Manchester United’s Premier League season has got off to a better start than last time around, but the club may need to repeat a trick from last summer if they are to lift the mood around the club and improve performances.
No, we aren’t talking about an 13.8km run. The team does have three points and they have managed to play one good half, after all.
What Man United need is another Casemiro, just not in midfield this time.
Constantly we are reminded that we must temper our expectations concerning Rasmus Hojlund, and with good reason. He is 20 years old, scored 10 Serie A goals last season, and is suffering from a back injury that will likely see his gametime managed even when he does get onto the pitch. United maintain that he has been signed for his potential, but the fact remains that Ten Hag also needs players for the here and now.
In a way, his acquisition should be treated similarly to that of Anthony Martial under Louis van Gaal. The Frenchman may now be a sore spot for supporters and the butt of more than a few jokes, but at the time of signing, he was an exciting prospect with exceptional dribbling ability and a variety of ways to hurt teams. Martial was a ray of optimism shining through Van Gaal’s cloud of overly-considered, crab-passing philosophy.
Of course, Man United now have a far more encouraging way of playing (when it works, anyway), and that could lead to tentative hopes that Hojlund can better Martial’s 11-goal haul in his first Premier League season.
But as it is unfair to really expect him to, and as he is likely to get fewer minutes than the Frenchman did due to his aforementioned injury, Ten Hag would be well-served in signing a more experienced forward to ease the burden on his developmental signing. Even Martial had Wayne Rooney chipping in, although his eight-goal return and shifting into midfield was a sign that Van Gaal probably should have signed an additional striker at the time as well.
Being able to allow for some manner of consistency in terms of player profiles up top would also be a boon for Ten Hag. Marcus Rashford, as discussed elsewhere, has shown increasing signs of frustration in a centre forward role, with the type of chances he thrives on best found coming in from the left and his overall involvement in matches diminishing. Rashford had two fantastic chances inside of 23 minutes against Spurs, made a mess of them, and then went 62 minutes without a shot before his withdrawal five minutes from added time. He threw his boots to the ground in disgust after that.
An experienced striker who keeps getting into goalscoring positions even after missing (bonus points if they miss fewer chances, of course), would be a huge benefit to this side – a greater variety of goals and finishes doubly so.
That is where the Casemiro analogy comes in. After United’s horrific start to last season, along with their addition of only one midfielder to the single biggest area of weakness in the squad, “live talks” were held internally to discuss the addition of an “elite level” midfielder. They landed on the Brazilian and the team was far better for it.
This time around, everyone and their dog could pinpoint Man United’s biggest weakness again, only this time it was up front. Once more, one player has been brought in to reinforce the area, but once more another is needed. And, once more, experience seems to be the way to go.
Manchester United have signed plenty of ageing strikers over the years, of course, with mixed results. But this is the first summer in over a decade during which the club have the opportunity to come out of the transfer window with both youth and experience added to the forward line. Scoring goals is a far bigger problem for this team than any other, and it has been for a while now. The fact that they have scored one goal – from a central defender, no less – from their 37 shots across their opening two league matches tell its own story.
It is simply a matter of finding the right target and the money to get them in. Easy right?