Despite football’s postponement and the uncertainty over the next transfer window, Manchester United will still be working on their list of potential new arrivals and who will depart to make room.
At this stage it is hard to glean just what impact the pandemic will have on their transfer plans but manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have a good idea about his current squad and how the land lies for each of them going into the summer.
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United went 11 matches unbeaten prior to the postponement; winning nine, scoring 28 goals and conceding just two, and keeping nine clean sheets – a sequence that might have altered the thinking behind the scenes somewhat.
So what conclusions might they have reached? Who is staying, and who is more likely to leave Old Trafford? James Cooper assesses of all 30 members of United’s first-team squad…
David de Gea
By his own admittance, the 29-year-old Spaniard struggled for form at the start of the campaign, which may have been down to the departure of his goalkeeping mentor Emilio Alvarez and the wrangling over a new contract, which eventually saw him recommit until at least 2022.
Although he has made some uncharacteristic mistakes this year and last, he became only the seventh Premier League goalkeeper to reach 100 clean sheets at one club last month, and has done so in 28 per cent of games this season – still better than the majority of his rivals.
The 33-year-old is arguably one of the best deputy goalkeepers in the game and retains a popular presence at Carrington and among the fanbase. Some 11 clean sheets from 14 outings this season alone – one more than De Gea – shows how reliable a stand-in he is and he still has a year remaining on his contract plus the option to extend for another.
One of United’s own has been blossoming on a second loan spell at another Premier League club – Sheffield United – and is subsequently being talked about as one of the best emerging English goalkeepers, after keeping 11 clean sheets for Chris Wilder’s side this season. At just 23, another loan spell is likely with the key question remaining where his development will be best suited. He has two years left on his contract plus an option but playing regular Premier League football must be a priority.
VERDICT: Goes on loan
Wan-Bissaka has had a real education in his first season, blasting out of the blocks before a slight dip and then another resurgence lately, which reminded fans why Solskjaer was so determined to get him. The 22-year-old has made 36 appearances – just 10 shy of the amount he made across three seasons at Crystal Palace – and he has the third-best tackling stats in the Premier League with 3.8 per game, as well as the most interceptions at United this term. With four years left on his deal plus an option, he has plenty of time to improve further.
Two Premier League starts from just eight appearances in total this season probably shows how the land lies for the 28-year-old, who is one of United’s longest-serving players. He has not pulled on a red shirt since scoring in FA Cup thrashing of Tranmere in January and other players have risen to the fore, including a resurgent Eric Bailly. He will go if another club offers him regular football but with three years left of a four-year extension – signed while Solskjaer was in interim charge last year – a permanent deal will be challenging for any buyer.
The 30-year-old’s decision to make a season-long loan move to Roma looks to have been an inspired one, opening more doors than closing them and putting his name back in the England fold. Roma are keen to sign him permanently but he has other suitors now too. He will also be aware that his chances in the United first team are likely to be even more limited next season if Solskjaer opts to sign another centre-back in the summer. Smalling has proven himself too accomplished to wait in the wings Old Trafford any longer.
The Swedish international’s performances have been far more consistent in the second part of the campaign and he appears to be building a real understanding with Harry Maguire. Indeed his tackling stats are second only to his skipper and Lindelof has the best pass-completion figures of any of his club rivals with 85.6 per cent. The 25-year-old signed a new long-term contract until at least 2024 and seems to have secured the spot as Maguire’s first-choice partner.
Now captain, the world’s most expensive centre-back (£80m) has settled into the high-profile life at Old Trafford and statistically become the top-performing defender at the club when it comes to tackles (1.1), interceptions (1.9) and clearances (4.5) per 90 minutes. His first United goal was one of the most important too, at Tranmere in the FA Cup, helping take some of the spotlight off Solskjaer during a difficult run of results. He still has another five years to go on his deal plus an option.
The Ivory Coast defender may have played his way back into Solskjaer’s plans, having been in a position to think his time at the club was coming to an end after he limped out of the epic Champions League win at Paris St Germain just 36 minutes into the game. His 79 appearances in four years illustrate just how injury-prone he is but, if he can stay fit, he now represents Lindelof’s most serious competition at centre-back and still has two years left on his contract.
It is hard to believe the 30-year-old remains the property of United having made just 10 starts in the last two seasons, and it is more than likely that his appearance as a last-minute substitute against Brighton in November will have been his last. Rojo, who has a year left on his United deal plus an option, is currently on-loan with his former club Estudiantes in Argentina and manager Juan Sebastian Veron – the ex-United midfielder – is keen to keep him permanently.
The 22-year-old impressed across six Premier League starts when he was thrust into the side to cover an injury crisis in December, but dropped out again because of his own subsequent knock. It has been a frustrating season for him but he is held in high esteem at Old Trafford, and it counts in his favour that he can play anywhere across the backline. He has two years remaining on his deal plus an option.
Still only 24, Shaw has found some of his most consistent form in a red shirt this season, perhaps sparked by the emergence of Brandon Williams. Last season’s Player of the Year has also shown new versatility to play as one of three centre-backs when Solskjaer has favoured that system, and with three years left on his contract, plus an option, his future at the club appears assured.
A candidate for United’s discovery of the season, the 19-year-old academy graduate has swiftly adapted to life in the first team and his determination and tenacity have made him popular with the fans. His competition has helped improve Shaw and, with two more years on his deal, Williams’ emergence has probably done more than enough to persuade Solskjaer that he does not need another left-back this summer.
The 21-year-old’s prospects are a challenge to predict and were hampered by the arrival of Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Supporters would probably say they have not seen the best of him yet but nor has he let them down when called upon. His youth and pace are akin to Solskjaer’s plans so he will probably be given another opportunity, but it depends how happy Dalot is with playing second fiddle to Wan-Bissaka, still with three years left to run on the Portuguese’s deal.
He may not have played for Manchester United since the final game of the 2016/17 season but Fosu-Mensah is still only 22 years old and has played for the Dutch national side too. The defender spent two loan spells at Crystal Palace and more recently Fulham where he suffered a serious knee injury that’s kept him out of action for the last year. Fosu-Mensah’s option has been triggered and he now has a season to convince Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of his worth.
Matic’s career at Old Trafford looked to be drawing to a close when he endured more than two months on the sidelines, with his contract expiring in the summer. But he has since returned to the first team and signed another one-year contract extension after another swathe of injuries denied him a move elsewhere in January. His title-winning experience with Chelsea and Benfica is something Solskjaer’s youthful squad is light on and there have been talks over the prospect of extending his deal beyond 2021.
The 27-year-old was emerging as the player everyone had hoped to see before football was postponed, with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes in January seeming to energise him even further. And his numbers backed it up too, with more interceptions (1.4) and tackles (2.2) per match than any of his midfield rivals, and an average of three successful dribbles per game. Fred still has three years left on his deal plus the option of a further year.
It says everything about McTominay that the knee injury that ruled him out for two months at the start of 2020 was seen as a hammer blow. Few have spent longer at the club (18 years), so he has a clear understanding of the values needed to be a United player and what’s required to help drive the team back to the top. The Scotland international he has blossomed into one of the more vocal leaders in the team despite being just 23 years of age and still has three years left on his deal plus an option.
It looked as though Lingard was playing with the weight of the world on his shoulders recently, in stark contrast to his ‘free spirit’ nature in the past. Sometimes circumstances on and off the pitch change things to such an extent that a relationship comes to an end, and a player is forced to find fresh pastures. In hooking up with super-agent Mino Raiola, Lingard has found one of the best to provide him with a move, and his contract situation – with just one year left plus an option – makes that more manageable if Solskjaer is happy to let him go.
The few players over 30 in Solskjaer’s squad play a critical role, part of which is helping the younger players find their feet and develop in the right direction. Mata leads by example and, although his playing time is limited, he has still provided three goals and five assists, and appreciates his role in nurturing the younger players. He currently has one year more of that to go, plus an option.
Solskjaer was sure enough of the 24-year-old’s credentials last summer to award him with a new four-year deal, plus option, but he now finds himself with a major challenge in trying to get a place over Bruno Fernandes and any other creative talent the club might bring in this summer. If he gets a chance he needs to seize it and stay consistent if his stay is to be a long one.
With 32 starts in all competitions, impressing across the front-line, James has made an accomplished start to life at Old Trafford, having been thrust into perhaps more playing time than expected due to injuries. In just his first season in the Premier League since signing on a five-year deal from Swansea, the Wales winger has shown signs of real potential but will be glad of the break right now, after an intense learning curve in only his second full season in senior football.
The midfielder finds himself at a crossroads with his contract running out this summer. United are keen to offer him a new contract after signing up six of his academy peers to long-term deals in the past 13 months, and Gomes has made positive noises himself. But he has not been given the first-team opportunities to enhance his burgeoning reputation at youth level so it might make sense for him to go out on loan if he does decide to recommit to the club.
VERDICT: Goes on loan
What is there left to say about Bruno? He has breathed new life into United’s first-team squad, lifted the standards of all around him, and he is still getting used to life in the Premier League following his January move from Sporting Lisbon. Solskjaer may have found someone special here, who has given new hope to fans that recruitment will continue in the right direction.
This the hardest one to call. Right now there may be more compelling arguments for Pogba to stay rather than to leave, centred on the expensive economics for any club to sign him, especially given the ongoing financial cost of coronavirus. But he has not kicked a ball yet in 2020, only made eight appearances all season, and has just a year remaining on his contract, plus a one-year option.
On paper, adding his name to the team seems to strengthen it but it might be equally attractive for the club to find a player possessing similar attributes and is less high-maintenance. For the first time since he returned to Old Trafford it can be argued Manchester United have the upper hand in this relationship and it’ll be up to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to decide on Pogba’s fate.
Rashford is another reminder that United’s conveyor belt of youth talent still works. He scored 19 goals in 24 appearances before injury, continuing that ruthless streak under a former United striker himself in Solskjaer, who you would expect to help develop his game even further over the next three years of his contract, which also contains an optional year.
He might be a player who divides Manchester United fans more than most but the long-term deal Martial signed in January 2019, which still has four years left at least, was evidence that Solskjaer sees the France star as part his long-term strategy alongside Marcus Rashford, and that remains the case after scoring 16 goals this season – his highest tally for a single campaign so far. Only Rashford eclipses his successful dribble rate of 1.71 per 90 minutes too.
Another promising academy graduate, who has scored more goals (12) than Dan James and Juan Mata combined operating from the right flank, although he has not created as many chances. The 18-year-old has a long-term future at the club, with three years left of his deal plus an option, and his equal ability off both feet makes him an especially exciting prospect.
The 30-year-old is scheduled to return to Shanghai Shenhua from his loan this summer but Solskjaer would like to keep him, and the Nigeria striker would like to stay. He has scored four goals in his last five appearances and shows the striking instincts that Solskjaer wants his other frontmen to hone, it also helps that Igahlo is a huge Manchester United fan.
The 20-year-old’s future looked uncertain before signing a new two-year deal (plus option) in March. Chong is yet to make a Premier League start but has appeared 12 times across all competitions this season and would probably benefit from a spell on loan to give him more first-team minutes and toughen him up a bit.
VERDICT: Goes on loan
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