Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is preparing plans as he looks to rebuild his Manchester United squad.
The 46-year-old looks set to be backed during a first summer in charge at Old Trafford, with the club’s hierarchy keen to get the 20-times title winners back challenging for major honours.
How was their 2018/19?
Disappointing. After finishing as runners-up in 2017/18 the Jose Mourinho era was brought to an abrupt end in December, the Portuguese sacked following a poor first half of the season.
Former Manchester United favourite Solskjaer was then appointed on an interim basis, overseeing an initial revival winning 14 of his first 19 games in charge to reignite hopes of securing Champions League football. The Norwegian was appointed on a permanent basis in March, but familiar flaws reappeared and a torrid run towards the end of the campaign saw United finish sixth.
It’s now six years since Sir Alex Ferguson won the title in his final season in charge and rarely in the Premier League era have United looked further away from the division’s best sides.
What do they need?
Where to start? United’s squad is both ageing and unbalanced, with several over-paid and under-performing stars alongside mediocre signings. Several first-team players will likely leave this summer, with Solskjaer facing a major rebuilding job.
Defence will surely be a priority, at both centre-back and full-back, with United’s 55 goals conceded last season the second-most of any side to finish in the top half. Right-wing has also long been a problem position, with a deal reportedly close for Swansea City star Daniel James.
At least two new midfielders may also be signed to counter the recent departures of Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera. Solskjaer is apparently keen to sign young, hungry talent with potential to develop further as the club look to change their transfer model. Much will depend on the number of exits, however, a busy summer is anticipated.
Who could leave?
Club-captain Antonio Valencia will leave after a decade at the club, the 33-year-old set to move on at the expiry of his contract. Midfielder Ander Herrera is another confirmed departure, the Spaniard tipped to join Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer this summer.
Juan Mata could be another to leave on a free, the former Chelsea star having so far failed to agree a new contract at Old Trafford. Out-of-favour defenders Matteo Darmian, Marcus Rojo and Eric Bailly have also been linked with an exit, whilst speculation continues around the futures of big names such as David De Gea, Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez.
Pogba is a reported target for Real Madrid, whilst Inter Milan are believed to be interested in a deal to bring Lukaku to Italy. Sanchez could also move to Serie A, with Inter and Juventus reportedly interested in signing a player who has been a major disappointment since signing for United in 2018. A host of young players will also be released, including the likes of James Wilson and Regan Poole.
Who could they target?
Harry Maguire, Leicester – Centre-back
The England international was linked with a move to Old Trafford last summer, before the club were reportedly put off by Leicester’s valuation of the defender. That valuation is only likely to have increased, with the Foxes reportedly demanding a world-record fee for a defender who only signed a five-year contract last summer.
The 26-year-old would offer a significant upgrade on current options Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, with Maguire’s physical presence and composure on the ball likely to compliment Victor Lindelof. Lindelof’s improvement was a positive in a disappointing season for United and the signing of a top-level partner would go some way to helping the club’s poor defensive record. United would likely face competition for Maguire, with neighbours Manchester City also believed to be keen.
Ruben Dias, Benfica – Centre-back
An alternative to Maguire, the young defender is amongst the most highly-rated defensive prospects in European football. The 22-year-old won the Primeira Liga with Benfica last season after being voted the best young player in Portugal’s top flight the season prior.
Dias would likely command a significant fee, though less than the reported valuations placed on the likes of Maguire and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly. Having already won nine caps for the Portugal national side, Dias has the ability to make an immediate impact whilst also offering great potential to improve.
Thomas Meunier, Paris Saint-Germain – Right-back
With just a year remaining on his contract at the French champions, Meunier would offer a realistic, affordable and high-quality addition for United this summer. The 27-year-old Belgian international is tipped to leave the Parisian club this summer and is likely to be valued at around £25m.
Meunier has won two Ligue 1 titles since joining the club in 2016 and the 6ft 3in full-back would represent an immediate first-team upgrade and provide experienced competition for young prospect Diogo Dalot. The former Club Brugge player is comfortable defensively and a threat going forward, as indicated by his six goals in 36 caps for his national side.
Declan Rice, West Ham – Central midfield
The young midfielder enjoyed a superb breakthrough year for Manuel Pellegrini’s side, being nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award and making his debut for the senior England side after swapping his allegiance from the Republic of Ireland.
The 20-year-old would fit with the club’s reported model of signing young talent and would help cover the loss of Herrera and replace the ageing Nemanja Matic. Rice is far from the finished article, but could develop into one of the division’s finest holding midfield players. The youngster is also comfortable in central defence, offering versatility as well as talent.
Gareth Bale, Real Madrid – Forward
A player long-linked with Old Trafford, this summer would represent the best chance United have had of bringing the Welshman back to the Premier League since missing out on his signing in 2013. Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has made it clear the forward does not feature in his plans, though interest is said to have been low in the former Tottenham star.
Signing a 29-year-old with injury problems and excessive wages may look like the type of signing United would like to move away from, though with the Spanish giants desperate to offload Bale a sensible deal may be able to be struck. United are believed to have expressed an interest in Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, however, the Bundesliga side are reluctant to lose their prized asset and United’s failure to secure Champions League football would likely hinder their hopes.
The signing of Bale, whilst short-term, would be a solution to their right-wing problem position and represent a world-class, marque addition. When fit, Bale is amongst the world’s finest players and the possibility to bring him to Old Trafford, at a sensible cost or perhaps even on-loan, could represent smart business.
There was a very left-field suggestion for the Player of the Year from our end of season award podcast this week. 🏆
— Football Faithful (@FootyFaithful_) May 25, 2019