We look at why Adama Traore and Moussa Dembele should be on Manchester United's radar, alongside keeping Paul Pogba, Dean Henderson and Chris Smalling.
Whenever the next transfer window does open, it will be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's fourth as Manchester United manager, and third as permanent boss.
He has been steadfast in his commitment to patiently evolve United's squad, arguing that a huge turnover of players caused them to fall so far adrift of the Premier League's leading teams in the first place.
So as Manchester United prepare for further gradual improvements to their squad, we've come up with five players we feel will help continue that process.
Three of which are already on the United payroll.
This has to be priority number one for not only Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but the Old Trafford higher-ups.
The public spats that occur on a semi-regular basis, usually sparked by super agent Mino Raiola, must be draining for the manager, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and Paul Pogba himself.
Rarely is it the French World Cup winner himself that is kicking up a fuss.
Quite understandably, the argument "just sell him" spouts from various corners, a noise that has become louder since United's huge improvement following the January arrival of hassle-free Bruno Fernandes. But, of course, it’s far from as simple as "just sell him".
'Pogba the brand' is hugely valuable, so football is only part of his appeal. In the aftermath of the 2018 World Cup, marketing company SportPro ranked him as the most marketable sportsman in the world. So it makes sense that if a club wants to sign him then they need to pay Manchester United a hefty price, and the likelihood of that given the current financial climate has vastly diminished.
Before the pandemic he was odds-on to be a Real Madrid player on September 3, 2020, whereas now you’ll do well to find a bookie that's even taking bets on him remaining at Old Trafford. Find one and you’re looking at 3/10.
That unlikelihood of an exit could end the noise and get Pogba back to football - wouldn't that be great?
Because for all the focus that's been put on Fernandes' impact, and how it's apparently shown United don't need one of the best midfielders on the planet, he hasn't replaced Pogba in the team. The Frenchman's campaign has been mired by injury, with just eight appearances in total and none since his Portuguese team-mate arrived at Old Trafford.
People quickly forget that Pogba was named in the 2018/19 PFA Premier League Team of the Year thanks to scoring 16 goals and assisting 11 in all competitions – the majority of which came in the 25 games after Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho as manager in late December 2018.
Quite understandably, the Norwegian would love to have both Pogba and Fernandes firing in the same midfield, because forget everything else, United's team would suddenly be very close to world class.
With the news that both Pogba and Marcus Rashford will be fit for the Premier League's big restart in mid-June, Solskjaer may well get a nine-game trial run.
Rewind to January, and never in a million years did I think I would find myself writing this: Manchester United need to replace Odion Ighalo (who was supposed to just be a short-term replacement himself.)
It looks as though they’ll have to do without the Nigeria striker for the remainder of the current Premier League season having been unable to agree a loan extension with his parent club Shanghai Shenhua, which will be a real blow given the impact he has made in such a short period. But long-term he was never going to be the answer.
After the disastrous signing of Alexis Sanchez in January 2018, which you can read more about here, United made an obvious shift in transfer policy in an effort to close the ever-increasing gap between them and the Premier League’s leading duo of Manchester City and Liverpool.
At 26-years-old, Harry Maguire is the oldest permanent first-team addition they have made, following the younger Fred, Diego Dalot, Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka into Old Trafford, and recently being followed by 25-year-old Bruno Fernandes.
So being in his 30s, Ighalo was publicly, unashamedly described as a quick-fix to plug the gap exposed by Marcus Rashford’s back injury. But what his arrival has shown is the benefit of having a proper centre-forward.
While his four goals in three starts is what grabbed headlines, Ighalo’s overall contribution as a focal point both as a substitute and starter, is more significant. So if not him, then who?
Former Celtic and Fulham striker Moussa Dembele looks certain to make his second big-money move in two years, and he could be that genuine front man that Manchester United need.
And I’m not the only who thinks it, with reports starting to link him with a move to Old Trafford - as a result his odds of becoming a United player by September 3 have dropped to evens with some bookies.
It seems a lifetime ago that some eye-catching Champions League performances helped him to a 30-goal season for Celtic; before that campaign was out the transfer rumours had started. He was in and out of the team the following year as a consequence but still left Glasgow with 51 goals from 77 games.
And he’s brushed aside any Scottish Premiership snobbery by banging in 42 in 79 matches for Lyon.
Then there is Timo Werner, a striker everyone seems to be after.
He would fit a different profile, but like Ighalo and Dembele his most comfortable position is as a central striker, which arguably isn't the case with either Rashford or Anthony Martial.
The RB Leipzig and Germany forward’s most likely destination would appear to be Liverpool though, with Werner now odds-on to join Jurgen Klopp’s side.
And how about a wildcard? If United are looking for a younger, more dynamic Ighalo then they could plump for his Nigeria team-mate Victor Osimhen.
The Lille striker's 13 goals and five assists in Ligue 1 this season has caused heads to turn. The 21-year-old has bags of pace to go with his 6ft2ins frame and would complement what Manchester United already have at their disposal.
Most recently, Osimhen's been linked with Tottenham, but United would be crazy not to be considering him.
With the experience he's already gathered from spells in Belgium, Germany and France, expect someone to come in for him even if it's not United, who could simply back teenage sensation Mason Greenwood, and sign no-one at all.
In David de Gea Manchester United have one of the best goalkeepers in world football, but this has been far from his greatest season, or greatest couple even.
Only Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka has made more errors leading to goals than De Gea’s three in the Premier League this season – and I’m talking about all players, not just keepers. The Spaniard finished third in the charts in 2018/19 too, costing his team four goals.
In the two previous seasons, De Gea made not a single error that led to a goal. The two campaigns before that saw one each term.
In October 2014, former Barcelona stalwart Victor Valdes arrived at Old Trafford for a spell of training and though he would ultimately sign, and then depart acrimoniously, he provided genuine competition. When Valdes fell out with the club, Sergio Romero, a veteran of almost 100 Argentina caps, was signed.
It’s absolutely no coincidence that De Gea’s form peaked during a time when he was not absolutely guaranteed the number one jersey. What has become clear in recent campaigns is that Romero is the number two, regardless of De Gea's form.
The effect of any healthy rivalry has long since disappeared.
Rather than go into excruciating detail about how good Dean Henderson has been this season – which you can read in more detail here – I’ll keep it brief.
During the Manchester United keeper's loan spell at Sheffield United he has been a stand-out player in the Premier League’s second-best defence, a team that has performed incredibly to be in contention for Champions League qualification in their first season since promotion.
Displacing De Gea as Manchester United number one would be a big ask, but it would certainly provide real competition, and perhaps be the jolt required to spark the Spaniard back to life.
The fact that pre-coronavirus pandemic Jadon Sancho was odds-on to be a Manchester United player by the end of the next transfer window highlights that right wing was, and therefore still is, a position the club wanted to strengthen.
£100m-plus signings could be a thing of the past, at least for the foreseeable future, so if United do still want to make an addition then they will have to look elsewhere.
First of all let’s take a look at what they have already. Daniel James was signed from Swansea in a surprise deal in the summer of 2019 and done well in his debut season at Old Trafford.
But having been arguably the side’s most potent attacking weapon in the opening three months of the campaign, when he scored three times in his first four Premier League appearances, he has not scored a league goal since. Until he broke his barren run in the final match before football was paused, a 5-0 Europa League win at LASK, he had gone 37 games without scoring. He did provide seven assists during that spell, so wasn’t providing zero end product. But still – 37 games!
Then there’s Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, both strikers who are comfortable on the left, less so the right. The left-footed Mason Greenwood is being gradually developed into a centre-forward and therefore may have more of a short-term role on the right-hand side.
Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard can do a job out there too, but are more effective in a number 10 role, so James really is United’s only genuine right-sided attacker.
Arguably, the stand-out player in that position during this season’s Premier League has been Wolves’ Adama Traore. After failing to make the grade at Barcelona, the Spanish powerhouse struggled to make his mark in poor Aston Villa and Middlesbrough teams, suffering successive top-flight relegations.
But after turning heads for Boro in the Championship, he earned an £18m move to newly-promoted Wolves and hasn't really looked back. Nuno Espirito Santo has managed to get consistent end product from Traore's powerful, skilful and often unstoppable dribbling - six goals and 10 assists this term.
And on the dribbling, he leads the top flight in those numbers with a staggering 144, followed by Wilfried Zaha's 136 - they are the only two players in triple figures. If he does make the move to Old Trafford, let's hope for his sake it goes better than Zaha's two Premier League sub appearance in two years...
More recently Traore has been linked with a move to Liverpool, and even Manchester City, but his style of play is far more suited to a United team that likes to play on the counter attack, something he is very much used to at Wolves.
Moreover, as well as playing as a right winger, he has often been used as a wing-back. Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has favoured the use of 3-4-1-2 against other ‘Big Six’ opponents, which would arguably make Traore a more sensible addition than even Sancho. Especially for about half the money at roughly £60m.
Another player I expect someone to take a punt on is Monaco's Gelson Martins.
Not only have the club's emerging stars been getting pinched for years, but he is currently in the middle of a six-month ban after pushing a referee during a Ligue 1 match. Should that suspension not be adjusted to account for the coronavirus pandemic, the Portugal international will be back in August. But it has to have hit his price tag.
He could prove to be one of the bargains of the transfer window. With 46 goals and assists in his final two seasons at Sporting, and now 11 goal involvements in 37 Ligue 1 games following a short-lived spell at Atletico Madrid, he’s shown more than enough to secure a career-defining move.
Since January 2019, Manchester United have done a good job of moving players out that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did not see as part of the club's long-term plans, making room for youngsters like Scott McTominay, Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams to flourish.
But while Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku and Matteo Darmian – then Ashley Young too – left Old Trafford on permanent deals, a cluster are set to return from exile this summer.
Alexis Sanchez, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo all remain under contract until at least 2021, and will take up a sizeable chunk of wage bill. In a time of financial difficulty, whether clubs will be as willing to fork out on expensive loan signings isn't clear, but what is for certain is United must either find a place in the squad for this trio, which is highly unlikely, or find new clubs for them.
Of the three, the strongest case for a Manchester United future lies with Smalling.
He has enjoyed an impressive loan spell at Roma this season, and as a centre-half would offer cover in a position where United are short of options. Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof have built up a formidable partnership, but beyond that there's not much else.
Phil Jones is surely next on the Old Trafford scrapheap having barely featured under Solskjaer, leaving only the injury-prone Eric Bailly and untested Axel Tuanzebe as central defensive cover.
It's rare that an unwanted player is sent out on loan, before returning to play a major role, but these are rare times. I'd be far from shocked to see Smalling swap the red of Roma for the red of Manchester United come 2020/21.
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