It's been a quiet summer for Manchester United in the transfer window. While their Premier League rivals Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal have all been active in the transfer market and have made some early signings, Manchester United haven't made any so far and are in danger of falling behind the pack.
After the COVID-19 outbreak, Manchester United had a good run of results to produce a strong end to their league season. They finished a creditable third in the 2019-20 Premier League, behind Manchester City and Liverpool.
This summer presents them a good opportunity to build on that progress and bolster their squad. But to compete for a top-two slot next season, they need to strengthen a few positions on the pitch.
Here are three such positions the club should look to bolster for mounting a Premier League title challenge next season.
3 positions Manchester United need to strengthen:
#1: Left-Footed Centre-Back
While Harry Maguire improved Manchester United’s defence, the side still looked shaky at the back at times. The Red Devils need a long-term central defensive partner for the Englishman, preferably someone who is left-footed, as that would help to build the play from the back and also lend more balance to the backline.
The first option Manchester United could consider in this regard is Borussia Dortmund centre-back Dan-Axel Zagadou. The Frenchman has been compared with the likes of Samuel Umtiti, and his towering frame and ability on the ball makes him a quintessential modern-day centre-back.
Standing at 6' 5", Zagadou is perfectly suited to play in the Premier League. Last season, he had a pass-completion rate of 91.7%, a long-pass completion of 85.7% and made 4.26 passes per 90 into the final third.
He also averaged 3.26 aerial duels won per 90 last season, with a win percentage of 71.9. With only two years left on his contract, Dortmund may be open to selling Zagadou at the right price.
The next option Manchester United could consider for this position is the newly crowned Champions League winner David Alaba.
Alaba excelled at centre-back this season and was an integral part of Bayern Munich’s treble-winning side. He had a pass completion of 90.6% and averaged 9.98 passes into the final third per 90, which was the most for any centre-back in Europe’s top five leagues.
With the Austrian only having a year left on his current contract with Bayern Munich, reports suggest that he might be on his way to England. However, BILD’s head of Football Christian Falk has quashed these rumours and says that signing the Austrian may be a bit unrealistic for Manchester United this summer.
Villareal and Spain's centre-back Pau Torres is another probable contender for Manchester United's central defence.
The 23-year-old had a breakout season with Villareal, which helped him earn a first callup to the Spain national side in November. He is blessed with lightning pace and athleticism and was the fastest defender in La Liga last season, clocking a high speed of 34.9kmph. Torres is incredibly composed defensively and was only dribbled past 0.2 times per 90 last season.
Clubs like Barcelona are said to be monitoring his situation. While he does have four years left on his contract, there is a £45.5 million release clause in his contract, which Manchester United could hope to trigger.
#2: Central Defensive Midfielder
Nemanja Matic enjoyed a resurgence in central midfield for Manchester United since the restart . However, at 32, he is not a long-term prospect for the club. While Scott McTominay has shown some promise, Manchester United need to sign a central defensive midfielder who could be paired with Pogba and also provide cover for defence.
The first option Manchester United might consider in this regard is midfielder William Carvalho.
Carvalho is a budget option for the Red Devils, but could be a great addition to the Manchester United midfield. He is a Portuguese international who has fabulous defensive prowess. With an excellent reading of the game, he also has superb positional awareness and knows how to break up opposition play.
An underrated part of his game is his excellent passing range; he had an 89% pass completion in La Liga last season. Carvalho is an imposing defensive presence and has the physicality to be successful in the Premier League.
Another option Manchester United could consider for defensive midfield is 17-year-old Eduardo Camavinga. The Rennes midfielder is one of the brightest young prospects in Europe and has been linked with the likes of Real Madrid.
Camavinga was one of the brightest sparks in Ligue 1 last season. He averaged 7.73 successful pressures per 90 and won an impressive 2.3 tackles won per 90 . He also averaged 1.46 interceptions per game and had a tidy pass completion rate of 89%.
Manchester United, however, are likely to face a lot of competition for the 17-year-old's signature but securing his services would be a statement signing for the Red Devils.
A third option for Manchester United's central defensive midfield is Atletico Madrid and Ghana midfielder Thomas Partey.
The midfield general has been heavily linked with Arsenal, but the London club seem reluctant to pay his £45 million release clause, something Manchester United could possibly afford.
Partey plays primarily as a defensive midfielder in Diego Simeone’s 4-4-2 system but can also be a box-to-box midfielder.
He averaged 2.3 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per game last season and is an excellent ball-winner. The Ghanian is also known for his dribbling; he averaged 1.8 successful dribbles per 90 last season, doing so with an incredibly high dribble success rate of 84%.
While Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have been electric in front of goal this season, Manchester United need some replenishments on the right-wing. Dan James is not ready to be a starter, and Mason Greenwood’s long-term future is in the number nine role. But there are a few players for this position whom Manchester United could look to bring in this summer.
The first one in this regard is Lucas Ocampos, the Argentine winger, whose goal knocked Manchester United out of the Europa League in the semifinal stage.
He was excellent for Sevilla last season; the club finished fourth and won the Europa League, with Ocampos scoring 14 goals and bagging three assists.
Ocampos can be incredibly direct. That was evident in his tally of 2.7 shots per game last season as well as 2.97 successful dribbles per 90. He is also known for his pace and intelligent movements in the final third, which makes him a menace in front of goal.
Another player Manchester United could look to get is winger Ismaila Sarr from recently-relegated Watford. Sarr has more Premier League experience than Ocampos and could be a much cheaper option given that Watford have been relegated.
He managed five goals and four assists in the Premier League last season, but his xG suggested that the winger could have been more prolific. Sarr created 3.23 shot-creating actions per 90 and managed 2.27 dribbles per 90.
The winger's most dangerous asset, though, is his blistering pace and movement, something that was particularly on show last season when Watford ended champions Liverpool’s unbeaten run with a 3-0 victory.
The third player who I think Manchester United should to get for this position is Jadon Sancho.
Sancho had an unbelievable 2019-20 season, scoring 17 goals and bagging 16 assists for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. He had an astonishing non-penalty xG of 0.35 per 90 as well as an xA of 0.32 per 90. The Englishman averaged 3.78 dribbles and 4.39 shot-creating actions per 90 last season.
Manchester United and Dortmund are haggling over the player's price, with Dortmund asking for a transfer fee in excess of £100 million. Although the price does seem like a lot, signing a player of Sancho's calibre and ability would address a deficiency on the pitch for Manchester United and add to an array of world-class talent in the team.Published 25 Aug 2020, 17:07 IST