Sky Sports News’ North West reporter James Cooper looks at the pressing issues coming out of Manchester United and the potential transfer activity following the signing of Donny van de Beek…
For Manchester United fans who’ve been gnashing their teeth at the lack of transfer activity this summer, many will admit they’ve been impressed with the speed and smoothness of a deal for Donny van de Beek that improves their midfield options at a price that doesn’t look excessive.
What’s more is that the Dutchman’s arrival prompted a thirst for more activity.
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Jack Grealish may have been the ideal target to sit alongside Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, but Aston Villa’s Premier League survival made him become simply too expensive and he is no longer considered as someone to bring in this summer – that ship has sailed.
However, Jadon Sancho remains their number one target and there’s still optimism that a deal can be done with Borussia Dortmund. In fact, that may prove to be the least treacherous part of actually bringing the player to Old Trafford in the coming weeks – the major hurdles remain Sancho’s wages and the agents’ fees that have been described as “outrageous”.
Movements in these areas would allow a transfer to be unlocked and there’s still a lot of hope that a solution can be found to finally keep all parties happy, especially as there’s a belief Sancho would like to join Ole’s project.
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A £40m deal for someone who has played first-team football for Ajax, made his mark in the Champions League, scored 40 goals in three seasons and is still only 23-years-old looks like a good piece of business. Van de Beek was captivated by Solskjaer’s plans and that increases the anticipation that the number 34 is another piece in a jigsaw designed to make United real contenders at home and abroad.
The one question is how does he fit into the Solskjaer system and first-team picture? The answer lies in the end of a season that saw Manchester United grab an impressive third-place finish but then run out of gas when Europa League glory beckoned.
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Van de Beek is a different player to either Fernandes or Pogba, he can sit deep and create or play higher up the pitch, chip in with goals to cut the offensive gap with Liverpool and Manchester City, find space and knit play bringing other players into the game.
It’ll be a case of rotating and resting the trio with two of the three tending to play, but that doesn’t mean all three of them couldn’t line up together. Van de Beek could also provide cover for the defence alongside Pogba as he could next to the likes of Matic, McTominay or Fred.
No Upamecano, Smalling to stay?
The other area of the team that needs attention is defence. Dayot Upamecano was extensively scouted and impressed United’s recruitment experts, but he won’t be coming to Old Trafford this summer.
The RB Leipzig defender is someone who might be a target further on down the line, perhaps even next summer, although there will be more suitors for his signature if he continues to impress. Solskjaer would still like a quality signing to put the right sort of pressure on Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire.
Maguire, much like Bruno, was very heavily relied upon last season – he wants to play in every game but the demands on him next season as captain of a side with even greater ambitions mean he’ll have to be rested every now and then.
Funnily enough the solution to that dilemma could come from Chris Smalling, who was expected to depart in this window. The 30-year-old’s stock has risen thanks to his loan spell at Roma – he loved playing in Italy, made a fantastic impression and while there’s plenty of clamour for him to return, there’s been no fresh approach from Roma yet.
It’s 50/50 whether he stays or goes – part of his thinking will be how much game-time he’d get if he remained in Manchester and if Roma come back with a more impressive offer it might be hard for United to resist. But if he’s seen as a true candidate for centre-back by Solskjaer, it might provide added spending power elsewhere.
It’ll also be intriguing to see where Marcos Rojo finds himself next season, whether Axel Tuanzebe can shake off injuries to fulfil his potential and, with Teden Mengi making his presence felt, if Eric Bailly can mount his own challenge.
The No 1 conundrum
One of the key areas for discussion will be which of David de Gea or Dean Henderson will be wearing the gloves when Crystal Palace come to town on September 19. Solskjaer wants competition for places across his squad but there’s never been a situation when each man has a genuine and strong argument to be the club’s number one.
Dean Henderson is an ambitious young ‘keeper who made his mark on loan and returns with a lucrative long-term deal and England ambitions – Solskjaer has said publicly that his destiny is to be the first choice for club and country.
Up against him is a multiple player-of-the year winner and one of Manchester United’s most highly paid assets, but even De Gea would be slightly perplexed by the errors that made his end to the season disappointing. Perhaps a real threat in Henderson will be just the catalyst to see De Gea elevated again to one of the world’s best.
In the short term, the man to lose out appears to be Sergio Romero, who’s certainly too good to be a No 3 ‘keeper and there are plenty of clubs speaking to Manchester United about trying to sign the Argentina international.
Where does the future lie for Lingard?
Looking back at a season that delivered so much more than what was thought at the turn of the year, Solskjaer concluded that an over-reliance on Bruno Fernandes couldn’t continue. He’s become the team’s driving force and conductor but the closing games demonstrated that even a signing of the season contender can’t do it all on his own.
With Premier League progress a target plus a return to the Champions League, Fernandes won’t and shouldn’t play in every game. The team will benefit from a player who’s allowed to be at the peak of his powers more often.
It seems odd that Pogba is also someone to plan a new season around rather than a doubt or a problem, the freeing up of a chunk of wages should facilitate a new deal for him and there’s no doubt he’ll be fitter and more effective when he returns to the side.
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