The most pressing concern for Manchester United isn’t that their nearest rivals won the Premier League; it’s the emphatic way in which they achieved it. The difference in points was significant, but so were the performances. City’s stylish and assured displays, delivered with consistency and identity, pose a very specific problem for Mourinho. Failing to garner as many points as your nearest rivals is one thing, falling into their shadow is another. It’s not a prospect United fans will tolerate for long.
Mourinho’s focus, then, has to be how to not only to match City next season, but to overcome them. On that basis, it’s clear that, although he has assembled a strong squad, it still lacks the quality he requires to propel United back to the top. The summer transfer window may not be officially open yet, but his plans will already be underway.
One area that needs addressing is the full-back positions. Luke Shaw has been the biggest disappointment. He possesses all the attributes needed to be one of the best left-backs in the world, but, other a sustained spell in his second season, he has failed to deliver. Capable of providing an exhilarating burst of pace and power, coupled with a strong left foot, he fulfils the offensive and defensive criteria needed; he should patrol that corner of Old Trafford for the next decade. Instead, Mourinho’s distrust of him has continued to deepen. Shaw’s battle with his weight have been maddening. There’s little more frustrating than to watch someone with enormous potential fail to grasp the opportunities afforded him. It’s affected his form and his confidence: he often elects to pass back or infield when faced with an opponent, instead of attacking them and whipping in a cross. Defensively, too, he has lost focus, causing the manager to instead utilise Ashley Young in that role. It’s difficult to see a route back for Shaw, and it would be a surprise if United choose not to replace him this summer. According to reports, Alex Sandro, Danny Rose, Ryan Sessegnon, and Kieran Tierney are all possibilities.
On the other side of the pitch, Valencia has been a consistent performer over the past few seasons, but it’s clear an upgrade is needed. In 16/17, he was one of the team’s best players, but he has stagnated in the last twelve months. Still defensively solid and reliable, but. ironically for an ex-winger, the attacking side of his game has regressed: his energy levels have endured, but he rarely supplies United with the injection of class they need in the final third. His crossing has marginally improved – he’s less reliant on the smash across the box – but remains fairly aimless, tossed into the box more in hope than expectation. For a team that often works the ball out wide for an overlapping full-back, the number of assists from that position is incredibly low. It’s not clear who United will target for this position, although Monaco’s Fabinho and Sidibe have both been linked.
It is somewhat incredible, that 6 years and over £600 million later, United still select Jones and Smalling as their centre-halves. The club remain one top class player short in this position. Bailly is excellent (but injury-prone), and none of the candidates to partner him fully convince. It’s not clear if Mourinho feels the same way, although Samuel Umtiti, Rapheal Varane, and Toby Alderweireld have all been linked, any of whom would be an excellent acquisition.
Into midfield, and rumours linger about Pogba’s departure. It seems more like the media generating this drama rather than it being based on truth: United desperately need to improve their quality and, despite Pogba’s stuttering form this season, it’s unlikely United will sell him. With Carrick retiring though, and Fellaini possibly leaving, it’s clear that United need at least one new midfielder, particularly if United continue to employ a 4-3-3 formation. Fred and Savic have both been mentioned.
Up front, Mourinho has indicated that he doesn’t see the need for a new player after the signing of Sanchez in January. However, with a huge question mark against Martial’s future, and a sense that this squad is too unbalanced (with Rashford, Sanchez and Martial battling for a spot on the left), a natural right-sided attacker must be under consideration. As is tradition, Gareth Bale has been linked, although his injury record counts against him, as does a natural tendency to drift into an already-congested central area, when United are in desperate need of genuine width. Bordeaux’s Malcolm and Barcelona’s Dembele would fit the role perfectly, but Willian, a player the manager loves, would be the most obvious option, although convincing Chelsea to release him would be difficult.
United have dismissed the notion there will be a number of signings this summer; Mourinho is adamant that it will only be 2 or 3. In my opinion, it needs to be more. City will strengthen again, and so United need to do more to bridge the gap. 5 players in these positions would give United an outstanding chance of major silverware next season. The summer transfer window is always a crucial time for clubs, but this year in particular, United must make all the right decisions.