Football Features

Pros and cons: Assessing Manchester United’s potential January signings

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:11, 28 October 2019

Manchester United’s squad is in need of improvement, dire improvement.

After a run of four games without a win, the Red Devils have now come out victorious in two games on the spin and will be looking to win three consecutive matches for the first time since March.

Despite this resurgence of form, the major issue facing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the lack of quality in his squad. United signed well in the summer, with all three of the men Solskjaer recruited providing great value so far this season, but they didn’t sign enough. They were arguably two players short of gathering everything they need, and their midfield and attack is notably short of options.

“We’re looking at one or two new signings. We’re one or two players light, and we’ve said that, but if the right ones are available in January then we might do something,” Solskjaer said recently, adding: “the money is there to strengthen in January and in the summer.”

But who might these one or two new signings be? We’ve had a look at who United have been linked with and come up with a list. Although as Solskjaer says: “it’s not right if you don’t get the right players.”

So we’ve also looked at our list and come up with pros and cons for every player, seeing how they would fit United and if there’d be any issues.

Christian Eriksen

Attacking midfielder, Tottenham Hotspur

Pro: The obvious pro here is that he is a stupendous footballer that plays in a position of great and terrible need for Manchester United. The Red Devils have been rocking this 4-2-3-1 shape all season without a no. 10 worthy of the name, and Eriksen fits the bill perfectly.

United’s great weakness this season has been their inability to create a consistent number of chances when they can’t play on the break, and Eriksen instantly fixes that giving The Red Devil’s someone to play through in the final third, someone who can play that killer pass to unlock a defence sat in deep – since the start of 2016/17 no Premier League player has created more chances than Eriksen (293) and only David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne have created more big chances than his 44. He’d be a perfect fit and Spurs would want to sell.

Con: Eriksen allegedly already turned United down in the summer, and although six months sat on the Spurs bench may have changed his tune regarding Old Trafford it’s worth noting that Solskjaer has built his regime thus far on having players who really want to play for the club. Someone like Eriksen who is merely accepting the job as a way out of Spurs doesn’t fit that ethos.

Given Solskjaer has said, “I’m not going to go down the route of bringing players in on big contracts and big fees if they’re not the right ones for the whole group and for the future,” then perhaps Eriksen’s surly nature would make him a bad choice for United. And questions over his true quality remain.

Erling Braut Haaland

Striker, RB Salzburg

Pro: He’s young, he’s gifted and he scores goals for fun. Erling Braut Haaland has played three Champions League games and has scored six goals. That’s a phenomenal total for a teenager, even one who looks like he was genetically engineered in a lab to try and make the perfect footballer. Also: he’s worked under Solskjaer before at Molde and is a born goalscorer, which United need.

Con: Erling Haaland’s dad is a Manchester City and Leeds legend who loathes the Red Devils, which you’d imagine could play some part in his future. Meanwhile, he is actually in the Champions League and attracting loads of interest so you’d expect the vast majority of teams after him wouldn’t be asking him to drop down to the Europa League. Moreover whilst his youth is a big plus in one way, United already have a vast stable of young strikers, it could be argued that what they need is a more experienced head to guide the youngsters.

Sean Longstaff

Defensive midfielder, Newcastle

Pro: Manchester United tried in vain to sign Sean Longstaff in the summer. They correctly identified that they needed a defensive midfielder and pegged Longstaff as their man, however they declined to match Newcastle’s valuation. Longstaff has since proven that United were right to identify him as the man to fill in their defensive midfield hole, most notably against United themselves. He’s young, he’s talented and he’s playing for a club that would release him for the right price.

Con: Longstaff is pretty inexperienced. This is just his second season of Premier League football. Moreover, that “right price” Newcastle have quoted is a fairly high £50m. He’s never played in Europe so whether or not he’d be able to handle a game every three days is an unanswered question. Signing him comes with a whole host of risks on top of the usual ones for any transfers.

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Moussa Dembélé

Striker, Lyon

Pro: He’s mobile, athletic and has a tremendous eye for goal. Dembélé is a young hotshot who has more than proven that he can handle the absurd physical rigours of British football having scored 51 goals in 94 games for Celtic. He’s maintained a one-in-two goalscoring rate throughout his young career and at Lyon has looked capable of taking the next step.

Con: He’s a young French striker, and Manchester United already have one of those excelling at leading the line. Dembélé offers no significant upgrade on Anthony Martial except for a more consistent goalscoring threat, but Martial has shown that when fit and playing in attack, he is plenty clinical himself.

So United would be spending £40m to merely double-up on their striking options, which may seem good but then, when everyone is fit, Solskjaer has a selection headache with three forwards who will want to start and yet just two positions (neither Dembélé, Martial or Rashford can play well as a right-winger) to start in.

Kalvin Phillips

Defensive midfielder, Leeds

Pro: He’s young and he’s excellent. Phillips has been taught by footballing grandmaster Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds and has improved immeasurably as a result. He wins the ball back well, covers for his full-backs superbly and controls possession of games with an impressive range of passing. He takes no prisoners and could bring a warrior mentality to the midfield. United have sent Mike Phelan and Kieran McKenna to watch him, so they are clearly interested.

Con: Phillips wouldn’t come cheap. Leeds have already rejected a £27m bid for his service, and there’s obviously the lingering question as to how well his talents would scale to the Premier League. It seems likely but there is absolutely no proof. So, as with Sean Longstaff, there’s a big risk assumed in signing him for what would probably be around £50m.

Thomas Muller

Forward, Bayern Munich

Pro: Where to start? Thomas Muller is one of the greatest forwards of his generation. A Treble winner, a World Cup winner, and a multi-time champion of Germany. He’s a phenomenal passer, able to link with and bring the best out of his team-mates, he’s an unorthodox goalscorer who can reach fairly impressive output in the right circumstances.

Muller is the kind of veteran seen-it-all presence that the United front line (and team in general) sorely needs. He’s a ceaseless professional who would demand new levels of application from a young side as he slots seamlessly into the gaping void United have at no. 10. Looking at this possible transfer on paper it’s hard to spot a single problem.

Con: Bayern Munich are ready to move him on for a reason, and that is because Muller hasn’t really produced anything like his best football for a while now. Muller may slot well into no. 10 but that seems to be the only position he’s capable of playing to a high level, so if United want to change formation then they, like Bayern, will find it very hard to squeeze Muller into the line-up.

There’s also the fact that signing him would mean committing enormous wages to a 30-year-old forward who may not even want to play for the club. The chance for this move to result in Muller being a German Alexis Sánchez is fairly high, which is precisely opposite to the direction Solskjaer wants the team to be heading in.