Football News

Man Utd need to sign “support” for Rasmus Hojlund says former winger Lee Sharpe

By Harry Edwards

Published: 10:30, 4 April 2024

Former Manchester United winger Lee Sharpe has spoken about the current standing of the Red Devils squad.

Sharpe discussed Mason Mount breaking his goal drought, the reports of a new technical director, as well as potential areas in which Man Utd need to strengthen this summer.

There was also room to look ahead to this weekend’s crunch clash between Man Utd and Liverpool at Old Trafford and Lisandro Martinez’s latest injury.

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Man Utd host Liverpool again in the Premier League this weekend. If you were Erik ten Hag, would you just tell the players to build on the FA Cup win a few weeks ago, or do they have to put that out of their minds?

I think it’s something, with the result and the way they came back, I think it’s something you do have to build on. But it is a separate game. I think you can’t go into the game expecting exactly the same situations and circumstances. Liverpool are obviously chasing the league, so it’s obviously a huge game for them. United are still huge outsiders, but chasing top four and European football, so it’s a different game with different circumstances. So I do think you have to build on good bits. But I do think you’ve got to go into it as a different game as well.

We’re into the final part of the season and Man Utd are 11 points outside the top four. Are their Champions League hopes over, or do you think they still have a chance?

Well, mathematically, they still have a chance, so they still have to go for it. And you sort of expect (Aston) Villa and Tottenham to drop points. But for United to qualify for the top four, that would mean United would have to go on a consistent run from now to the end of the season, without pretty much dropping any points. You half expect a Man Utd team to go on and do that at some point in the season, but this season that seems to be slightly out of their reach. They have a good result and then a poor result and then a good result. And it seems to be the story of the season. So, yeah I’m still hopeful that they can get there, but I’m not sure that United can pick up enough points, and I’m not sure that Tottenham and Villa will drop enough points for United to catch them at the moment.

How would you assess this season if Man Utd do fail to qualify for the Champions League, but go on to win the FA Cup?

I think it’s a difficult one. I think winning the FA Cup is always going to be deemed a success, any silverware is always successful. It’s obviously going to be very disappointing not to get top four and not to get Champions League if that’s how it finishes up. But also I think you’ve got to assess the injury situation. I think he [Erik ten Hag]’s only had half a team to pick from for most of the season. He’s had a lot of leaders and captains out of the team. A lot of the regulars that would have been in the team that have been out for long periods of time. So I think you’ve also got to take that into consideration. And I think the season would have been considerably better if they hadn’t had all the injuries they’ve had.

Lisandro Martinez made his return from injury at the weekend but has now picked up another injury in training. Just how big of a miss has he been for Man Utd’s defence?

He’s been a huge miss. But not only him. I think you find that the most successful and consistent teams generally keep the same back four and goalkeeper throughout the season. Man Utd have very rarely done that, for two or three games, never mind for long periods. I think he’s been a huge miss. I think he’s a leader, he sets an example on a pitch. And players like that in any team are going to be missed, and he’s not the only one. But certainly at the heart of the defence, someone that is so aggressive yet can play as well, and dictate and organise. I think he’s been a huge miss.

Man Utd are being linked with Southampton’s director of football Jason Wilcox. How important is it for Man Utd to get things sorted in the boardroom before focusing on improving the squad etc?

I think it’s very important. I think it’s always important to have a football club right from the top and players and staff around the football team then see that the club’s getting run right and they have to act accordingly. But I don’t know whether it really affects the players on the pitch week to week. I think United do need a sporting director or director of football, I think they’re one of the only top clubs not to have one and I think it shows. I think there’s a little bit of a lack of continuity, consistency in the players they’re buying and the positions that they’re looking for. So I think it’s important. I don’t really know too much about Jason Wilcox other than I played against him years ago for Blackburn. So I don’t really know why he’s so highly regarded, with Southampton going down and being in the Championship. So I don’t know what he’ll exactly bring, but if he brings a bit more stability and he brings a bit more help for the manager in transfers, then it can only be a good thing.

Man Utd are already being linked with a host of players this summer. What position would you say they need to strengthen most as they rebuild again?

Again, that’s a difficult thing to answer when you consider how many injuries they’ve had. With a full squad, then there probably wouldn’t be too many additions you would look at. I think, a number nine. I think (Rasmus) Hojlund has started to produce what we were expecting of him, in the last six or eight games. I don’t think he’s had the service to score the goals that he is capable of. But I also think he’s a young lad and needs a bit of support. He’s not really had a lot of support with (Anthony) Martial being injured as well. I think you’d also probably look at a defensive midfielder. I think (Christian) Eriksen and Casemiro have probably struggled a little bit with legs this season and been running around a little bit. Other than that, I think right-back, I think we’re covered. Luke Shaw, I think he’s one of the best left backs, if he can stay fit. We’ve got some decent defenders and I know they’re looking at the lad at Everton, (Jarrad) Branthwaite. I think he would be a good addition, but they would probably have to get rid of someone from centre back as well. But I think it’s a different game if everyone’s fit.

Kobbie Mainoo has found himself in advanced positions more recently for Man Utd. Do you think that’s the right move for his game, at his young age?

Yeah. I think at his age, he needs to be given a certain amount of freedom in his game. Obviously, he’s got to stay in the structure of the team and do what’s right at the right time for the team as a job. But I think he’s proved time and time again, he’s so comfortable on the ball. The goal he scored against Wolves. You would say allow him to get up the pitch because he can beat people, he can score goals, he’s cool under pressure. So I think you’ve just got to sort of offensively allow Kobbie Mainoo to do what he feels is right in any particular situation in the game. And then defensively, obviously, as he has to fit into the structure of the team and to do his defensive role. But I don’t see there being any negative of him venturing a little further forward.

Although there was disappointment afterwards, Mason Mount finally got his first Man Utd goal at the weekend. How much weight does that lift off a player’s shoulders after so long, and obviously a hampered season?

I think it’s huge for him. I’m really happy for him. There’s nothing worse than going to a new club and being injured and missing games straight away and he’s missed a lengthy time. So it must have been really difficult for him mentally. So, happy for him that he’s got off the scoresheet. That’s what he was brought in for, to get into advanced midfield or get into the box, score goals, create chances. And we’ve certainly missed him this year. And hopefully this can be the start of a run. It’s going to be difficult, there’s not a lot of games left. We know that when players come back from long-term injuries like this, they generally play really well for two or three games and run on adrenaline and then hit a bit of a flat spot where you get a little bit tired and you don’t understand why. But it’s just purely from coming back from injury. So hopefully he can have a couple of good games now and get a few minutes in and you know, add to the run-in, and score some goals and get his confidence back and be ready and fresh for next season.

Can you see Mason Mount building on that goal and kicking on for the remainder of the season? Or will it just be about finding his feet after a campaign hampered by injury?

I do think it’s hard to say really kick on because there’s only, what, eight or nine games left. So I think he’s an amazing addition to the team. I think he’s got legs and energy. He gets around the pitch. Like I said, he can create and score goals. So I think he’s a really good player to have back at this time of the season. But from his own personal standpoint I think it’s very difficult to come in and make an impact for all eight games. I think he will come on as a sub a few times. I think he will tire in games a little, but I think he will also make a decent impact for the next eight games as well. So I think the manager’s got to just be careful what he does with him.

Lee Sharpe was speaking to Squawka on behalf of BetVictor.