The English Premier League season drew to a close yesterday, and it was a strange campaign in more ways than one. An extended pause due to lockdown contributed heavily to this, but it was also unusual in footballing terms. I discussed the drop in quality throughout the division earlier this year, and the final league standings back up my point.
Sub-standard Manchester United and Chelsea sides were able to clinch Champions League football on the final day of the season, and they have to be among the poorest sides to finish 3rd and 4th in recent times. United were incredibly average until their late season revival, and Chelsea’s inconsistencies were highlighted throughout the season through a number of costly defeats.
At the end of the day, however, both sides did achieve their goal of finishing in the top four, and they can begin planning for their assaults on both Europe’s showpiece tournament and next season’s Premier League. So what do Manchester United need to compete at the highest level again?
Get the Sancho deal wrapped up
Manchester United’s interest in Jadon Sancho has been common knowledge for a long time now, and the likelihood of the deal going ahead seemed to hinge of United qualifying for Europe. Now that they’ve done that, an announcement looks imminent. This will be a very important signing for United for a number of reasons.
For starters, it will send a signal of intent around the Premier League. This is one of the best young footballers in the world, and if he chooses to move to Old Trafford it will prove that United are preparing for a return to the top of the game. The buzz amongst the fan base will be palpable, and it will put them in good stead for next season.
It will also help in footballing terms. For me, Marcus Rashford has not been good enough recently. His goal tally is certainly very credible, but his level of performance has been way below what United need from him. There are too many silly flicks, too many wayward passes and too many missed chances. Mason Greenwood’s decision making and quality is already ahead of Rashford’s, and if Sancho comes into the team it should be in place of United’s joint top scorer.
This leaves a very good option on the bench in Rashford and strengthens United in an attacking sense. Rashford will still start a high number of games and it allows United to rotate their front three without a significant drop in quality.
Improve options in midfield
It’s no secret that if United take Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes out their team, they play a lot worse. Scott McTominay and Fred are good defensive players but struggle when United need to play on the front foot. United need to sign a better calibre of attacking centre midfielders.
Jack Grealish is the obvious option. He is very good on the ball and will help to break down teams that sit behind the ball- he’s proven his quality of chance creation at Aston Villa this season. He’d also be very good to bring off the bench, winning fouls when United need to get up the park. His ability to keep the ball is also needed in United’s team, especially in tough games where they are in danger of conceding. He would be an ideal signing.
Buy another centre back
Both of United’s centre backs have shown potential. They’ve both had very good spells, but they’ve also had poor spells. Personally I prefer Lindelof as a player, with Maguire making infuriating errors in recent weeks. However, I understand Maguire is probably more likely to improve in the future. Whatever happens, United do need to sign another centre back.
Whether this player will be a starter or a way of getting the best out of Lindelof and Maguire is still to be seen. However, they do need to strengthen this area. Eric Bailly is too injury-prone, and even when he does play I’m not sure he’s up to the job. United’s defensive record improved significantly last season, but another defender could improve them even more.
Sort out the goalkeeper issues
On his day, David De Gea is among the best goalkeepers in the world. The problem is that he hasn’t had his day in a long time, and even United’s fanbase seems to have run out of patience. With his high wages, however, it will be very difficult to offload him or justify dropping him from the starting eleven.
Dean Henderson is a good option when his loan spell ends, but I don’t think United will go for that option just yet. I can see them giving De Gea at least another season between the sticks, but they’ll need to find a way to get his confidence back up quickly if they want to challenge for trophies next season.