Ole Gunnar Solskjaer currently has a 32-man squad to select from and further additions will only add to the need for a cull
“Announce Maguire,” they say. “Announce Fernandes.”
Manchester United fans, as with most sets of supporters, are having their appetites whetted by the prospect of additional signings ahead of the new Premier League season.
Leicester City’s Harry Maguire and Sporting Lisbon’s Bruno Fernandes are potential incomings to follow Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, but it could yet be United’s ability to offload some of their unwanted squad-fillers which makes the biggest statement this summer.
The first-team group at Old Trafford has been beginning to look increasingly bloated, with the exits of Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia on free transfers being their only departures so far – this despite there being little over a week before the UK transfer window closes.
Meanwhile, the return from loan spells of Axel Tuanzebe, Joel Pereira and Timothy Fosu-Mensah has provided extra cover in positions in which they are already well stocked.
The question now has been just how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deals with a depth chart which looks far too crowded in a number of areas.
He currently has four goalkeepers, meaning one of Lee Grant and Pereira will have to go somewhere else for the next year in order to maintain an effective three-man unit in that department.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of possible departures to consider in the back line. The likes of Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo have been touted for exits for a number of summers now but have so far remained at Old Trafford. With the Italian, in particular, it has been beginning to feel like United should cut their losses and just allow him to go to the first bidder for the sake of getting him off the wage bill.
Darmian has been arguably fifth-choice at best as both right-back and left-back, with Wan-Bissaka, Ashley Young, Diogo Dalot and Fosu-Mensah all ahead of him on his favoured flank and Luke Shaw, Young, Dalot and Rojo preferred options on the left. Fosu-Mensah himself could easily be culled too, with his loan spells at Crystal Palace and Fulham having not been fruitful and Tuanzebe an available right-back option in an injury crisis.
Rojo, meanwhile, has Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Tuanzebe and Phil Jones to contend with for a centre-back spot even before Maguire potentially arrives, leaving the Argentine to reportedly consider leaving United this summer.
If Maguire has been signed, there will become a desperation to cut numbers at the heart of the defence as well as at full-back. Are Smalling and Jones so indispensable that at least one of them couldn’t be cut? Both have signed new deals in the last eight months, but surely if there has been to be a new direction promoted at the Theatre of Dreams they are the types of players the club could do with moving on?
Further up there has been an abundance of wastage too. The promotion of Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong to the senior ranks means Solskjaer has plenty of alternatives available to him even if United cash in on Romelu Lukaku and somehow get Alexis Sanchez off their wage bill.
The Reds have, of course, been in talks to sell Lukaku to Inter with Juventus also interested, while in an ideal world they would have been able to find a buyer for Sanchez. For now both remain at the club, but there will not necessarily be a need to replace either given the stock available to the Norwegian and if it takes them until the continental summer deadline at the end of August to entice a buyer then so be it.
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Solskjaer himself has admitted they don’t necessarily need a huge target man on their books for the foreseeable future. “The way we hope we are going to play, it doesn’t have to be a six-foot four-inch striker,” he said during the club’s recent tour in Australia. And as such, the likes of Marcus Rashford, Greenwood, Anthony Martial and James should provide enough options in the number-nine position even should the two bigger names be cut from the squad.
The illustrative line-ups above include none of Joel Pereira, Grant, Fosu-Mensah, Andreas Pereira, Jones, Rojo, James Garner, Tahith Chong, Lukaku or Darmian, emphasising the unnecessary depth all across the squad.
So while the inevitable questions about further additions linger, there should be just as much focus on how United go about trimming the fat in their first-team squad too. Keeping 25 players happy has been tough at the best of times, so Solskjaer will be far from happy if his current 32-man squad isn’t substantially condensed by the end of August.