Manchester United look unlikely to complete any major business ahead of Tuesday’s transfer deadline, however there’s still plenty of intrigue regarding the club’s long-term plans.
The January window shuts at 11pm and so far the Red Devils have only added loan players in the form of Jack Butland and Wout Weghorst, with any significant spending unlikely this month. But in his second transfer window, Erik ten Hag has provided some insights into how he wants his team to operate and how the club’s long-term recruitment strategy could look.
In the final hours of the January window we’ve analysed five transfer questions which have been answered during the mid-season market and what to expect in the summer.
Is right-back still a concern?
In short: yes.
Ten Hag wanted to add a right-back last summer but ultimately opted to prioritise other positions such as midfield and right wing. Diogo Dalot was given an opportunity to stamp his authority and, in the main, has thrived under Ten Hag’s stewardship.
However, injury has limited the Portugal international to just two starts in the 11 matches since the World Cup, meaning Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been relied upon. The former Crystal Palace man has shown he’s still defensively robust, but undoubtedly lacks the offensive capabilities to be a long-term component of Ten Hag’s side.
He is expected to move on in the summer with United tentatively keeping tabs on Paris Saint-Germain’s Achraf Hakimi, although target Josip Juranovic did join Union Berlin in January making a summer switch to Old Trafford unlikely. Denzel Dumfries is another player who Ten Hag is keen on, and a right-back is expected to be signed in the summer.
Do United have enough midfield options?
Injuries to Donny van de Beek and Christian Eriksen have come as big blows to United, although the extent of the latter’s ankle issue has yet to be revealed. A long-term problem for Eriksen would leave Ten Hag with just four senior midfielders to fill three positions: Casemiro, Fred, Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes.
Zidane Iqbal and Kobbie Mainoo are options, but neither youngster is ready for regular Premier League football at this stage. It’s why adding reinforcements in the centre could dominate the final hours of United’s January window, and failure to recruit in that area might prove pivotal for the club’s chances of success in the second half of the season.
Where do United need a clear out?
Certain players feel like they’ve come to the end of their time at United. Harry Maguire and McTominay evidently aren’t trusted by Ten Hag, while Victor Lindleof isn’t seen as wholly reliable. Wan-Bissaka is likely to depart in the summer, while Brandon Williams struggles to even make the bench.
Van de Beek is also not believed to be in Ten Hag’s long-term plans and there’s a grim irony that his nasty knee injury may have inadvertently extended his United career.
Chuck in loanees Dean Henderson, Eric Bailly, Alex Telles - and Phil Jones, whose contract is up in the summer - and that’s 11 senior players who could be allowed to leave at the end of the season.
It’s unlikely that many will be allowed to depart, but a clear out of some sorts is expected, and incomings will be needed to replace those exits. Of course, the transfer funds available to Ten Hag in the summer are still unknown given the uncertainty over who will own the club at the beginning of the 2023/24 campaign.
What sort of striker does Ten Hag want?
Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure meant bringing in a centre-forward was always United’s priority in January, and Wout Weghorst is an adequate short-term solution. But Ten Hag’s decision to sign a striker renowned for pressing and link-up play gives an insight into the sort of attacker he could look to buy in the summer.
Adding a nippy poacher seems unlikely ahead of next season, and physicality and a decent range of passing appear to be required of any prospective signing. Harry Kane and Victor Osimhen have been mooted as possible options, both of whom fulfil that criteria.
What is the priority for the summer?
As previously mentioned, a right-back and striker are needed, while adding to United’s midfield resources seems likely. Should Maguire and Lindelof leave, then replacing both centre-backs will also be a must.
But Ten Hag has formed the crux of a long-term team, with David de Gea, Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Luke Shaw, Casemiro, Eriksen, Fernandes, Antony and Marcus Rashford expected to be integral once again next season. Therefore, strengthening the wider squad and adding more depth in all areas is likely to be important, as well as upgrading the two key areas at right-back and up front.