Manchester United are leaving themselves with a caveat for a genuine title challenge this season. Just sign a midfielder, FFS.
As far as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is concerned, Manchester United had a summer transfer plan and have enacted it perfectly.
“I don’t think much is going to happen. If something happens, it is a bonus. You never know what happens in the world of football. But we’ve had a very good window. I am happy with what we’ve done.”
He has every reason to be content with the deals they’ve got over the line, despite one of them taking nigh on two years to complete. Two areas in which they were short of quality have been strengthened. But to suggest anything further would be a “bonus”, given the glaring lack of quality in a position which perhaps should have been the first of three priorities this summer, is either a sign of negligence or misplaced optimism.
United are heading into the season with three defensive midfielders. One of them (the best of them) has just undergone surgery, another is slow and getting slower and the last continues to perplex football existentialists the world over – what is the point of Fred?
There has been speculation that Solskjaer’s ideal formation would see just one player screening the back four in a 4-3-3, with two more forward-thinking midfielders, but there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that is actually his preference. He has used a double pivot in both of the opening two Premier League games of this campaign, just as he did all of last season and most of the season before.
Title rivals Chelsea, like United, have three options for their two holders, but one of those is about to win the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year, another was a nominee for that same award and the third, Mateo Kovacic, would walk into Solskjaer’s starting line-up. Injuries in that area may cause a problem for Thomas Tuchel, but assuming they remain fit, the German boss could viably borrow his counterpart’s phrase: an addition would, for him, be a bonus.
But given that same lack of depth as Chelsea and, far more importantly, the relative talent of the options, the same outlook from Solskjaer – if genuine – is truly mystifying.
United have been linked with midfielders – Eduardo Camavinga, Ruben Neves, Saul Niguez – all of whom would be an improvement, but reports suggest those potential moves have now been shelved because Paul Pogba is staying for another season. How have they come to that conclusion? It’s as though a mist of dementia has descended over Old Trafford.
They know Pogba can’t play there. It would be great if he could, but they’ve tried it; it doesn’t work. If they had a world-class defensive midfielder it might, but France found out to their cost that even N’Golo Kante struggles to cover him and United don’t have anyone anywhere near that level. Pogba is not a defensive midfielder, we can all see that and so can Solskjaer – the Frenchman has been brilliant playing in advance of Bruno Fernandes on the left in the opening two games.
So rather than pulling Pogba deeper, limiting him and the team with defensive responsibility, just let Pogba be Pogba and sign someone who’s both nothing like him but much closer to his level than Nemanja McFred. No disrespect to Brighton, but Yves Bissouma plays for Brighton. Offer him £80,000 per week, give them £40million and stick him straight in the team.
Because if they don’t, this will be used as the excuse a few weeks down the line. Poor old Manchester United don’t have the players to compete with Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. One more signing and they could have been in with a chance. But this isn’t hindsight: we all know why United won’t win the title as things stand – it’s incredibly obvious and unbelievably frustrating. Stop leaving yourself with caveats and take the final step. It’s right there.