but it’s not only up to me.”
With just two days left to go, could there be a surprise last minute signing and, if so, who might it be?
It is unclear whether there is a particular position that the manager is keen to strengthen. Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s great form has probably rendered the right back hunt redundant and the rest of the defence has plenty of cover. The wing areas also seem well-stocked and Wout Weghorst has been brought in as a target man.
This leaves central midfield and attacking midfield. Fred and Scott McTominay are the only experienced alternatives to starting trio of Casemiro, Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes. Donny van de Beek is out for the season.
The sight of Eriksen leaving Old Trafford on crutches yesterday underlines how thin United are, particularly in creative, ball-playing midfielders, having lost the Dutchman already.
McTominay is more of a natural replacement for Casemiro while Fred is best employed as a box-to-box runner, a high energy player. There are no obvious substitutes for Fernandes and Eriksen other than academy stars such as Kobbie Mainoo and Zidane Iqbal.
Given the lack of budget available, it is more than likely that any addition would have to be either on a loan basis or a player who is coming into the last six months of his contract and whose current club would therefore be willing to sell at a bargain basement price.
One example of the latter is Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans. It is no secret that the Belgian wants to leave the King Power stadium and whilst it looked certain that Arsenal were in the driving seat, their attention now seems to have turned to the likes of Moises Caicedo of Brighton and Declan Rice of West Ham.
In some senses Tielemans would be the perfect addition. His natural game is similar to known Ten Hag target, Frenkie de Jong, carrying the ball out from defence to attack, but he is versatile and can play in a variety of roles. He has a good passing range, is two footed and his clever use of space would appeal to the United boss.
Juventus’ Adrien Rabiot is another option. United came close to signing him last summer but personal terms could not be agreed and he stayed at Juventus. He is not such a good fit style-wise as Tielemans but he is a strong and powerful midfielder and reminded everyone of what he is capable in his performances at the Qatar World Cup.
A more attack-minded option and natural backup for Fernandes is Eintracht Frankfurt’s Daichi Kamada. Another two-footed player, he has a fantastic passing range and his pace could be an asset. At 26 years of age and with a market value of €30 million, United should certainly be taking a look at the Japanese and talking to Frankfurt. Barcelona are reportedly keen on signing him on a Bosman in June, so acting now would be wise.
Lyon’s Houssem Aouar has made no secret of his desire to play in the Premier League and came close to joining Arsenal last summer. His progress at Lyon has not been stellar since and he’s therefore fallen off the radar of most of the big hitters, but at 24 and with bags of talent, he is the kind of player than Ten Hag might be able to get the best out of. Profile wise he is probably the ideal cover for Fernandes and Eriksen. If United were able to snap him up for €10 million or less, it could be a very shrewd piece of business.
If there is to be a last-minute signing, United have certainly played their cards very close to their chest. Should any of these names start to be linked over the course of the next 24 to 48 hours, expect sparks to start flying very quickly.