Frustrations in the transfer market have left Manchester United fans debating as to whether José Mourinho or Ed Woodward is the problem. Despite the need for great reinforcements to try and get closer to the title after finishing 19 points behind Manchester City last season, only Fred has signed as a senior, international calibre footballer, and even he joined from the Ukrainian first division.
Mourinho has succeeded at building a side with world class players capable of winning matches, but where he has not is building a squad full of quality and replacing weak links in the squad. Transfers have perhaps betrayed him, yes, but the alternative option would be to dip into the large reserve of extremely talented young players.
Currently, United possess some of the most talented under-25 players in football, but under Mourinho only Scott McTominay has made significant strides as a footballer. Combine this with the fact that players who underperformed under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal are still in the squad, and many of the problems faced at Old Trafford are clear.
For example, below are three players who could have replaced their first-team counterparts over the first two seasons at United.
Mourinho’s first signing at Manchester United was Eric Bailly, who appeared to have joined the Red Devils to join Chris Smalling, who emerged as a leader under van Gaal, at the back. However, Smalling produced a string of torrid displays which should have kept him out of the team permanently.
Replaced by Marcos Rojo in the first team, it was believed that the end of Smalling’s United career would be the £30 million signing of Victor Lindelöf, but the Englishman bizarrely jumped back ahead of Rojo in the queue and straight into the first team after Lindelöf had problems adjusting to life in England, where he made more appearances than any other defender last season.
The fact that Lindelöf made less appearances than he cost millions last season is ridiculous, as has been proved by the Swede’s heroic performance at the World Cup. He should undoubtedly jump ahead of Smalling in the queue this season, with Axel Tuanzebe challenging the former England international for his spot in the squad.
Arguably the best player at United’s first pre-season under Mourinho, it was a surprise to see Andreas Pereira go on loan to Granada, where he was the best player at a top-tier Spanish club that ended up being relegated. Returning to England and being one of the best players at pre-season again, Pereira was still loaned.
United lack attacking spark when Paul Pogba isn’t fit, and Mourinho’s only solution to the problem seems to be Marouane Fellaini. Any legitimate attempt to replace Pogba with Fellaini in any side is inexcusable.
Pereira’s Valencia loan wasn’t as impressive as his first in Spain, but he deserved the opportunity in the first team when Pogba was injured last season and he deserves it now if another midfielder isn’t signed. Fellaini signed a two-year deal for United but it could have been because the club didn’t want him to go for free; McTominay and Pereira are the perfect combination of players to replace the Belgian this season, which will perhaps be his last in Manchester.
Establishing himself as a versatile defender under Louis van Gaal at Manchester United, Timothy Fosu-Mensah played a full season of first-team football with Crystal Palace last season and showed his potential. However, the Dutchman should have been in the first team from the time Mourinho joined, and if he had, United would have had a versatile defender developing into a long-term defensive midfield role.
A difficult position to play, defensive midfield seems to be Fosu-Mensah’s best, and while he does not have the direct natural attributes to replace Michael Carrick tactically, he could be the player to understudy Nemanja Matić’s destroyer role and make the numbers that the Untied retiree was making last season.
Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot should replace Matteo Darmian this season, leaving Daley Blind and Carrick to be replaced by Fosu-Mensah, who should benefit greatly from splitting his time between centre-back and midfield. Mourinho doesn’t seem set on any current United player as a defensive midfield anchor after Matić and this is a hole that could be filled over the course of the season.
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