With just over a fortnight until the new Premier League season starts, which also signals the end of the summer transfer window, Manchester United have work to do if they are to seriously compete with their rivals for major honours.
Supporters would have thought that José Mourinho would have strengthened his side coming into a fresh campaign considerably, yet that reality could not be further from the truth.
While they have brought in Diogo Dalot, a promising young right back not quite ready to take over from Antonio Valencia just yet, and Fred, the Brazilian international who will occupy a position in midfield, it is not nearly enough with glaring gaps in the first team. Here is what the Red Devils need to accomplish before August 11:
Luke Shaw might have come back into the fold after being given the cold shoulder by the Portuguese boss throughout last season, but Manchester United need to reinforce this position in order to add a different dimension to their attack.
Mourinho might think that Ashley Young, England’s full back throughout the World Cup, has the capabilities to reign supreme as United’s number one left back, but, at 33-years-old, the Englishman is going to struggle with the sheer workload of the team’s fixtures.
Young has proven himself useful since Mourinho’s arrival, but the club need more going forward. A big part of Manchester City’s success last season was down to their full backs and how fluent they were in adding to the attacks and creating chances for the team’s prolific forwards. The Red Devils have seldom looked threatening from wide positions which is, by large, down to the fact of their poor full backs in the final third.
A player such as Alex Sandro from Juventus would be a perfect addition this window. With a quoted price of around £45 million, the Brazilian has shown in Serie A and the Champions League that he is one of the most attacking full backs in the game right now that can pose a threat with either foot.
With Young, he makes play so predictable given he will always need to cut inside on his favoured right foot and whip in a cross. Having a player who is an orthodox left back would bring a new dynamic to United’s wing play. Sandro is 3/1 to join United this summer with Ladbrokes, although a much more likely outcome of staying put with Juventus is offered at 8/13.
For several years now, Manchester United have ignored the right wing position and pushed Juan Mata over there. With the Spaniard’s lack of pace and ability to take players on one-on-one, Mourinho’s side are therefore struggling with creating chances down that flank and are continually looking inside for the pass.
Valencia used to be the club’s right winger, but with his duties now further back in a much more defensive role, United’s lack of pace on that side of the pitch has become increasingly apparent. It has caused the team’s play to focus centrally, which is far too predictable to counteract and thwart.
Ed Woodward, Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman, has been a long-standing admirer of Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, but that remains a fantasy - especially with the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo which will now allow the Welshman to become the main man at the Bernabéu.
Mourinho is said to be fond of Chelsea’s Willian, a very hard-working and industrious player, but the Blues are asking for more than £50 million for a transfer this summer which seems implausible and, quite frankly, ridiculous for a player who will be turning 30 before the season starts.
The Brazilian is priced at a favourable 3/1 to rejoin his former coach at Old Trafford this summer with Paddy Power.
Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic and Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembélé are two targets that will be on United’s list, but they will not come cheap by any stretch of the imagination. With Barcelona’s new - and slightly bemusing - signing of Malcom, it opens the door for the World Cup-winning Frenchman to jump post and find pastures new.
Dembélé would certainly add a level of excitement, directness and unpredictability to United’s attack - something it has been crying out for - but Woodward would need to take a deep breath and put forward a sizeable figure in attracting him to England.
Daley Blind might have rejoined former club Ajax in a deal worth £16 million, but Mourinho also needs to ship out one or two more in order to bring new players in.
Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian are the two likeliest to leave before the season starts, although overseas clubs have until the end of August to complete transfers before the window shuts.
The Italian right back has been a disappointment since arriving in Manchester after the 2014 World Cup and is now more of a hinderance than anything else to the team. With Juventus, Napoli and Inter all vying for his signature, it is expected that Darmian will leave before the season starts.
Smalling is another player that should be shown the door this summer with his lacklustre performances for a number of years. It is rather astounding how the season is fast approaching and the Englishman remains one of Mourinho’s starting players in the team.
Over the course of the past few seasons, Smalling has been a liability in defence and not the centre back that Sir Alex Ferguson thought he was when initially purchased in 2010 for £8 million.
United need to move on from the past and build a fresh squad brimming with talent. Wages might be ridiculously high on these players, but they simply need to be sold in order to make way for new players.
Mourinho has already shown his glum side so far on Man United’s pre-season tour of America, by not answering whether his team can win the Premier League title this year and how he will be missing an untold amount of players due to the World Cup.
The Portuguese boss has a reputation of entering into the ‘third season syndrome’, which is exactly what he must avoid now. There are glimpses showing and cracks starting to open with Mourinho’s patience thinning, but he must weather the storm and actually trust the players he has at his disposal.
One, in particular, is Anthony Martial. A once-in-a-generational talent that promises to explode on the world stage at some point throughout his career. He has all the tools available to him. However, Mourinho’s harsh criticisms and treatment of the Frenchman has, quite obviously, knocked his confidence.
Mourinho must keep a positive mental attitude for the season ahead and stop playing these mind games he thinks he is winning. For if he doesn’t, the fans will quickly turn on him and make that a very public showing.
The Red Devils are 10/11 to win any major trophy with Betway.