It’s been a season of inconsistency and transition at Manchester United. The Red Devils pulled off memorable wins against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in December, but it’s equally hard to forget defeats to Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Burnley at various stages of the campaign.
There is an air of positivity surrounding Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s squad though – his side is the youngest in the Premier League with an average age of 25.2. Academy graduates like Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood are being integrated into the team, and the club’s recruitment has markedly improved over the past year.
While there is still some way to go, United may only be a few pieces of the puzzle away from competing with the country’s top teams once again.
The most pressing issue for the club to address is whether they are able to extend Odion Ighalo’s loan deal from Shanghai Shenhua. United are short of striking options this term, so will be keen to have the 30-year-old forward in their squad when the 2019/20 season gets underway again in June. It remains to be seen whether his parent club are as keen for him to stay in England though.
Ighalo has impressed during his short spell at Old Trafford, scoring four goals and assisting one in just 356 minutes of first-team action. He may not be a long-term solution up front, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the former Watford man sign on a permanent basis this summer.
There are no senior first-team players out of contract in the coming months, but a number of fringe squad members could be sold when the transfer window re-opens. Centre-backs Chris Smalling (currently on loan at Roma), Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo (on loan at Estudiantes) appear surplus to requirements, although there are doubts as to whether Roma have the funds to make Smalling’s move to the Italian capital permanent. The England international has been in scintillating form for the Giallorossi, so shouldn’t be short of suitors.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for midfielder Jesse Lingard, who looks in need of a fresh start after going without a Premier League goal or assist since December 2018. United won’t be as desperate to sell Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata, but could be tempted to part with either player if a reasonable offer comes along.
Talented youngster Angel Gomes’ future at Old Trafford is on a knife-edge. The 19-year-old’s current deal expires this summer and he is frustrated at a lack of first-team opportunities. Solskjær is keen to keep the England Under-20 international but Barcelona and Chelsea are rumoured to be considering offering him a contract.
United will be hoping that someone is willing to take a gamble on forward Alexis Sánchez. Internazionale are unlikely to extend the former Arsenal star’s loan deal, so the club are likely to be touting him around to any club with the financial muscle to handle his £350,000-a-week wages. Finding a buyer is going to be particularly tough in the current market.
Finally, the elephant in the room is the future of Paul Pogba. All indications were the midfielder would move to a club of Juventus or Real Madrid’s ilk in the next window. But the COVID-19 epidemic has now raised serious questions about whether anyone will meet United’s asking price.
With Bruno Fernandes making an impressive start to his Manchester United career, a move elsewhere for Pogba is surely the best option for both parties. The Red Devils may lower their demands in order to get a deal done.
Key areas to strengthen
If Smalling, Jones and Rojo leave the club an additional centre-back to compete with Harry Maguire, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf would give United real depth at the heart of their defence.
There is also room for improvement at left-back. Luke Shaw is competent and Williams has plenty of potential, but signing a left-sided player to match the quality of Aaron Wan-Bissaka would push United to a new level.
A central midfielder partner for Fernandes is high on Solskjær’s wish list, as is a top-class right winger to ease the burden on young speed merchant Daniel James.
Despite the best efforts of Marcus Rashford, Greenwood and Ighalo, Manchester United have lacked a natural goalscorer up front since Romelu Lukaku’s departure last summer. A 20-goal a season striker won’t come cheap, but signing one could go a long way to helping the club mount a title challenge in 2019/20.
Manchester United fans will be excited by some of the names being linked with a move to Old Trafford when the transfer window reopens.
There is a feeling in some quarters the Red Devils are in pole position to sign both Jack Grealish from Aston Villa and Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho. Those deals could set the club back an eye-watering £160million for the pair.
As if that isn’t enough, chief executive Ed Woodward is reportedly targeting a big-name forward, with RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner and Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Raúl Jiménez believed to be top of his shopping list.
That’s not to suggest United’s focus on youth is set to end this summer though – they are one of the favourites to sign £30million-rated Birmingham City wonderkid Jude Bellingham and may bulk up their defensive options with a move for young Real Valladolid centre-back Mohammed Salisu.
Whether there is enough in Manchester United’s transfer kitty to afford so many top signings in one summer is up for debate. But one thing is for sure – it’s set to be a busy, and potentially expensive, summer at Old Trafford.