I wouldn’t be judging any of the Manchester United summer signings just yet, as none have been given a fair crack at the whip. They’ve either been injured and unable to play regularly, or have seen their form impacted by the injuries and the dysfunctional play of the team as a whole.
Be that Mount and Amrabat whose injuries have disrupted their ability to settle. Or Onana with the every changing and seriously weakened defence in front of him leaving him over exposed and over worked. Or Hojlund with a dysfunctional midfield creating pretty much zero chances for him. None have had a fair chance to show what they are capable of in a United shirt.
There are many more pressing needs than trying to upgrade the United keeper. Our succession planning is so poor that we went from having DDG, arguably the best No.2 in the league in Romero and probably the most promising young English goalkeeper in Henderson at the time. To having Onana bought for £50m, with Bayindir and Heaton as back up.
DDG should never have been given his last big contract. Since he signed that his form went out the window, only partially recovering last season when he was playing for a new deal. We should have let him leave then, given Romero the No.1 shirt for a season to see how he can do with Henderson as back up. Given both of them a shot to see what they could do while we scouted for the best up and coming young keepers.
We could have signed someone like Mike Maignon who would have been available and is probably one of only a handful of keepers who I would say are definitely better than Onana. The others for me who are a cut above Onana are Alisson, Ter Stegen and Courtois. Neuer sadly will need a miracle to return at all, let alone return to the same level he was at before.
There are other good keepers, but they all have clear weaknesses and for me are much of a muchness with Onana. None of the ones who are better than Onana are going to be available, maybe Maignon if we offered a big enough fee to AC Milan might be getable. But we aren’t going to be signing the first choice keepers from Liverpool, Barcelona or Real Madrid. Besides two of them are also out with long term injuries.
Any other possible targets we could sign in the goalkeeper position are either younger players with potential or players on a similar level to Onana (great at some things, but with a clear area or two of weakness). So for me there is little point in looking to spend money on a keeper who at best might be marginally better overall. When we have 5 or 6 other positions that are in desperate need of improvement and all could be significantly improved.
For me the only way to improve a squad is by improving its weakest area. Take a weakness and make it a strength. Then your second weakest area becomes your new weakest and then you focus on improving that. If you approach it that way you will see the quickest turn around as you are always addressing an area where you can see the most growth / improvement. Eventually your weakest area is a marginal weakness, and you’ll make improvements without seeing a big upturn in quality or output.
That is why I find it funny when people talk about replacing players like Rashford or Bruno. While we could find players who are better for the team than them, it’s not likely that we would see a massive change in output from the new players compared to Rashford / Bruno. Two players who have been responsible for over 65% of all our goals either through scoring or assisting.
Surely before you replace them two you replace the other forward / midfield options who aren’t performing on that level. Get other players capable of creating and scoring at a similar or better rate than them, then you can look to replace them when they are no longer crucial to your team.
Good squad management is about planning ahead and always focusing your recruitment towards improving your biggest weakness. Be that through bringing an academy player in to fill out squad depth and add competition. Signing a young player to develop into a top level player because there is no one in your academy who can fulfil that role. Or just signing a top player or a player ready to step up to being a top player because the need is immediate. It should always be about identifying where you are weakest and focusing on improving that.
For me our biggest area of weakness right now is central midfield. Due to Casemiro and Eriksen declining and Mainoo being the only one who looks ready and capable of playing at the required level. And he’s only 18 so can’t be relied upon to be consistent. The other options are Donny, McTominay and Amrabat (whose only on loan) . We need a minimum of two signings in midfield, maybe three if one of Eriksen or Casemiro leave.
Even if we are prepared to give one of Hannibal or Gore a squad role. For me in an ideal world we sign two midfielders, keep Casemiro as a squad option for another season along with Mainoo as the four main options, with Hannibal staying as 5th choice. Giving him a chance to stake a claim and prove himself. Then you loan out Gore to a top championship side to get regular minutes.
The following summer, you have both your new signings and Mainoo fighting it out for two starting positions, you let Casemiro leave then you keep one of Hannibal or Gore as your 4th choice option. Unless both have shown that they aren’t good enough them you look to bring in a new midfielder.
Once midfield is sorted then for me we need to address CB. Again I think we need two CBs. We might be able to get away with one CB if both Varane stays and Martinez comes back to the same level as he was at last season. However, if either Martinez can’t regain his best form or Varane leaves we will need two CBs, definitely two if both Varane leaves and Martinez doesn’t fully recover.
Maybe Kambwala can be the 4th choice, maybe Evans could stay for one more season. Either way both of Maguire and Lindelof should leave as neither have a long term future here as neither are good enough or suited to a front foot style of play. So CB, should be our second priority. So already we’ve had to sign 4 players two midfielders and two CBs.
Then I’d say CF is the next area of weakness, although it’s a funny one. Hojlund I think is going to be the long term first choice. But Martial needs to leave which then leaves us with only Rashford as cover. We need another CF, but we need someone who is more experienced than the 20 year old Hojlund, but not someone who’ll be a long term road block to him getting the game time he needs to develop.
The problem is that even decent strikers cost a fortune. Personally my ideal signing would be Ollie Watkins. He’s 27, experienced, EPL proven, can lead the line or play wide, and is a very good creative link man up front, so would suit playing with players like Rashford, Garnacho or Antony who are all wide players who look to shoot more than create chances. By the time Watkins is 30 Hojlund would be 23 and ready to be the first choice, having shared the role for a couple of years, while Watkins would still be good enough to be a solid option off the bench.
However, let’s be real, he’ll cost upwards of £70m from Aston Villa who might well qualify for the UCL this season. So we would almost certainly have to look elsewhere, but I’m struggling to come up with anyone who’d be less than £60m who is anywhere near good enough. Which might mean that CF will have to make do for a year as we certainly can’t afford to spend big on a striker as well as signing the midfielders and CBs that are a more critical need.
After CF it’s a coin toss between RW and RB. We have more established options at RB in Dalot and AWB, but neither are good enough. While RW has become a nightmare with both Sancho and Antony being bought for big money and neither convincing. Personally I think RB is the better position to look at improving, as we know for certain that the current options are only good enough as squad options and not first choice.
Whereas at RW, while Sancho will surely leave this summer, there is a bit of a shadowy question mark over Greenwood who could be brought back in (while I disagree with it on principle, from a tactical point of view he would also solve the issue in terms of back up at CF). While Antony will not be sold as he’s been signed too recently and could do a job as a squad option. Like we saw against Villa he could be a useful option to add energy late in games. We could also maybe see Mount or Amad make a case for starting as our RW, especially if we signed an attacking RB who’d overlap to create width allow them to be that creative spark in the inside right channel.
So I’d probably say after signing two midfielders and two CBs I’d look at an attacking RB / RWB type player who would be first choice RB, but play very high offering attacking width and allowing players like Mount or Amad to start on the right but come inside where they are more dangerous. Ideally, we would sign a CF before or as well as a RB, but realistically there just won’t be the budget to sign either 6 first team players or 5 with one of them being a CF due to the massive fees even average CF’s go for.
I mean we could take a punt on someone like Toney who’d be a good player for us, but he hasn’t played football in 6 months, has a gambling ban against his name and would still likely cost £50-60m. I’ve mentioned names like Santiago Gimenez from Feyenoord as a possible CF option, 22 years old, had a really good 18 months or so and looks ready for a step up and well suited to playing as a lone CF who can press and link play. But have been told even he would cost upwards of £60m even from the Eredivisie.
So I’m really out of ideas for cheaper, but still quality striker options. A real outside shout could be bringing Benzema back for a year or two from Saudi Arabia if he wants to come back to Europe, or spending £50m+ on Griezmann.
A player I really like and think could be excellent as a creative, hard working line leading striker is Joao Pedro from Brighton. We probably should have made an effort to challenge Brighton for his signature last summer when he joined from Watford. He’s the top scorer in the Europa League this season and I think for the £30m Brighton paid I can’t see any better value for money options. Now though he’d also be £60m+ no doubt. There just aren’t many good options out there, and all are massively overpriced.
Written by Shappy December 29 2023 08:20:58