Manchester United find themselves in a better position than most this summer. Of course, the coronavirus has impacted their finances, as with everyone else, but in terms of bargaining power in the transfer window, they’re in a relatively comfortable position.
This is something seen clearly with their pursuit of Jadon Sancho, who looks set to cost the club no less than £120m.
In attack there is clear need to reinforce. The players they have in those positions are among the finest in the country, but they can’t be asked to play 60-odd games per season without at least some rotation. Don’t forget – I know it’s hard to – but Mason Greenwood is only 18 years old.
There is depth in this squad, no doubt, but is it the right depth? That’s another kettle of fish.
Some areas, such as central midfield, looks fairly well stocked at present. Nemanja Matic signed a new deal, Fred was arguably the club’s best midfielder this season prior to Bruno Fernandes entering the fray, while Scott McTominay continues to show signs of promise with each passing game, and Paul Pogba is very obviously world class. In central midfield, they’ve got five solid options. That’s not bad. Not bad at all.
Yet some of the fringe players in other areas don’t look up to scratch. At right-back, Timothy Fosu-Mensah doesn’t scream ‘Manchester United quality’. He had some decent touches against LASK, but ‘some decent touches’ against the Austrian side – no disrespect to them – isn’t the level required.
Then there is Diogo Dalot, who remains at the club on the periphery of the first team. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has the position nailed down, and he hasn’t been given the minutes to prove his worth.
Across the defence there is Brandon Williams. Of all the first team players, you can argue he looks closest to challenging for a starting role. The local lad put in another good shift at Old Trafford – in a drab affair – but is growing in confidence and is on course to have a fruitful career with his boyhood club. A new four-year deal is evidence of the confidence in him.
In central defence, however, there are some concerns. Again, numbers wise, United are fine. Quality wise, there are concerns. Injuries meant Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s hands were tied for Wednesday night, with Eric Bailly forced to come in to the team. Victor Lindelof has blown hot and cold, but isn’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon.
Behind them? Yeah, not great. Chris Smalling is coming back but could be sold for a profit. Phil Jones is, well, Phil Jones. Marcos Rojo needs shifting. Axel Tuanzebe can only last so long before seeking regular football elsewhere. Solskjaer has players, but they’re not the best ones.
In forward areas, Juan Mata, for all his great service and willingness, is no longer the player he once was. He looked off the pace against LASK, struggled with his delivery and couldn’t affect proceedings in the right way. A squad player for now, but an upgrade is needed.
Jesse Lingard is nowhere near the player we saw head to Russia with England two years ago. His touch is poor, his positioning off. For all his effort, he simply isn’t United quality anymore. Against a LASK side with nothing to lose he got a goal when played clean through, but otherwise he was muscled off the ball or caught in possession. Tried his best but his days look numbered at the club.
The same applies for Andreas Pereira. He was given a run in the team this season in the absence of Paul Pogba, yet you could list the above to describe Lingard and just replace the name. Try and try some more, but for what United are looking to achieve, he’s not the man to help them do so.
Coming on to the actual match itself, from a general perspective, it was very, very poor. In a sense you’d think that given the substantial lead United held over their opponents there would be a certain freedom to their play. Not the case.
Laboured, uninterested and ineffective, everything they tried to muster up in the final third trickled into the goalkeeper’s hands or went out for a goal kick. It wasn’t great. Sorry, I’ll rephrase: it was dire.
Yet, there is an air of, ‘yeah, so what?’ to the display.
Hardly any use over asserting yourself and risking injury in a match you’ve no reason to go full pelt for. If there were fans there then the case would be stronger, but they aren’t in the stands. Worst comes to worst, just turn the channel over.
United may have got themselves to this stage of the Europa League with a similar side to what we saw at Old Trafford, but the fact is this: a rotated Man Utd side currently isn’t a good Man Utd side. Reinforcements are needed to ensure that that isn’t the case for much longer.