The mood surrounding Manchester United has been surprisingly buoyant after their summer of discontent, and there could be better news for Ole Gunnar Solsjkjær around the corner.
United spent roughly £155million over the summer to sign Harry Maguire (£85million), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£55million) and Dan James (£15million). But there is no getting away from the fact this squad still has plenty of holes.
We’ve looked at where Solskjær could strengthen in the new year.
In the end, even José Mourinho had to concede Shaw was probably a professional footballer, ending his targeted ‘encouragement’ of the England left-back who made the No.3 spot his own last season at long, long last.
Beneath Shaw, who is still only 24, club captain Young is the most likely alternative. Thanks to Wan-Bissaka’s arrival on the opposite side of the back four, the former winger is unlikely to start too many Premier League games this season. His contract is up next summer and this could be the veteran utility man’s final season at Old Trafford.
Ditto Rojo who made just two Premier League starts last season. The Argentine is a relic of the utterly miserable Louis van Gaal era and United are desperately trying to push the 29-year-old toward the exit door amid interest from Fenerbahçe.
Another player expected to leave, be it this month, January or next summer, is Darmian.
The Italian full-back is another reminder of LVG and, according to reports, has agreed a free transfer switch to Internazionale next summer. Having made just five starts in each of the last two Premier League campaigns he won’t be missed.
On the face of it, United looked well-stocked at No.10. But having depth and having quality in depth are two entirely different things – Solskjær’s squad badly lacks the latter.
Mata, at 31, is not the future for United. He has gradually become a rotation option at Old Trafford and, at one point, looked destined to leave United this summer with his contract running out.
The Spaniard eventually signed a new two-year deal, with the option of a third, but he is a shadow of the impish genius who ran games at Chelsea and would feature even more sparingly were the alternatives better.
The same is true of Lingard. The England international is a decent squad player but, at 26, is not the ‘prospect’ you could easily mistake him for.
A late bloomer, the Milly Rock-ing midfielder failed to build on an encouraging 2017/18, in which he netted 13 times in all competitions, and struck just five times last term.
Did Jesse Lingard score or assist a PL goal?
May 2018: no
Aug 2018: no
Sep 2018: no
Oct 2018: no
Nov 2018: no
Dec 2018: YES (4G 2A)
Jan 2019: no
Feb 2019: no
Mar 2019: no
Apr 2019: no
May 2019: no
Aug 2019: no pic.twitter.com/YGP1XOAIOg
— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) August 19, 2019
He does have a use as a versatile, low-maintenance, homegrown player but, again, he shouldn’t be counted upon as a regular starter. The statistic which emerged recently which broke down his goals and assists of the last year was damning.
At 23, Pereira is not far behind Lingard yet he too comes across as deceptively young. He has shown flashes of his ability – not least scoring a sumptuous free-kick against Liverpool at the Big House in Ann Arbour during last summer’s pre-season tour of the U.S.
Equally, he has looked lightweight, flitting in and out of games without stamping his authority on them.
Solskjær clearly believes in the Brazilian schemer but one rather suspects it’s a make-or-break year for Pereira.
We won’t include Alexis Sánchez in this list, partly because he looks set to join Lukaku at Internazionale and partly because he can hardly be considered a legitimate option for United given his miserable time at Old Trafford over the last 18 months.
That leaves the Red Devils incredibly light in the wide areas which, given their tradition for great wingers – think Beckham, Kanchelskis, Best and Giggs – is something traditionalist Solskjær might want to address sooner rather than later.
The other problem the Manchester United boss faces is that with the exception of James – who with fewer than 30 league appearances to his name is a novice – his remaining options will all be required elsewhere over the course of the season.
One of the triumphs of the opening-day win over Chelsea was the way Rashford and Martial interchanged, switching from left-wing to centre-forward, but they comprise United’s senior striking options this term. Lingard, too, is a victim of his versatility and has never nailed down a settled position at Old Trafford.
It’s particularly strange how short United look on the flanks now given when Sánchez joined from Arsenal in January 2018 it was considered a vanity signing in a position where the Red Devils were already very well-stocked.
However, the Chilean’s dismal failure to recapture anything like his best form for the Gunner in Manchester, coupled with Lingard’s inability to kick on, Lukaku’s departure and Martial’s move inside, leaves United in real need of a wide player – hence their alleged pursuit of Jadon Sancho.
Given the start United’s three summer signings have made to life at the Theatre of Dreams it’s hard to be too negative. But it’s job half done for a squad which has needed major surgery for some time.
And who knows? Maybe United will have a director of football in place by January…