With just one week of the transfer window left, Manchester United are in need of some reinforcements.
The Red Devils picked up a literal last-second win against West Ham at Old Trafford and while bagging consecutive wins for the first time under Ralf Rangnick is nothing to be sneered at, their performance left a lot to be desired.
United still look painfully short of quality in a few areas, and while a more comprehensive transfer strategy to shore up the squad in the summer is the logical step, they may not really have that luxury as securing Champions League football for next season is imperative. With their two main rivals (Spurs and Arsenal) both being free of the stress of midweek European football, they are already at a disadvantage and will need all the help they can get.
So, who can they buy? We’ve had a look at the two key positions in the squad that need reinforcements and then the dream, realistic and wildcard options to fill those positions here and now in January.
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Aaron Wan-Bissaka is entirely the wrong kind of full-back for Ralf Rangnick. While the Englishman is a sublime defensive talent, his passing is poor and his impact as an attacking force is negligible. If United were playing an asymmetric system where he could hang back and defend (think of how Pep Guardiola largely uses Kyle Walker) then he could thrive, but that’s not how Rangnick gets down, hence the increased minutes for Diogo Dalot under the German. But Dalot is hardly the answer either, it’s just he can pass the ball consistently.
Dream: Tariq Lamptey
The dream scenario for Manchester United in January or even the summer would be to get Tariq Lamptey in from Brighton. At just 21 years old, Lamptey still has much room to grow as a player but the attacking potential he has already displayed is phenomenal.
Lamptey is a ceaseless supply of energy and drive with skill, tactical understanding and a creative vision that could make him a dream modern wing-back. With Lamptey running on the outside dribbling at opponents, United could bring their “right-winger” infield, which would allow them to field forwards like Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford there without impacting their goal-getting.
But Lamptey is so young and so highly-rated that a January move is unlikely. Brighton won’t want to part with such a key piece of their team and, even in the summer, he would be very expensive. So this could remain a dream.
Realistic: Juan Cuadrado
Yes, Juan Cuadrado is 33 years old. Yes, he’s not a great defender. Yes, he’s definitely way past his best. However, he’s also still a prolific crosser of the ball and his contract expires in the summer, meaning that if United were to move for him now the transfer fee would likely not be that large at all.
Cuadrado would definitely be a short-term signing, perhaps with an eye to recalling and promoting Ethan Laird next season, but the Colombian is still an elite creator and would certainly help Rangnick get the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Colombian’s crossing is outrageously good, as are his set-pieces, and he assisted Ronaldo five times when the pair played together at Juve.
Wildcard: Sergiño Dest
One thing about transfers in January is you have to find value where you can get it. Sometimes that’s looking at players with expiring contracts, at others it’s looking for talented players struggling at their current club. Like Sergiño Dest.
The young American full-back looked like he was heading for great things when he joined Barcelona at the start of last season but his 2021/22 has not gone well and he doesn’t appear to be wanted by Xavi. Dest is a talented creative player who doesn’t seem to fit Xavi’s specific system at Barcelona, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t be a huge attacking upgrade on Dalot with his dribbling, passing and crossing ability. He would have to work on the defensive side of his game, but as Barcelona look to raise cash by any means necessary to fund their own transfer moves, United could pick their pockets here.
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Fred is good. He’s improving under the studious coaching of Ralf Rangnick and he’ll do at least until the end of the season. Scott McTominay, however, is not really improving. He’s still tremendously effective against teams that push up and leave spaces, but against organised, pressing sides he is found wanting and as a result, United cannot advance the ball properly. A midfielder is needed post-haste, but who?
Dream: Kalvin Phillips
When you dream, you should dream big. Manchester United need a midfielder? Manchester United plan to play 4-3-3 so ideally need someone who can play in a single pivot? Manchester United should get Kalvin Phillips.
While everyone falls over themselves to praise Declan Rice (rightfully so, to be fair) Kalvin Phillips is just going about his business, being an outrageously talented defensive midfielder who screens his defence well, gets stuck into tackles and quite simply wins the ball back relentlessly and moves it forward continuously.
There are no words for how perfect Phillips would be for Rangnick’s system, having received the greatest education one could ask for under Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds. But that’s why this is a dream move. Phillips is Leeds to the core, having been born in the city and played at the club since he was 14. So he is unlikely to countenance a move to rivals Manchester United, even if it meant playing Champions League football instead of fighting relegation. Some things are priceless.
Realistic: Denis Zakaria
Zakaria can’t match McTominay in terms of his dynamism and energy in tackles (but really, who can?), however, he is a better passer. He would bring an ability to move the ball from back to front with greater speed than McTominay could dream of. And that kind of quick passing is essential to Rangnick’s system working.
What makes Zakaria realistic is that his contract expires in the summer, and his wages aren’t tremendously high, so if the Red Devils moved for him in January he would be an upgrade on the players currently at the club and help the side advance.
Wildcard: Ibrahim Sangare
Sometimes clubs aren’t even looking at those who would be perfect for them. For Manchester United, that’s the case with Ibrahim Sangare. Here’s a young midfielder with pace, power and height; all the intangible stuff that people get really weird about. However he’s no McTominay, no, Sangare is an incredibly intelligent player capable of playing any role Rangnick would ask of him.
Sangare’s passing is quick and incisive, and his ability to do it all means that when United look for another midfielder in the summer, they can simply try and get the best player available as Sangare would be able to mould his game around the newcomer. Of course, United aren’t even linked with the young man who is currently shining for the Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations, so this is a wildcard.