After a difficult start to the 2019/20 campaign, Manchester United appear to be in a good position.
The Red Devils currently sit fifth in the Premier League after 16 games, five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. They are unbeaten in their past five league games including two consecutive wins against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.
United’s recent form sees manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s place at the helm become slightly more comfortable after initial criticism when the club were struggling.
Man Utd 2019 Summer arrivals
- Harry Maguire: From Leicester City, for £80m.
- Aaron Wan-Bissaka: From Crystal Palace, for £45m.
- Daniel James: From Swansea City, for £15m.
One of the biggest criticisms of Solskjaer and the club was their transfer business in the summer window with only three players coming in while a number of senior stars left.
United will have the chance to rectify that soon with the January transfer window edging closer and they may want to go against their inactivity of recent years. In the past four years United have made just one permanent signing in the January transfer window, swapping Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Alexis Sanchez in 2018.
The Red Devils have been linked with business this window which could help them in their chase for a Champions League spot, whether it be through the Premier League or winning the Europa League.
Positions that require strengthening
The weakest position for United this season has undoubtedly been in midfield. Solskjaer has had to deal with a depleted midfield at times, with Paul Pogba in particular suffering with injury problems. The Frenchman has played just six games so far and hasn’t featured since September due to ankle problems. This has put a lot of strain on the performances of Scott McTominay and Fred, though they have flourished as a partnership in recent weeks.
United have also had some problems up front after allowing Romelu Lukaku to join Inter Milan permanently without signing a replacement. As a result, the Red Devils have had to rely heavily on the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood to lead their line.
Rashford has stepped up to the challenge, scoring 14 goals so far, 10 of which have come in the Premier League, equalling his best-ever tally in the competition. However, past the Englishman United are thin and former right-back Gary Neville believes an experienced forward would be good for the growth of their younger stars.
When asked where United should look to strengthen in January, Neville told TalkSport: “A minimum of a midfielder and a striker I’d say.
“Manchester United have found it hard to be smart in the transfer market and January is historically a difficult month to do business so it’s going to be tough.
“But the young players – Rashford, Greenwood, [Daniel] James, [Andreas] Pereira, McTominay… they all need experience alongside them. Without some guidance it’s really difficult for them.”
These recent thoughts are backed up by recent comments from Solskjaer, who hinted the club have been looking at midfielders given their problems.
“Long-term, we’re looking at different positions and midfield, yeah, we have been looking at midfielders,” he said in November.
“There are always types of players we’re looking at but I’m not going to sit here and talk about that now.”
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Man Utd transfer targets
Even in what should be a quiet period for transfer rumours, United have been linked with new arrivals across the season so far. One of the players heavily linked who would undoubtedly fit Neville’s requirements is Mario Mandzukic.
The 33-year-old has not played for Juventus this season, being out of favour under new boss Maurizio Sarri, and wasn’t even registered for the Champions League group stage. Reports linking Mandzukic to United arrived as early as September. However, the Manchester Evening News claim any interest as since petered out.
Instead, the Daily Mail report United will chase Erling Braut Håland and Saul Niguez as the board plan to back Solskjaer in the transfer market. Håland has been in devastating form for Red Bull Salzburg this season, scoring 28 goals in 21 games including five hat-tricks. The teenager also has links to England, having been born in Leeds, with his father Alf-Inge previously representing Leeds United, Manchester City and Nottingham Forest.
#SquawkaScout: Erling Braut Håland
• 21 games
• 28 goals
• 5 hat-tricks
Liverpool, you've been warned. pic.twitter.com/d1rd7BEcjG
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 10, 2019
Jadon Sancho is another to be linked with a move to United after reportedly growing unhappy with life at Borussia Dortmund. Sancho came through the academy at Man City and a return to England is expected for his next move, but United face competition from the likes of Liverpool, Real Madrid and Chelsea.
With regards to fixing the midfield problems, James Maddison has been linked after continuing to impress with Leicester City, but the Athletic report the Englishman is set to sign a new deal with the Foxes as they chase a top four finish.
United have also found themselves consistently linked with Ivan Rakitic who was struggling for game time at Barcelona but, according to the Daily Mail, the Blaugrana have no intention on selling him in January.
Their plans will have been strengthened by Rakitic revealing he would be happy to stay at Barcelona, saying: “What I want above all is to play and I think I have a lot to offer.
“If I can play then there is no better place to do it than in Barcelona.”
That could see United strengthen any interest they may have in Tottenham Hotspur’s Christian Eriksen, who still looks unsettled despite the arrival of Jose Mourinho.
Possible Man Utd outgoings
Given how much United’s squad has been stretched this season, on top of their summer outgoings, it is unlikely the Red Devils will be looking to sell any of their first-team options.
Instead, it appears the only possible outgoings will be younger players on loan, with the likes of Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and James Garner all name-checked by United’s Academy player performance manager Les Parry.
“There will be lots of hard work, as part of what Nicky Butt puts together as the plan for everybody,” Parry told the club’s official website.
“We’ll plan it out and we’ve identified four or five who might be going out in January. Obviously, our first-team manager has a say.
“Three lads could have possibly gone on loan – Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and James Garner – but he wanted to keep them here and have a look at them on tour. So a decision will be made, no doubt, for January as well. Hopefully, all three will be in the first team and not going anywhere.
“As we know at this club, lads have got into the first team and a lot of it has been through circumstances they’ve got no control over. They’ve been presented with an opportunity and they’ve taken the opportunity so now a couple of them are regulars on the team sheet each week. We’ve had opportunities that have cropped up from nowhere. That’s football.
“Hopefully, some of the lads out on loan now will also catch the eye as some have gone out with a perception of their ability and where they’ll end up but hopefully they’ll come back and people will say maybe we’ve got a little diamond.”