Manchester United are stuck in a never-ending cycle of having a squad that needs two or three years of work to fix, but they’re only giving managers a year’s worth of patience and it will continue unless something drastically changes.
To blow the entire squad up and start again might be seen as an admittance of defeat before the season has started, critics might say they won’t qualify for the UCL if they take that path, but this squad is only good enough to scrape into the top four once every two or three seasons – actually competing with the elite teams is a mile away just now.
Erik ten Hag really needs time to overhaul this squad, and here’s a look at ten senior players who wouldn’t be getting anywhere close to the first team at clubs like Liverpool, Man City, Real Madrid, PSG, etc.
Harry Maguire: Cost £80m
Every club in world football wants to play a dynamic style, where the strikers can press from the front and the defence can stay high to minimise the space for the opposition to play in. With Harry Maguire, Man United are forced to treat Maguire like the king in Chess – he can barely move, needs multiple players close to guard him and if he’s left isolated then you’ve got major problems.
At Leicester City he also showed the ability to step out from the back and create, but that’s rarely on show at Old Trafford either. He might look good in a back three when he’s well protected, but he’s not someone who stands out and elevates those around him, so the time has come to move on.
Eric Bailly – £38.5m
If you could somehow combine the better parts of Maguire and Bailly’s game then you might actually come up with a pretty good defender. The problem is, that they both have the potential to cause absolute chaos when on the field, and as a combination, it just doesn’t work either.
Bailly does have strong athletic traits and you can argue that his decisiveness could be useful if he made consistently good decisions, but he’s simply too rash to be reliable at this level, and his tendency to get pulled out of position also leaves his partner exposed and it’s a weakness that can be exploited.
When he arrived it did look like he had the raw talent to improve and become a top-level defender, but that’s simply never going to be the case.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka – £50m
The full-back may be one of the most under-appreciated roles at the highest level. The best teams have defenders who can occupy an entire flank and demand extra attention, they create overloads and put the ball into dangerous areas for teammates to score goals.
Wan Bissaka is an outstanding defender in one-on-one situations, but in an attacking sense, the opposition actively want him on the ball. His main action on the ball is to slow the game down and he plays the simple ball back into a safe position where it’s hard to trouble the opposition, and it also means whoever plays further forward on United’s right flank can be double up and it shuts down the entire wing.
He would be a solid addition for a mid-table side that just needs him to defend, but he’s not good enough for United and his lack of confidence on the ball is very one-dimensional.
Fred – £52.5m
The Brazilian midfielder does provide energy and some impetus to the United midfield, but it’s hard to figure out what his role should really be in this team. Bruno Fernandes is the undisputed creator with the licence to get forward, and that limits what you want from the other two in the midfield.
Somebody needs to be capable of playing a holding role, breaking up the play, and keeping it simple, but Fred’s energy means he’s likely to go walkabout and he’s just not disciplined enough to do that. The other role in the midfield three would suit someone who can keep the ball moving while linking defence and attack, but he’s just not technically good enough to do that either.
He might suffer from Fernandes being in the team because his presence
does unbalance a more traditional trio, and he’s just not good. enough for this United team.
Anthony Martial – £61.5m
In his early days there were signs of a very young Thierry Henry in Martial as his coolness in front of goal looked extremely promising, but he’s just not kicked on at all. One of the most damning indictments comes from wondering where he’s actually effective on the field.
He can thrive as a traditional number 9 against poor teams but he lacks the physical presence and off-the-ball movement to trouble good sides, while he also tends to drift into a wider position, but he’s so one-footed that he’s then easy to play against.
He’s often played wide on the left to allow him to attempt to cut inside but again it’s too predictable to be effective and he tends to drift out of games far too easily. A loan spell at Sevilla hasn’t done anything to show he’s a super player who’s simply stuck at the wrong club, and you do have to wonder what’s next for the Frenchman.
In total, the five players have cost United over £280m in transfer fees, and it’s hard to see them recouping £100m if these five are sold on, so it gives you an idea of just how much of a mess this squad is, but also how difficult it’s going to be to rebuild it.