It’s set to be a busy, expensive and crucial summer transfer window for Manchester United.
Erik ten Hag witnessed first-hand the true scale of the job he has taken on when he saw United slip to yet another defeat on the final day of the season to Crystal Palace. It was a fitting end to the club’s disastrous campaign, as they registered their lowest ever Premier League points tally of a meagre 58.
Even if United were to keep their current squad intact they would need some quality reinforcements in the off-season but that’s far from the case as they are facing an exodus. At least five players – Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic and Lee Grant – will leave when their contracts expire and Juan Mata will likely join them, though there is room for a late U-turn with talks set to be held with Ten Hag.
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Additionally, Dean Henderson is closing in on a move to Newcastle United, Aaron Wan-Bissaka is free to leave and the futures of Cristiano Ronaldo, Anthony Martial, Donny van de Beek, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and even Marcus Rashford all remain up in the air. United could be looking at well over 10 departures this summer.
It will take a lot of work to bring in the quality and quantity needed to rebuild the squad, with plenty of positions in need of attention. Centre-midfield is the priority, with two signings being ideal, while a centre-back, right-back, striker and winger are all being targeted as well.
With United not exactly famed for their efficiency in the market, it would be a small miracle if every position got filled so it’s crucial the most important signings get made as soon as possible – but which ones are they? MEN Sport writers have assessed who should be the club’s first signing under Ten Hag.
United probably need to pursue five new signings this summer and it probably doesn’t really matter which order they come in, but it might make sense to try and deal with the most expensive first. It is clear United have a restricted budget this summer due to the absence of Champions League football and that strengthening central midfield is the absolute top priority.
A deal for a central defender may be easier to do, but it might also be easier for United to tie up a midfielder and then see how much is left in the kitty for a defender, forward, right-back and whatever else Ten Hag might want. It seems likely Kalvin Phillips might opt for elsewhere, given Manchester City are now interested and joining United is a hard sell for an avid Leeds fan. United should have alternatives though and getting a deal over the line should be a priority.
United had earmarked a new midfielder as their ‘biggest’ issue this summer, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be their first.
A move for Kalvin Phillips is complicated by the fact that Leeds stayed up and Man City are also interested, while Declan Rice is far too expensive this summer. Frenkie de Jong would be an excellent addition, but it would raise questions of his own ambition if he willingly joined United.
Signing a new centre-back shouldn’t be so tricky, though. Jurrien Timber and Pau Torres are both of interest to the club and both would be allowed to move this summer if an appropriate offer came in. Getting a new central defender in fast is probably wise too, considering they will need to form a partnership with whoever is selected by Ten Hag to start the season and it gives the club plenty of time to shift those surplus to requirements.
Torres has been tracked for nearly 18 months now, while Timber is a new name on the radar. At the age of just 20, the Ajax defender is probably the best bet as there would be less pressure on him to hit the ground running.
Ralf Rangnick repeatedly stated how United were short of numbers in forward areas, given the Mason Greenwood situation, Anthony Martial’s loan exit and Edinson Cavani’s injury. And although that department doesn’t look like improving, and although United’s defence was ridiculous porous in the season just finished, there’s little doubt that midfield should be Ten Hag’s priority this summer.
Who better than De Jong to sign to truly signify United’s intentions in this summer market? A genuine marquee addition, but one that fits the manager’s style like a hand in glove. United should pull all the stops out to bring the Barcelona man to Manchester; it would be their most expensive and most high calibre signing of the summer, but the club might find getting De Jong allows all the other pieces to fall into play.
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Pretty much every area needs strengthening this summer but none as urgently as midfield. Not only are United lacking options in the centre of the park but few of the ones they do have will be suited to the possession orientated style Ten Hag will look to implement. Accurate passers, composed carriers and creative sparks are needed and quickly.
Deals for the targets United have looked at in the position – De Jong, Rice, Phillips – all look incredibly difficult to pull off so instead the club should do everything they can to sign Christian Eriksen.
The Dane has proved he is still a world-class operator despite everything he’s been through and, should he deiced to move on from Brentford, will be available for nothing.
United will have to make a move as soon as possible, though, as there are bound to be plenty of interested parties. A lack of Champions League football may prove costly once again, but maybe the allure of working for a manager who would suit his style perfectly may be a big enough draw.