It might only be February with plenty of the season left to play, but one eye is already on the summer transfer market.
Manchester United have had a mixed season so far, with the majority of rival fans mocking their sixth place standing in the Premier League. It is as if no matter how many wins or unbeaten runs the Red Devils produce, they are forever wedded to sixth position.
Potentially, United could still win two domestic competitions — the League Cup and FA Cup — along with the Europa League, enabling them to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
However, there is always room for improvement and the club have already made firm contact with one top target for the summer transfer window.
Here are three positions in which United should look to strengthen.
As has been widely reported, United have a keen interest in Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann.
The arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free transfer last summer was a very astute signing from new boss Jose Mourinho. There was plenty of criticism when United announced the arrival of the Swedish icon, given that he was 34 years old and was coming from the French league, which has been labelled ‘uncompetitive’.
However, as he has done throughout the whole of his career since his early days at Malmo FF, Ibrahimovic proved the critics wrong. His 20 goals in 35 games to date is a superb return, especially considering he’s nearing the end of his career and the fact that this is his first stint in England.
But the former AC Milan and Barcelona star isn’t getting any younger. And while Ibrahimovic might have another season in his legs, eventually a younger alternative will have to be sought to relieve the Swede of United’s primary goal-scoring duties.
Wayne Rooney will likely move on in the summer or, failing that, will continue to be used as a bit-part player; Anthony Martial is facing his own problems with Mourinho’s managerial decisions; and Marcus Rashford is still only 19 years old — the young English striker might be tipped for great things, but he cannot be given the burden of scoring 30 goals a season at such a tender age.
So that leaves Griezmann.
The French striker who was once told he was too small to become a professional footballer; the elite athlete who was shunned by scouts and sporting directors across Europe. If there is one undeniable quality Griezmann possesses, it’s strength of character.
How many players fall through the academy system and are never to be seen again? Griezmann had his share of setbacks, but he has come back stronger and now we are seeing the best of a truly great player.
The Atleti No.7 should not take much convincing to move to Old Trafford. The 25-year-old idolised former Red Devil David Beckham growing up, and his brother Theo — a fanatic United fan — would surely love to see his sibling play at the Theatre of Dreams. All of that, an enormous pay cheque, and close friends Pogba and Martial by his side, should help see Mourinho get his man.
United have lacked pace up top for some time now. Rashford’s a good alternative to buck that trend, but Mourinho seems adamant on placing him on the left flank more than down the middle at this point in his career.
Griezmann is a player who thrives on running in-behind defences and causing havoc in the channels. Pogba regularly looks to float lofted passes in behind the opposition for Ibrahimovic to run on to, but, because the Swede lacks the pace to burst beyond his marker, scoring chances don’t materialise as often as they could.
It will take a whopping fee — and potentially Chelsea’s help in selling Diego Costa back to Atletico — but United have the resources to land Griezmann. After all, Ed Woodward, the club’s executive vice-chairman, supposedly wants a marquee signing every season. Well, here he is, Ed.
There was widespread speculation that Benfica defender Victor Lindelof was joining United in January, but the deal never came to fruition. This was largely because Mourinho had newfound faith in Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones at centre-back.
The two have formed an unlikely partnership in defence and gained the confidence of the manager. In fact, some fans would argue that Rojo has been one of United’s most improved players this season and would like to see him partnered with Eric Bailly.
There is an academy starlet by the name of Axel Tuanzebe who will eventually come through the ranks and take a position in United’s first-team. Central defenders don’t normally peak until their late 20s, so the 19-year-old has plenty of time to make his breakthrough.
In the mean time, it looks as if United will finally purchase Lindelof in the summer. However, they will need to fend off the interest from Barcelona and other European teams for the young star.
It is no secret that Michael Carrick eventually needs replacing at the heart of United’s midfield. As much as fans may not wish to admit it, the 35-year-old is approaching the end of his career.
As proven this season, without Carrick in the team the Red Devils look uneasy and unstable; unbalanced. When the former England international is playing, it allows Pogba the freedom to push forward and move into positions he is more accustomed to.
So, who could replace Carrick? There has been talk of AS Monaco’s Tiemoue Bayakoko. The 22-year-old central midfielder possesses similar attributes to the veteran United man: composed, intelligent and the ability to thread a ball through the eye of a needle.
He is tall in stature and has a demeanour about him that demands respect from the opposition. With Pogba and Herrera either side of him, Bakayoko could help form a formidable midfield for United.