With the season concluded I thought I’d take an early look at the three best ways to improve the current 20 teams in England’s premier football decision. I will break it down into 20 separate articles as a series of sorts in order to keep it shorter and more manageable to read so keep an eye out!
Wingers, Wingers, Wingers – This shouldn’t be a surprise. Manchester United’s success and exciting brand of football was always built on talented and speedy wingers. It’s a similar situation for Mourinho, all of his successful sides were reliant on fast wide players like Arjen Robben or Di Maria to support a lone superstar striker.
In recent years, United have not been able to find the players to fulfil these roles. They were duped by Angel Di Maria, who effectively used us as a stop-gap whilst PSG served their transfer ban, whilst Nani was unceremoniously dumped on loan at Sporting before being sold.
United have also attempted to fix the issue at the expense of players in the existing squad. Natural number 10s like Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have seen themselves forced out wide where their lack of pace or crossing abilities have seen them cut inside leaving little to no options out wide for passing specialists Pogba/Carrick to target when attempting to advance the play. Similarly, the exciting developments of Rashford and Martial have been hindered to an extent when they have been pushed out away from goal yet faced criticism for finding the target less.
Provided success is achieved in the Europa League final, Mourinho will be able to offer Champions League football in his first full transfer window as he was delayed in joining last summer. He will have another shot at trying to mould this squad into his own identity after the 4 strong signings made last summer and he should start by signing some wingers.
Much is made of the lack of goals scored but I think with Marcus Rashford/Anthony Martial played down the middle they would both contribute a lot higher tallies for next year’s campaign and provide us with a talented forward rotation for years to come in Mourinho’s preferred formation.
As a result, instead of breaking the bank on an Antoine Griezemann or Romelu Lukaku, Mourinho should be looking at those capable of winning a game from wide positions. There are rumours of unrest for Gareth Bale at Madrid but I’m convinced he’ll get at least another year to prove he’s not a sicknote because of the current President’s need for him to be a successful signing! Instead of chasing fantasies, United should pursue Ivan Perisic and Douglas Costa.
Perisic is currently playing at an average Inter side who look set to miss out on European football of any level again and are a long way from challenging even Napoli let alone Juventus. He has shown high efficiencies in terms of production in the German League (the best comparison for the English league in terms of style) for Dortmund and Wolfsburg whilst constantly displaying a threat from the wing with the consistent dark horse Croatia. He has good pace, is in the peak of his career and has a clinical eye for goal that United have lacked and shouldn’t command too heavy a price.
Douglas Costa offers something slightly different. He’s a more typical South American footballer with fantastic footwork giving him the ability to beat a player and show them a clean pair of heels because of the electric pace he has. He too has shown the ability to score because of his magical left foot but he’d offer more as provider from the side-line. He’s a player that reminds me of the Arjen Robben at Chelsea – before he reached that next level – and would be ideal in a counter attacking side.
If they could secure additions of this quality and pace, but more importantly natural players for a position of need, United would finally be a lot more exciting going forward and be able to catch teams out with their pace like the teams of old.
Improve the Defence – It’s tough to say exactly how good the United defence is or isn’t. They haven’t conceded many goals at all, especially when Mourinho puts out a full team with the desired midfield trio of Paul Pogba, Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera in front of them. However, when relied upon to close games they have come up short be it the numerous home draws in the Premier League or throwing away leads in Europa League ties.
It’s also been difficult to evaluate because of the strangely high number of injuries. Since being a United fan, the Rio Ferdinand-Nemanja Vidic was by far the strongest pairing of centre halves especially when Evra was alongside to the two. That defence though piled many minutes together though so they were intuitive of each other’s actions making them highly organised. The United team of modern times don’t have that luxury. Marcos Rojo, whose game reminds me a lot of Gabriel Heinze, was finally looking like a perfect, complementary rugged centre half to partner the athletic Eric Bailly (who seems an excellent signing) before he suffered a cruel long term ligament injury.
Similarly, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling appeared to have good futures when signing all those years ago, have had their developments completely derailed by injury.
In my opinion, I’d like to see touted players like Tuanzebe, Fosu-Mensah and Regan Poole receive more playing time so they can be evaluated. They will likely offer more than the clumsy and injury prone Phil Jones whilst Daley Blind is too short, slow and weak to play the position in the English league.
In terms of improving the defence with external recruits, I think Michael Keane would be an interesting signing. I don’t think Mourinho would have ever let him go in the first place but at least the club put in a clause where we’d receive 25% of any future transfer fee giving us, potentially, a nice little discount if we were to buy him back. He is a player that is steady defensively and has shown composure on the ball at a prominent level for England without any of the costly mistakes John Stones makes. However, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher made the interesting point he’d be a lot more exposed at a club like Liverpool/Manchester United than at Burnley where they are set up in a very tight and rigid defensive formation. Signing back Michael Keane would be a feel-good return (on a smaller scale version than Pogba) that would the club has needed since letting Danny Welbeck leave but it would need to be at a reasonable price to be worthwhile.
A more expensive route to solving the problem would be to make demands of Real Madrid who are making no secret of their interest in United’s number 1. If indeed De Gea does choose to leave, a large money sum is almost pointless because it doesn’t go very far in football, especially for English teams. European clubs know English clubs are rich and charge premium price when Premiership teams move for their players so to receive £50million for De Gea wouldn’t allow us to make many improvements; these days it gets you John Stones…
Instead I’d make a demand that any sum for the World’s best goalkeeper include a player that we need. I like James Rodriguez a lot but I feel it would be a luxury signing given the positions of need the team has. Instead, I’d ask for them to include a player like Raphael Varane. Even as Pepe looks to move on, Zidane has instead elected for academy graduate Nacho to partner Sergio Ramos and so the minutes assured to Varane have still not been provided. Mourinho was the man who convinced him to sign for Real over United all those years ago so we know it is a player he likes. It also fits his ideal mould of centre half of being tall, fast and physical a la Kurt Zouma and Eric Bailly.
A defensive partnership of Varane and Bailly would be incredibly fast and almost impenetrable with youth on its side to be around for nearly a decade as well! It would also mean Rojo could be pushed out to the left where, like Valencia on the other side, it would give the wide players the confidence to go forward without as much worry.
A final intriguing option would be if to raid Tottenham if/when they suffer a player exodus should they fail to find success for a third consecutive year. Toby Alderweireld is still yet to sign an extension with Spurs. He’s at the ideal age for a centre half and has arguably been the best defender in the Premiership the last couple of years. He doesn’t have the pace of a Varane but his experience would be excellant as an anchor for a young United defence.
Cut the dead wood – Since the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s era, Manchester United has only qualified for Europe once and has finished no higher than 4th. As a result, the lack of success, high calibre competition and no longer having the greatest club manager of all time it has been difficult for United to attract players of a United quality. Similarly, managers have been under so much pressure to achieve a turnaround in the team’s fortunes they haven’t taken the risk of trialling youth players as much.
Louis Van Gaal is credited for Marcus Rashford yet realistically he only played because due to injuries and players sold, there was literally no one who was available and ahead of him in the pecking order.
This season, he has played because he was established and on the cusp of stardom and he has rewarded Mourinho with his performances in important games. However, it begs the question why highly touted players like Tuanzebe and Fosu-Mensah haven’t been playing? Will it be a similar situation when Andreas Pereira returns from his successful loan spell with Granada as well?
It seems like Mourinho instead takes the safer option of selecting established, yet average, experienced players signed in previous regimes who have no right to be at Manchester United. Neither Phil Jones or Chris Smalling have ever lived up to their billing. Chris Smalling has had a single good year and Phil Jones hasn’t even played through a year. One of the most valuable abilities to have as an athlete is availability and Jones has never possessed it. He’s also incredibly clumsy on the ball whilst Chris Smalling is very mistake prone and makes incredibly sloppy decisions – see his attempt to clear a ball across his body with his right foot leading to Gestede’s goal at Middlesborough. I’d sell one of them, and if United are to purchase another centre half, I’d be happy to see them both move on.
Similarly, Daley Blind is an ok squad player, but his versatility isn’t as valuable as it would seem. Mourinho doesn’t think he’s capable even as cover in the midfield position whilst Darmian provides a much better alternative at either fullback position. Blind is far too slow and weak to play centre half as well regardless of how good a football brain he has.
Luke Shaw and Adnan Januzaj for me should move on because they appear to be lazy and have a sense of entitlement due to the fact they received big money at an early age; they’ve effectively already ‘made it’. That attitude won’t work in a team constantly striving to be the best and I can’t see them changing or improving. I would certainly entertain all offers for them if I was Mourinho.
I also think Fellaini should move on and there have been reports of interest from Turkey. He’s not a United player. He’s dirty, reckless and useless if the ball is on the deck. I don’t think for his size he’s even that accomplished in the air; you need only watch his missed header in the six-yard box against Wales in the European Championships. There also appears to be a tendency to bring him on early in games when searching for goals, resorting to a long ball game far too early on and sacrificing their play. Like Alcoholics who remove all temptations from their surroundings to be successful, that is how Fellaini should be approached. Without him as an option, they can press in more creative and exciting ways.
The arrival of Mourinho excited me because I felt he’d stop the sale of players for such lowball offers resulting in massive losses like the ridiculously cut price we sold Di Maria. We’ve already seen him recoup most of our money for Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin even though they had been relatively poor for us so expect, after a season to evaluate the squad, to see a fair amount of players sold off to fund the next stage of the rebuild.