Connor's Corner: How Can Man Utd Improve This Summer
By Connor Harmer
The final piece of this part 6 jigsaw, are the 2016 - 2017 Europa League, Charity Shield and League Cup winners; Manchester United.
With 2 signings in the bag and 1 looking imminent, for me and for what it seems like for Jose, only one more will come after and it will be the same number as last year with 4 arrivals. I think united did look shaky at times and they need some new faces in to take them back to being competitive in the Premier League, let alone the Champions League. United struggled with goals last year and their attacking threat was almost solely dependent on an ageing Zlatan Ibrahimovic. However, I do feel with a younger feel to the team now, this could really help United become a lot more dynamic and flexible within their front line. Defensively I think they were pretty good considering the amount of changes they made throughout the season and a settled back 4 this year will only help with that.
With the difficult job of replacing both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney, it looked like United were going all out for Antoine Griezmann. For what seemed like a done deal and fans hailing the new United number 7, this steam train was suddenly stopped when Atletico’s transfer ban was unexpectedly upheld and they are unable to sign players until January 2018. Griezmann quickly signed a new contract and after small talk of a Cristiano Ronaldo return, United moved on to Alvaro Morata. After a long tug of war between United and Real Madrid over the fee, the mind games were stopped and United ended their interest and assertively swooped in for Premier Leagues 2nd top scorer, Romelu Lukaku under the noses of Chelsea.
Now if you read my previous article on Chelsea, you will see I mentioned I’m not sure Lukaku is the man to lead a top team to glory. I still believe that, however I do think he is better suited to United than Chelsea. I still feel United will need more to challenge in the Champions League, but for the League, Lukaku could be exactly what United need. Similar to Ibrahimovic in stature, the more youthful frontman is a typical Mourinho signing - big, strong and over 6 foot. He may not be the best technically and I have always slated him for that, and one thing for sure is he really needs to work on both his workrate as well as his hold up play in the final 3rd. He is going to be seeing a lot more of the ball in this United team and a lot more of the ball is going to be short into his feet, where he’s going to have to hold it up and make quick decisions for the team; but one thing you cannot deny is, he is a goalscorer. With United making the most crosses last season out of any team in the Premier League and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic missing the most clear-cut chances out of any player last season; Lukaku will be sure to make up for that this year and he could well eclipse the 25-goal tally in the Premier League.
Despite having the 2nd best defensive record in the League last year, Jose has decided to act sharply to bring in Swedish centre back Victor Lindelof to toughen up the defence. With Mourinho constantly changing the back line last year due to injuries, suspensions and for what seemed like most of the season of not trusting his defenders, he has clearly identified Lindelof as someone to come in and settle that down and bring a partnership together with Eric Bailly. The 22-year-old Swede brings a wealth of experience and winning mentality at a young age, winning the Primiera Liga the last 3 seasons, the European under 21 Championships with Sweden and playing Champions League football. The Swede nicknamed ‘The Iceman’ could also offer Jose some flexibility having been known as a ball playing centre back, he has also played for Sweden at right back and did so in the Championships as well as midfield for them and Benfica. It’s very rare that Mourinho gets a defensive signing wrong and there’s a feeling about this for me that him and Bailly are really going to be some partnership.
The next imminent arrival looks set to be Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic. Perisic for me, is someone who I’m very excited about. Many United fans across twitter and other social media platforms have been very critical of the pursuit of the Croat and maybe some are justifiably so critical about the fee. I agree that the fee is too much, for a soon to be 29-year-old, but that is unfortunately the market that we are in and every single club will always bump the price up if Manchester United come in. In terms of the player himself, he is very unique. One of the fine few old fashioned out and out wingers left in the game, who will get the ball, attack the full back, get around him and whip a ball in. Perisic stats last year, really back this up. He created 63 chances last year; as a point of reference, Martial made 28 and Mkhitaryan made 33. Perisic also contributed in 33 goals in 53 games last year by scoring or assisting, which is quite some feat. But, maybe the stat that really stands out and shows why Mourinho is willing to pay big money for Perisic are his crossing stats. In 35 games last year Perisic made 239 crosses; this dwarfs Lingards, Martial’s and Mkhitaryans stats which are 25, 56 and 48 crosses respectively. Perisic’s ability to be so comfortable on both feet gives him an advantage in coming both inside and going outside the fullback, bringing that unpredictability and advantage that, for me no other winger in the Premier League has. It’s also something which is always easy on the eye and shows his technical class, very similar to Lallana and Cazorla.
People may say that with Martial, Rashford, Young, Lingard, Mkhitaryan, Mata, Fellaini, Pereira and Pogba all being able to play in the 3 behind the front man, that United don’t need any more players in these positions, but for me Perisic is something special, something different and exactly something that United need.
The final arrival that looks to be taking that fourth summer signing spot, is a defensive midfielder. Both Nemanja Matic and Eric Dier are the two that have been both touted to join United. Dier is someone who has clearly played well for Tottenham since joining, but the fees being spoken about really are extraordinary and I’d be quite amazed if Mourinho was to go for Dier. Chelsea man Matic now seems surplus to requirements after being left at home from Chelsea’s tour and a move elsewhere looks imminent. The Serb is someone who Mourinho knows well, has a wealth of experience in the Premier League and for me would be a brilliant signing for United were they to get him and would really compliment Herrera and Pogba. Whether Chelsea are going to play hardball with United for what happened with Lukaku however, could depend on if United go for him or even look elsewhere from both of these two. With rumours tonight of AC Milan set to make a loan move with a view to a permanent move for Renato Saches from Bayern Munich, maybe this could be a surprise move that Mourinho may look for. With Mourinho previously stating he is a big admirer of his fellow countryman Sanches and that was he in charge when he moved to Bayern he would have made a move, the young man has yet to settle in Germany and with today prices floating around, the 40million euro fee that is supposedly the permanent transfer fee, is very, very, good value for money in this day and age. I guess it will depend on if Mourinho wants that experience in or is willing to take a bit of a risk.
I would be a bit of a shock if United were to make more than the 4 signings again this summer, however one thing that sticks out in my mind from the end of the season was Mourinho saying there will be a ‘surprise’ in the summer. Have any of the signing so far or the ones being touted been a shock? Not really. Maybe you could argue Lukaku because he was expected to go to Chelsea or Perisic because no one would expect that. However, for me, I feel that comment has a bit more to it than these transfers so far. One man who for me, I am absolutely amazed at that United and Mourinho haven’t gone for who would match the ‘surprise’ comment is Arsenal man Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez for me would be the perfect fit. A world class player on his day, a work horse and something that Mourinho loves - an absolute winner. With him being proven in the Premier League, wanting Champions League football, trophies and being in the last year of his contract, for me it’s a no brainer. With Arsene’s previous of selling his best player to United, I’m not sure it would be that easy for him to sell to United this time, knowing how well Van Persie’s stint at United was and how badly that went down with the fans. One other player who may not match the ‘surprise’ status but someone who I wouldn’t be surprised for United to make a move for, is fan favourite Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez. The Mexican is someone who is adored by United fans and the poacher is someone Mourinho has previously randomly referenced in some interviews as a player who he never would have sold. With reports of a 13million release fee from Bayer Leverkusen, that would be a steal for someone of his pedigree and someone who could really be a great asset again for you United throughout the season. The problem is though, would this signing hamper Rashfords development too much?
With the departures of Zlatan and Rooney, United have lost two very experienced players both on and off the pitch. It looks now that Jose is really building a team to challenge now and the future. He has brought the average age of the squad down to just under-25 and with the spine of the team now sorted, it looks like De Gea, Bailly, Pogba and Lukaku are pretty much set in stone for the next few years (providing De Gea stays). With Lindelof, Herrera, Rashford, Mkhitaryan and Martial all to add to that, for me it won’t be long until the real glory days are back at Old Trafford and I believe they will take this year’s title race to the wire. Champions League glory is a season or two away yet before I think they can really challenge, but with Mourinho’s ability to win one off games, if they’re able to get out of the group stage, who knows, a quarter or semi-final could really be on the cards.