Where Do Manchester United Need To Strengthen To Turn Into Title Winners?

Where Do Manchester United Need To Strengthen To Turn Into Title Winners?
Jul 4, 2017

Featured Manchester United

José Mourinho’s first season at Manchester United divided opinion upon fans. Expected to challenge for the league title with the additions of record signing Paul Pogba and veteran goalscoring machine Zlatan Ibrahimović, United fell far from expectations as they finished a lowly sixth – a mammoth TWENTY FOUR points behind league winners Chelsea. However, the Portuguese manager delivered two domestic trophies in the shape of the Community Shield and EFL Cup and found another way of getting the Red Devils back into the UEFA Champions League by winning the UEFA Europa League.

With his key targets identified and substantial funds to spend, I am going to be taking a look at a few players Manchester United could be looking at as Mourinho aims to guide them back to the top of English football.

Centre-Back

United have already fulfilled Mourinho’s ambition of strengthening his central defence with the addition of Victor Lindelöf. Fans of the Red Devils will be hoping that the Swedish defender can turn out like their previous £30 million centre-halve Eric Bailly, who was a revelation in the Premier League last season. United always struggled with the option of who would partner the Ivorian as a mixture of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo all rotated in the vacant spot.

The signing of Lindelöf is set to fill that gap, providing United with a young and exciting centre-back partnership for the future. Whilst still only 22, Lindelöf isn’t short of experience having represented current club Benfica in the Champions League and playing a starting role for Sweden in their European Championship campaign last summer. The former Västerås SK player is no stranger to winning either as Benfica lifted the Portuguese title in 2016/17, with Lindelof averaging an impressive 7.03 rating over 32 appearances. 

Upon his departure from Manchester, Zlatan Ibrahimović recommended his fellow countryman to Mourinho and it is no surprise considering Lindelöf’s aggressive nature. The Swede is a no-nonsense defender and won’t give attackers an inch; something that can sometimes be a hindrance to him. He possesses a decent array of pace allowing him to sometimes rectify these errors of judgement, but in a much more competitive league where mistakes are punished more frequently, Lindelöf will have to tone his aggression if he wants to have a long-standing career at Old Trafford.

Although aggressive by nature, he does bring a calming influence throughout the back-line when on the ball. Confidence on the ball is something that is becoming more and more expected of a centre-halve in the modern era with the likes of John Stones, David Luiz and Joël Matip all being bought last summer to play as their teams ball-playing centre-halve and it seems like United have now found their man.

Defensive Midfielder

Whilst United were a resilient force at the back last season and only conceded 29 goals, they did lack the typical defensive midfielder that is normally associated with the José Mourinho system. Players such as Esteban Cambiasso, Sami Khedira, and Nemanja Matić have all thrived under Mourinho at Porto, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea respectively in title winning seasons. Players of this ilk are something few-and-far-between in the Manchester United squad, with Timothy Fosu Mensah as the only recognised defensive midfielder in the squad and he is still learning his trade in the game.

Therefore it is no surprise that the club are linked with a few names. After Monaco’s exploits in France and Europe, Fabinho was the next player linked with a move away from the principality and the two Manchester clubs arrived as the early favourites to acquire his signature. In what looks set to be a transfer saga that runs the whole distance of the summer, interest from both clubs has somewhat cooled with the Ligue 1 champions pricing their star central midfielder at around £40m. If the Brazilian does leave then whoever gets him would be guaranteeing themselves an incredible player and someone who will definitely be an upgrade on what the two clubs currently possess.

Fabinho was one of the stand-out players, not just for Monaco, but throughout the whole league, as he registered the fourth highest average rating (7.51). The 23-year-old completed 3.1 tackles on average per game last season which was much higher than any of United’s current midfielders – Herrera (2.7), Pogba (1.8), Fellaini (2) and Carrick (1.1). Pogba was often restricted from showboating his attacking prowess last season but the addition of Fabinho would allow the world record signing to excel further forward like he did to devastating effect so many times at Juventus.

Other players that have been linked to plug this hole come from the Premier League. Nemanja Matić, who has previously worked under Mourinho, enjoyed a stable season at Chelsea alongside POTY N’Golo Kante as Chelsea romped home to take the title, but his future has come into question over recent weeks. The Blues have been linked with Fabinho’s teammate Tiemoué Bakayoko throughout the summer so far in what would surely be a like for like replacement for the Serb. Therefore Mourinho has seen the opportunity to take back the defensive-midfielder he enjoyed success with from his days at Stamford Bridge to Old Trafford and some outlets have even touted that personal terms have been agreed.

Eric Dier is the other Premier League name that has been thrown into the ring and it’s reported that Mourinho has even referred to the English player as a potential Michael Carrick replacement. The current Tottenham player would cost around £50m as Mauricio Pochettino looks to keep the spine of his squad together with the aim of pushing on towards a first Premier League title. His versatility of being able to play in the midfield or in defence could make him the ideal choice for Mourinho on the basis that he looks to bolster his squad for the numerous competitions Manchester United will be fighting for next season.

Although most United fans want the more agile and tenacious Fabinho, it looks more likely that Nemanja Matić will be the signing to cover that defensive midfield position.

Winger

United strongly lacked creativity from the wings in their Premier League campaign last season and Mourinho has already identified one wide player that he wants to bring to the club in the shape of Ivan Perišić. The Croatian was one of the only shining lights in what was a frustrating season for Inter Milan where they finished a disappointing seventh. The former Borussia Dortmund player managed 11 goals and 8 assists in Serie A last season, which was more than any of United’s current wingers managed.

Negotiations have already begun and the Italian’s are trying to hold off for a fee of £50m, but are under pressure to raise £26m by the end of June to comply with financial fair play regulations. This would probably mean a fee of between £30m-£40m could be struck and Perišić is set to double his wages to £100,000. The 28-year-old is a different type of winger to what Mourinho currently has at his disposal as Perišić stands extremely tall at 187 cm. Another thing that would be extremely beneficial to United is that he can play on either wing or even in the middle behind the striker. His ability to use either foot allows him to mix his play up leaving opposition full-backs dazzled as to what he is going to do next. His crossing is another huge strength of his and would compliment whoever United sign up top.

A potential wildcard signing could be Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembélé. The former German champions won the race for his signature last May from Stade Rennais and he enjoyed a stellar debut campaign managing 6 goals and 12 assists. Therefore, after just one full season at the Westfalenstadion, he is unsurprisingly on the radar of almost every top club in the world. Dortmund ranks his price at a hefty £79m, but with the market’s current rate of inflation and the huge talent that he brings it would certainly be an astute bit of business from Mourinho should he be able to pull it off. Tempting the player to the Premier League remains the hardest part, however, as the 20-year-old has his eyes set on a big-money move to Barcelona.

And finally for the dream transfer that is found on every newspaper back-page every single summer since his departure in 2009. That name, of course, is Cristiano Ronaldo. CR7 has won it all and, along with Lionel Messi, he will undoubtedly go down as one of, if not, the greatest players to ever grace the beautiful game. During his time at Real Madrid he has: gone on to become the club’s leading goalscorer, took his Ballon d’Or tally to 4, helped Madrid become the first team to retain the Champions League in its current format and recently had an outstanding season as Spain’s most successful team won their first league title since 2012.

As you can see, it’s been quite the career for Ronaldo and that isn’t even including winning Euro 2016 with Portugal last summer. Despite now being 32, Ronaldo keeps his body in impeccable shape and his goalscoring statistics show that he still has so much to offer. He could quite easily deliver 3-4 seasons still at the top level and be the main man to guide United back to the top of English football and possibly even Europe. Therefore, it is no surprise that all Red Devil fans are drooling at the thought of CR7 returning to the club where he burst onto the scene.

It is questionable, to say the least, whether Ronaldo does really want to leave the Spanish capital or whether it is an attempt to get the newly re-elected president Florentino Perez to show more support for the Madeira-born man. Ronaldo’s time at Madrid has always come into question every summer, most notably in 2013. It is no secret that if Sir Alex Ferguson hadn’t decided to retire at the end of the 2012/13 season then Ronaldo would probably have come back to Old Trafford.

As it happens he didn’t and David Moyes continued to monitor him and his teammate Sergio Ramos’ situation for the majority of the summer. This ultimately left the Scottish coach short-handed and resulted in the panic buy of Marouane Fellaini on deadline day. Therefore it is absolutely critical that United don’t make the same mistake twice, but with the recent news about Ronaldo’s situation, this could soon become a reality again with the club’s top striker target.

Striker

That man is Ronaldo’s teammate Álvaro Morata. United were left out to dry by the revelation that Antoine Griezmann would be staying at Atletico Madrid after months of teasing Red Devil fans. Since that whole debacle, Mourinho has turned his attentions to Morata; whom he gave a debut to back in 2010. The Spaniard has been limited to bit-par cameos ever since Madrid activated the buy-back clause of $30m last July – after a fairly successful spell at Juventus – and has now reached the point where he wants to be playing week in week out. Morata started 14 times, but also made 12 substitute appearances as manager Zinedine Zidane preferred Karim Benzema as his first-choice striker. Despite his limited game time, Morata (15) still outscored Benzema (11) in the league and was involved in a goalscoring contribution every 70 minutes – second to only Lionel Messi.

Although negotiations with Madrid will be tough and the price will be high, Morata on paper looks like he would be a quality addition to the United team. He fits the bill of what the Portuguese manager wants in a striker and his all-around game is breathtaking for someone that doesn’t start week in, week out. He can score goals with his feet (9) or in the air (6) and he has something that every United fan would appreciate that Ibrahimović lacked last season: pace. At 189cm he certainly isn’t the quickest of players, but he is a lot more mobile than the Swede and would be able to run at opposition defenders, as well as the channels, at Old Trafford no problem. He also brings with him efficiency in front of goal; something that United was sorely lacking in last season. Ibrahimović was, without a doubt, a success in his debut season in England, but he missed so many golden chances (40% shooting accuracy) in the league that resulted in draws rather than wins. In comparison, Morata had a 61% shooting accuracy in La Liga showing that he could be the man to turn those draws into wins next season.

After the David De Gea transfer saga of 2015, Madrid has been reluctant to do business with Manchester United and the European champions value their Spanish star at €80m. It’s a steep fee for a player that has spent the majority of the season on the bench and it’s caused some fans to want Torino’s Andrea Belotti signed instead. The Italian had his breakthrough season in 2016/17 where he managed 26 goals in 35 Serie A appearances, guiding Torino to an unexpected 9th. This resulted in the 23-year-old receiving his first international cap for Gli Azzurri and the main fight for his signature seems to be between two European giants in the shape of Manchester United and AC Milan. He would cost a lot more for Mourinho if he wants the Italian as Torino will not budge on his $100m release clause. Consequently, fans who want to see Belotti don United red next season are likely to be left disappointed, with Mourinho preferring the more established Morata.

Whoever Mourinho signs, he will want his business done before United jet off on the US tour as he knows that this season is critical for his future as manager of England’s most successful club.

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