A respectable season, certainly an improvement on the last one- Manchester United, currently 2nd in the Premier League table, have done reasonably well this season, however, after the massive investment of over £200 million over the last 3 years, this is not where the club wanted to be.
While United were impressive in the Premier League this season, one cannot forget that they were eliminated in the group stage of the Champions League, however, they have made up for that by securing a place in the Europa League final.
HOW HAVE UNITED IMPROVED FROM LAST SEASON?
One of United’s main reasons for having as impressive a season as they have had is their potency going forward. This was Bruno Fernandes’ first full season at the club, and the midfielder has been the attacking hub for the Red Devils this season. Ferandes’ lethal nature coupled with the likes of Rashford and Cavani being ruthless in front of goal, United would always end up scoring more than their opponents. To add to this, Paul Pogba looks like his old self again and the Frenchman has had one of his best seasons at the club.
Mason Greenwood’s resurgence towards the end of the season has been a bonus while injury-prone Luke Shaw has also been one of United’s best players this year as the left-back has managed to remain fit and provide consistent performances week in and week out.
However, if there were any complaints against this United side, it would be about the leaky defence. Manchester United are 1st in the Premier League this season to win the game from losing positions, and while that is an impressive statistic, it will not last long. The Red Devils have, more often than not, conceded early on in the game, only to come back in the second half. While this might work against some of the lesser sides, this will not bode well for them in the Champions League next season, with Europe’s elite capable of punishing them.
Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, and Eric Bailly have been solid but not unbreakable. Maguire’s lack of pace is a real problem area for United, while Lindelof still has awareness issues during set-pieces. Eric Bailly, albeit fast and strong, is a rash defender and concedes many fouls in dangerous areas. Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan Bissaka can only do so much as full-backs, but United are exposed when their central defenders are left alone in counter-attacking situations.
United’s open play leaves a lot of space between their midfielders and their defence. This space is used by teams to isolate United’s defenders as it is easy to bypass them in 1v1’s.
Thus, it was a surprise when reports came last week regarding United wanting to wrap up a deal for Jadon Sancho as soon as possible. While Manchester United’s attack is more than sufficient and potent, their broken defence needs a lot of repair work.
Spending £85 million on Jadon Sancho this season is not going to increase United’s goal tally massively. While United do need a proper long-term center-forward, it is imperative that they figure out their defence first. ‘Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles’-one of Alex Ferguson’s most famous quotes and a philosophy United need to adopt and understand this summer.
There are several defenders currently in world football who can solve United’s issue in a jiffy and will cost far less than Jadon Sancho’s £85 million transfer fee. While Dayot Upamecano would have been an ideal signing, Bayern swooped in during the January window and sealed a move for the Frenchman. Raphael Varane, who is ready to leave Real Madrid for the right offer, can shore up United’s defence for the next 5 years as the defender is currently at his footballing peak. Varane would be available at a fee of £50 million, and that is a decent fee for one of Europe’s best center-backs in the last decade.
Jules Kounde at Sevilla has also been one of the standout center-backs this season and given his young age (22), the Frenchman can be a long-term solution to United’s leaky defence. Financially speaking, Kounde would cost more as Sevilla are set to demand £60 million for the defender.
Milan Skriniar, currently 26, will also be a perfect fit for Manchester United as the Slovakian’s calm sense of play is exactly what United need right now, something that helped Inter win the Serie A this season. With Skriniar’s contract up in 2 years, the Slovakian could be available for less than £50 million, and it would be a steal if United manage to lure the 26-year-old to Old Trafford for a lesser fee.
While there are several more options like Maxence Lacroix (Wolfsburg), Edmond Tapsoba (Bayer Leverkusen), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Mochengladbach), Merih Demiral (Juventus), Junior Alonso (Santos), and Ibrahima Konate (RB Leipizig), United must move for at least one of these defenders in the summer, if not two.
Roy Keane’s rant last Thursday on Sky Sports made a lot of sense- “United’s defence shows how far this side is from the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City, which are eventually their competition at the end of the day. There are nowhere near winning the Premier League title”. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, so far, has done a respectable job at the club, but they now need to win the biggest trophies otherwise all the progress he has made over the past 2 and a half years will come to no avail.
Jadon Sancho is a statement signing, but currently, there are bigger issues than that. Only time will tell if Manchester United do address them.