Manchester United and Erik ten Hag had a good, if not great Premier League season 2022/23. Trips to Wembley were back on the menu, the trophy drought is over, the Champions League anthem will return to Old Trafford, and United finally look like they are on the right path to glory.
A huge role was played by the signings, mainly driven by Erik ten Hag. In Casemiro, Christian Eriksen, Lisandro Martinez, and Antony, a new spine of the club began taking shape. These players were instrumental to United’s success. Now, the challenge is to keep that momentum going. Further reinforcements are needed if this squad is to take the next step. Despite uncertainties over the takeover process, United have been linked to a litany of players, as always.
Here’s what an ideal Manchester United XI should look like on the opening day of the 2023/24 Premier League season:
GK – Diogo Costa
In an ideal world, Dean Henderson is sold for good money, which partly recoups the investment in Diogo Costa. David de Gea signs a new contract on a pay cut and is ready to be the No 2, lending his experience of the league to the newcomer Costa.
United have been credited with a concrete interest in the FC Porto goalkeeper as their search for a modern replacement for David de Gea continues. David Raya of Brentford looks set for Tottenham but Costa anyways has a higher ceiling and a more polished game.
Liverpool were transformed when they signed Alisson. Manchester City never looked back since sealing Ederson’s signature. Goalkeeper’s spot has the potential to transform the squad and there aren’t many better options than Costa.
RB – Aaron Wan-Bissaka
It is a testament to AWB’s improvement that he features in the “Ideal XI” list instead of “Players who should be sold”. Diogo Dalot and AWB’s healthy competition has reduced the need for United to splash the cash on another RB.
Initially sidelined due to injury problems and a lack of attacking game, AWB has come back roaring into the side. Furthermore, his lockdown ability in one-on-ones is unparalleled in world football.
If he takes another leap in his attacking play like he did post the World Cup this season, then he will be firmly first-choice. Till then, Diogo Dalot is a great competition for “Spider Wan”.
CBs – Lisandro Martinez and Kim Min-Jae
Arguably the best CB partnership in the league? If United secure the services of the South Korean international from Napoli, they could certainly make that case.
Lisandro Martinez has is now a proven commodity in the Premier League. Coming back from injury next season, fans will undoubtedly see a more driven version of the CB, which is a nightmare for opposition strikers. Pairing him next to Kim Min-Jae will unlock defensive nirvana for United.
The reigning Serie A Defender of the Year is a generational talent. As good in the traditional defensive sense, as he is on the ball, he transformed Napoli’s defence as they romped to their first Serie A title in nearly three decades. At 26, he is about five years younger than Raphael Varane while being as well-rounded as the Frenchman.
Martinez and Min-Jae’s game complements each other perfectly. This will free up Raphael Varane and Victor Lindelof to take up the role of rotational CBs. That is arguably the best CB lineup in world football, something Manchester City usually does with their backups.
LB – Luke Shaw
No debates here. Luke Shaw has proven himself to be invaluable to Erik ten Hag with his ball progression skills, combined with his defensive game. He was United’s best LB, and arguably third-best CB last season. Malacia is a capable backup and LB is not a position United need to worry about for the next half a decade after Shaw signed a new contract till 2027.
Midfield three – Casemiro, Bruno Fernandes, and Mason Mount
Casemiro and Bruno Fernandes are as ironclad a selection as Luke Shaw. Casemiro has turned a frail-looking midfield on its head single-handedly and showed United the impact one player can make on a team. Bruno Fernandes did something similar when he joined Ole’s United. His importance hasn’t waned since.
Then comes Mason Mount. Erik ten Hag is looking for a mobile No 8 who is a good contributor in both, the attacking and defending phases. Christian Eriksen’s calmness in the middle was a breath of fresh air last season but United need a more energetic operator for big game. Mason Mount wants United, and the feeling is mutual. This should get done in what would be a big boost to United’s chances next season.
Front three – Marcus Rashford, Rasmus Hojlund, and Antony
The Harry Kane dream looks to be over for United. Daniel Levy has reportedly made it clear that Kane will not be sold to a domestic rival and negotiations with Levy is not the wisest course of action.
Beyond Kane, United have been linked with a barrage of strikers because it is the position they need upgrading at most urgently. Most reliable among them have been links to Atalanta’s Rasmus Hojlund and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Randal Kolo Muani.
Anthony Martial is not reliable and Wout Weghorst was just a serviceable emergency loan, clearly below the level required at the club. Rasmus Hojlund looks to be the most realistic option. Kolo Muani’s price tag of upwards of £80 million will be prohibitive and the same will be the case for SL Benfica’s Goncalo Ramos.
Hojlund is a good player right now, with the potential to be world-class. Furthermore, he wants to join United and clearly fits the personality and character of the player Erik ten Hag wants at the club. He will undoubtedly be a high-risk, high-reward player, a project in the truest sense. However, such is the financial situation at United that they have to make such gambles to fill holes in the squad. If he pans out, United will have a game-changer. If he doesn’t then Harry Kane is out of contract next summer.