Manchester United lack quality players to back up their first XI…

What lies beneath? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United squad contains too much fat and not enough prime cuts… his over-reliance on trio Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial is testament to a squad lacking depth

  • There is a concern regarding the lack of squad depth at Manchester United 
  • United need at least one key signing if they are to bridge the gap this season
  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad is big but United need to bring in greater quality

At the modern Manchester United the wheel of opinion turns more quickly than ever. One short summer and one home Premier League defeat are all it takes to blacken the mood.

Confidence among the United rank and file — once the most cocksure in the country — is brittle these days, perhaps made so by too many missteps in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson years. It is more than seven years since United won the title.

This weekend feels important already. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team are at Brighton on Saturday lunchtime and, having lost to Crystal Palace in their opening game, they cannot afford another defeat.

There’s concern regarding Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s backup options at Manchester United

United cannot always rely solely on the likes of Bruno Fernandes to get them out of trouble

But the following nine days matter more. They count down to the closing of the transfer window and it feels as though United need at least one more key signing if they are to bridge the gap to Manchester City and Liverpool.

Solskjaer’s squad numbers around 30. There is too much fat in it, too few prime cuts. In short, it’s not good enough. Not for this crazy, congested season.

In the second half of the last campaign, Solskjaer hit on an XI that worked. Given wit by Bruno Fernandes and speed on the counter by Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and the precocious Mason Greenwood, United were a side reborn. No more walking pace, shot-shy football.

United have a strong first XI but concerns would be raised if key stars were to get injured

But the problem that existed then remains now, and that is a surprise. When Solskjaer rested players for the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea, it was clear that the replacements were not able to move to the new United tune. At an empty Wembley, United reverted to the slothful version of a year ago and were beaten.

Solskjaer’s new United depend to a large degree on burning pace. Without it, they become meek again. Jadon Sancho is Solskjaer’s preferred purchase as he looks to find more zip, but so far Dortmund have not buckled on valuation. It feels as though that is a transfer that needs to happen.

Winger Daniel James, for instance, has yet to fully convinced since he joined United last year

Asked about his reliance on his front three on Friday, Solskjaer was bullish, saying: ‘They are top players and if any of the top teams lose two or three forwards, the creators, of course that can be an issue. Mason, Marcus and Anthony had a fantastic last season. We want to develop them together as a three. But if we lose one of them, I am pretty confident that we have players who can step in.’

That final point is debatable. Daniel James, 22, is quick but still looks coltish. Jesse Lingard is no slouch but looks in need of a change of club. Beyond those two is the clever but slower-paced artistry of Juan Mata.

So the transfer market feels like United’s best out-ball. The club have signed Holland midfielder Donny van de Beek, a 23-year-old of great promise, but nobody else.

Supporters, tired of the protracted pursuit of Sancho, have turned their ire towards executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. Woodward’s landing of Fernandes last January seemed to have bought him some grace, but not much. Now the accepted truth is that United need a new central defender, too. Solskjaer was up front about that on Friday.

‘Last season proved to us how we can defend at our best,’ he said. ‘Last week was not fantastic. We conceded sloppy goals. But our defensive record last season showed we can do it. I am very confident in my players. We are working on getting better.’

There are doubts regarding United’s centre-back options beyond Harry Maguire

United have many defenders, but some, like Lindelof, don’t seem to be of the required quality

Talking about his defenders, Solskjaer appeared to get muddled as he named Eric Bailly and Harry Maguire as last season’s successful central pair. ‘Eric and Harry showed how good a partnership they were,’ he said.

Bailly actually spent most of last season injured and only played with Maguire a handful of times. The other defensive mainstay was Victor Lindelof, but after a poor showing against Palace last week, the Swede needs to step it up quickly if Solskjaer’s slip of the tongue is not to prove prophetic.

‘Eric is fit again, which is a big bonus,’ he said. ‘I am looking forward to him developing. We have been waiting for him to be fit and to play more regularly.’ Beyond that, United’s options resemble the leftovers at a bring-and-buy sale. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling (bought by Ferguson) do not seem to interest Solskjaer while Marcos Rojo (Louis van Gaal) and Diego Dalot (Jose Mourinho) certainly don’t.

Solskjaer believes that Eric Bailly can step up but the centre-back has to avoid further injuries

These are the products of a spell of disjointed thinking at United that Woodward has shown signs of fixing. His last two transfer windows have been good (Fernandes in January and Maguire, James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka last summer) and this contributed to a United improvement that made people take notice. And this, broadly, is the point.

Solskjaer and Woodward have brought United back to the brink of relevance. The team carry a destructiveness that has been absent for so many of the seasons since Ferguson’s retirement. It would not be a surprise if they sweep Brighton aside on Saturday.

But squads — not teams — make progress in the Premier League. Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea have strengthened over the summer. United have, too, but is it enough?

As it stands right now, it feels it may not be.

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