With January approaching and Manchester United sitting 7th in the Premier League table, the view that new additions are required to boost the club’s chances of securing Champions League football is certainly one shared by many fans.
The signings of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire have helped United’s defence in their search for more security, however, a lack of quality in the final-third remains, so here are five signings the Red Devils could turn to.
Erling Braut Håland
Europe’s hottest young prospect burst into public recognition this summer after scoring nine goals in an U-20 World Cup game for his native Norway, and since then his stock has only continued to rise in world football. Months later, he is now impressing for his club RB Salzburg in the Champions League having scored seven goals in his first four games, two more than anyone else has ever managed, including a goal against Liverpool and a hat-trick in his first game against Genk. This hat-trick, plus a further four in all competitions, now gives him a staggering 26 goals in 18 games, as well as six assists, meaning he has been involved in a goal every 39 minutes.
You could argue that the bulk of Håland’s goals have come in the Austrian league which is at a lower standard of football than Europe’s top divisions, but his record in the Champions League cannot be overlooked, particularly scoring three goals in two games against a strong side like Napoli.
This new experience in Europe’s top competition could be a deterrent for the Norwegian joining United however, particularly as other clubs who are already participating in the competition such as RB Leipzig have started to show an interest, a club that also looks like they have more chance of qualifying for next year’s competition than United currently do. Something that may work in the club’s favour though, is the fact that the 19-year-old previously worked with Ole Gunnar Solskjær at Norwegian side Molde and so may have a head start in terms of convincing the forward to move.
The problem in the short-term for Solskjær and United is the fact that further Champions League participation for RB Salzburg will mean Håland will be much less inclined to join during the January window and even if he did he would not be able to participate in the Europa League for United, therefore this looks like more of an option for next summer.
Currently, you would estimate that Håland could be bought at a lower cost than many promising young strikers across Europe, though if this form continues £30m will quickly rise to almost double that figure, if it hasn’t already. The Norwegian appears to be worth a large sum however, mostly given his age but also the fact that he can offer United something they do not currently have. At almost two metres tall and with a strong physical presence, he can intimidate defences and offer the kind of aerial threat up front that United have not had since Zlatan Ibrahimović left the club, not to mention his ability to hold the ball up and wait for team-mates to make attacking runs. United have also struggled this season with unlocking defences that sit back and soak up the pressure, Håland gives them an option to play more direct football with crosses into the box, much like how Marouane Fellaini was used under José Mourinho.
Despite his size and stature, the young Norwegian is also deceptively quick and able to cover lots of ground, which would no doubt help with how United are currently looking to play by pressing from the front and forcing the opposition into mistakes, as well as counter-attacking quickly up the pitch when in defensive positions.
This acquisition would be a smart move for United as Håland is a player who is already showing his ability but has the potential to improve even further considering his age, he would no doubt bring something different to the attack and help to bolster the number of options up-front.
After winning three major trophies with Celtic and with an impressive record of 51 goals and 18 assists in 94 games, Dembélé had ambitions to further improve in Ligue 1 with Lyon, and since his £19.8m move from the Scottish champions, he’s done just that. So far this season he’s been responsible for 45% of his side’s goals in Ligue 1 and as well as being a composed finisher, also shows great movement and an impressive work rate. This isn’t too dissimilar to the style of player United already have in Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, though this will maybe fit in with what Solskjær is trying to build in terms of personnel for his style of play and he may think more of the same is needed to implement that.
The Frenchman is only 23-years-old, fitting the current mould of United signings being young and full of potential, he may also be available for around £40m which is a good price for a young forward considering Arsenal’s purchase of Nicolas Pépé in the summer for £72m. Dembélé is also a player with a good injury record, another problem that seems to be plaguing United this term. Last year he played in 33 league games with zero suspensions or injuries, collecting 15 goals along the way including five from the bench. This is something else United cannot currently boast, a goal-threat from their substitutes, and though you could argue this is with the exception of maybe Mason Greenwood, he is still young and largely inexperienced, therefore should not be relied upon so heavily during an important time in his development.
A concern with Dembélé however, is his lack of goals in Europe, with just one goal in 577 minutes across Lyon’s last two Champions League campaigns. Although there have only been four group games so far this term he has played all 90 minutes in three of those games, coming up against Benfica twice and Zenit St Petersburg in the other, against both of whom you’d expect the Frenchman to do slightly better. In last year’s competition, Lyon made it to the last 16 and the 23-year-old managed just one goal in the 296 minutes he played throughout the campaign.
Perhaps, with it still looking like United may be back playing in the Europa League next season, Dembélé will be more suited to gain confidence and score more goals in that competition, however it may prove to be a gamble. Besides this, there’s no certainty that Dembélé would leave Lyon and the Champions League for United and the Europa League unless the glamour of the English top-flight can tempt him, but he does remain a decent option and certainly a player who’s progress United should keep a keen eye on going forward.
After eye-catching performances in Ajax’s remarkable run to the Champions League semi-final last season, it was hardly a surprise that the Dutch side wasted no time in getting the Moroccan to put pen to paper on a new deal back in August, slightly more surprising was that beforehand Ziyech’s buy-out clause was a mere £26m. This may have represented a missed opportunity for United, Ed Woodward in particular does not have a great track-record when it comes to paying over the odds for a player he could have got cheaper had he acted more swiftly, however that may be slightly unfair in this instance considering Ziyech’s importance to Ajax and their need to get a much higher fee (£50-£60m) for the winger, one more relatable to his actual worth.
At 26-years-of-age, Ziyech is now approaching the years in which it is widely considered players hit their prime and looking at his form over the last couple of seasons it is scary to think he may get better. Last year he helped his Ajax side to the domestic double and in the Eredivisie, there was only six games out of the 29 he played where he did not register a goal or an assist. Clearly the Eredivisie is at a lower quality than Europe’s more prestigious leagues, however 16 goals and 17 assists is nothing to be sniffed at and represents a player who is a finely balanced and complete attacker, not to mention the fact that equal goal and assist figures are somewhat hard to come by in footballers nowadays.
United have also struggled to fill the right-wing/right-midfield void in their team since arguably Antonio Valencia in 2009/10 when he helped Wayne Rooney to 34 goals in 44 games. Fast-forward to this season and Daniel James has shown a couple of flashes of playing well on the right side with assists for Rashford against Liverpool and Norwich, but a left-footed right-winger like Ziyech would offer slightly more, particularly as using him and James as inverted wingers would allow them to cut inside and shoot, something neither are afraid to do. Rashford is obviously performing well on the left at the moment and it would be tough to know who of United’s current front three would miss out to Ziyech, but the season is long with so many matches and extra options up top are exactly what United need. The Moroccan has the same attributes as the current United front three, but a left-footer will be more than welcome considering none of the other three are particularly prone to using theirs.
At Ajax, as is unfortunately the norm for them, their squad is usually ripped apart after a season or two of success and just like Louis van Gaal’s Champions League winning side of the mid-nineties, that began to happen with Ajax at the end of last season. Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt both went on to pastures new and it is difficult to see players like Ziyech and Donny van de Beek remaining at the club this year, especially if rumours that manager Erik ten Hag is being lined up as the next Bayern Munich manager prove to be true.
Taking all this into consideration, it may be wise for United to get in on the act early with Ziyech and they may yet have their very own ‘Ace in the Hole’ in the form of Ajax director of football Edwin van der Sar, particularly if he can convince the winger to move to Old Trafford. Considering the former United goalkeeper’s success in his current role at the Amsterdam club I’m sure many United fans wouldn’t mind him joining Ziyech at the club either.
Much like Ziyech, Timo Werner’s club RB Leipzig signed their young striker up to a new contract in August due to the Germany international’s impressive displays last season. The 23-year-old got 16 goals and nine assists in 30 Bundesliga games, helping to propel the German side into this season’s Champions League competition. Again, as with Ajax and Ziyech, the club now know that they can command a much higher fee for the centre-forward and any potential suitors may have to cough-up at least £60m for his services, not a bad return on the £12.6m Leipzig paid Stuttgart for Werner back in 2016.
Fast forward to this season and Werner already has 11 league goals in as many games, bettered only by Robert Lewandowski’s record-breaking start to the campaign. In Werner’s last two Bundesliga games before the international break, he got five goals and four assists, a crazy return for any player in two league games whether it was against lesser opponents or not.
Werner plays predominantly in the centre-forward role for his club but is by no means just a target man, often dropping deep and out wide to receive the ball, he is a hard-working player who would operate very well in Solskjær’s preferred system of a fluid front three. Werner is second only to Lewandowski with 39 shots this season but has also put in 21 crosses from open play and is an integral part of Leipzig’s attacking style. He also possesses good aerial ability and strength, something lacking in Martial and James, as well as being very quick.
Last year in the Bundesliga he was amongst the top ten fastest players having been clocked at a staggering 21.77mph in one of his many pacey forward runs, making him hugely effective in a team that wants to press from the front and force defenders into mistakes. Werner is not just quick without the ball though, he is also able to maintain his speed whilst dribbling without compromising his control of the ball, a devastating tool for a player to possess when you’re looking to turn the ball over quickly from defence to attack.
United will have to move fast to secure the services of a very highly-rated young striker who has been on the radar of many clubs for a few years now. The ability to attract big-name, German players to the Premier League has not always been very common for English teams over the years though, particularly as Bayern Munich seem to snap up the best Bundesliga players before other sides have time to react. That aside though, this is exactly the kind of player United should be signing if Solskjær is to continue his rebuild and implement the same style of play already in place. Werner is also more proven than someone like Håland who has not yet played in one of Europe’s top five leagues.
Yes, Bruno. A player who seems to be destined to join the likes of Ezequiel Garay, Nicolás Gaitán and Wesley Sneijder as someone who United are constantly linked with but never actually sign. Fernandes was the subject of much speculation over the summer, mostly seen as a potential replacement to Paul Pogba who was seeking ‘a new challenge’, but nothing materialised for either player.
The Portugal international is an exciting attacking-midfielder who has carried last season’s form into this one and would be an ideal player to inject some much-needed creativity into the middle of United’s side, not least because attempts to play Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata in the same role have fallen flat. Andreas Pereira has performed well there recently but has still not added enough goals or assists to his game yet, therefore someone with Fernandes’ impressive numbers seems made for the role.
The Sporting Lisbon captain has won the Liga Nos player of the year award the last two seasons running and it is not hard to see why when you look at his stats. Last season for instance, his record was 20 goals and 13 assists in 33 games, that’s a goal involvement every 89 minutes and there was only nine games in which he didn’t score or assist a team-mate. As mentioned before, he has carried that form into the start of this year’s league campaign and has five goals and five assists from ten games, with a similarly impressive record in the Europa League group stages.
Although United managed to strengthen their defence in the summer, the need to do the same with their midfield and attack is becoming more and more evident, not least in games where they are being shut out and require someone with that spark who can change a game in an instant.
Fernandes is adept at shooting from range and dangerous from direct free-kicks, two aspects of the game in which United do not currently possess a persistent threat from and haven’t for some time. The 25-year-old also brings versatility and can play effectively from the right or in a more withdrawn central role, thus allowing Solskjær to set up in multiple formations depending on the opponent or what style of play the game calls for.
Last summer it was reported that Sporting wanted £60-£65m for their star-man, a figure that allegedly seemed too high for United, however once again that man Woodward may have shot himself in the foot as the Lisbon club will no doubt want closer to £70m for Fernandes this time around.
Also reportedly interested last summer were Tottenham Hotspur who, after the recent replacement of their manager Mauricio Pochettino for ex-United boss Mourinho, may now have the upper hand in negotiations. The Portuguese connection may work in Mourinho’s favour and it is believed he is an admirer of his compatriot, though the sides may well be on level playing fields if neither qualify for next year’s Champions League competition.
It could be argued that going for someone who is already proven in the Premier League in Fernandes’ role would be a better move, but a player like James Maddison would cost considerably more and United’s track record with acquiring Sporting Lisbon alumni hasn’t been too bad thus far. It may be a risk to go for Fernandes, but he certainly has all the right attributes and would surely add a great deal of quality to a United side who are currently lacking in his specific area.
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