Manchester United have lost three out of their last four games, after being beaten by Wolves on Tuesday evening, in what has been quite a turnaround in fortune following months of positivity under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
To be fair to United, the overall performance against Wolves was pretty good, but Ashley Young’s 55th-minute red card when the scoreline was at 1-1 certainly didn’t help matters. Neither did Romelu Lukaku’s wastefulness in front of goal or Paul Pogba’s wayward passing, with him securing his lowest passing accuracy rate of the season to date. David de Gea arguably could have done better for the first goal and was poor for the second too.
While it would be difficult to name any players that really shone, Scott McTominay put in a good shift and claimed his first goal for the club, and Fred had a better performance than many, without setting the world alight.
United’s problem is they have too many players who aren’t good enough and too many good players who aren’t doing enough in recent weeks.
Solskjaer has repeatedly talked about his desire to improve the squad he has when asked about players he would be interested in signing. He’s also confirmed that Ed Woodward has not confirmed a budget with him. But as important as it is to develop the team and bring in new recruits, the club must also shift some dead wood.
United’s defence is by far the weakest area and means that every time a forward misses an opportunity to score, the team will likely pay for it, as it proves so easy to get a goal against this team.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were their typical calamitous selves on Tuesday, with Wolves’ winning strike coming from a Jones assist and Smalling own goal. They are both capable of putting in good performances but their top level is still short of what United should be aspiring to, given these players were bought to be the next Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic and have come nowhere close to emulating their predecessors.
Can the club afford to let both go in one transfer window? Arguably not. But at least one of them should finally be given their marching orders. Both defenders have signed contract extensions this season but there is hope among many fans that this was a move to secure a transfer fee before their previous deal expired, as was the case with Marouane Fellaini who was sold in January, four months after extending his contract.
Ashely Young is another defender who was given a new deal by the club this season but he’s been on borrowed time for a while. While his passion and effort curries favour with sections of the fan base, he is a poor option at right-back. He turns 34 this summer and has to be let go.
Marcos Rojo earns close to £100,000-a-week but has been given less than three hours of playing time this season. Even when not injured, he is another substandard defender that United should not be paying the wages of and, at 29, he isn’t going to get any better.
You would be forgiven for forgetting that Matteo Darmian is still at the club, considering his last appearance was the minute he played against Brighton off the bench back in January. The same goes for Antonio Valencia, which is strange considering he’s supposed to be the captain, but he’s only played once for the club in 2019 and will leave on a free transfer in the summer.
Juan Mata, who hasn’t agreed new terms with United, also looks set to leave. He has been a popular player at Old Trafford but his best years are long behind him and he slows down United’s attack in a way that just is not in keeping with Solskjaer’s tactics. He is a useful option to have but not when he’s turning 31 and is handsomely paid.
Nemanja Matic has his moments and started well for Solskjaer, but he too is slow and doesn’t provide United’s defence with the cover it needs. As one of the club’s highest earners and approaching his 31st birthday in the summer, United should sell him while he’s still worth something and bring in a younger and better replacement.
Eric Bailly and Fred may consider themselves lucky not to be listed here too although it’s unlikely there would be many United fans sad to see them leave.
The biggest problem United will have is Alexis Sanchez, who is one of the best-paid players in the world but has offered next to nothing this season.
Unless he’s ready for a move to China, it’s hard to see how United are going to shift him.
And until they do, they face an uphill battle in negotiating reasonable salaries with any new signing or any player they are hoping to renew.
Ander Herrera is the only one who seems certain to leave at this stage, given reports linking him with a move to PSG, after not being satisfied with United’s comparative offer. Sadly, out of this long list, he is likely the one who the club could do with sticking around. United need to sign another midfielder regardless of whether he stays or leaves, but as a squad player he could still bring a lot to the table.
The fact that United need a complete overhaul, despite the vast amount of money afforded to their managers before this summer, illustrates perfectly how poor the club’s transfer strategy has been.
While there are plenty of players who don’t make the grade, the worry is United won’t spend enough to bring in enough adequate replacements. Let’s not forget that relegated Fulham are one of the many clubs to have spent more than United this season.
Over the last three years, United have signed just 11 players, including third-choice goalkeeper Lee Grant. For the sake of comparison, and while not all of these were considered first team squad players, Manchester City have brought in 24 players, Chelsea 19 players, Arsenal 16 players and Liverpool 15.
If United are to improve next season, Solskjaer must be backed in the transfer window so that the players who aren’t good enough can be moved on and replaced by better options. United supporters won’t be holding their breath on that happening though.