A year ago, Manchester United were busy in the transfer window, striking three loan deals to fill out Erik ten Hag’s squad. Striker Wout Weghorst joined from Burnley, midfielder Marcel Sabitzer came in from Bayern Munich and Jack Butland moved north from Crystal Palace.
In 2023, United were acting from a position of strength as they battled for a Premier League top-four place, but this year, they’re in danger of missing out on European football altogether as they languish in seventh.
It remains to be seen to what extent players returning from injury can solve United’s problems – centre-back Lisandro Martinez played his first game since mid-September as a substitute in the 2-2 draw with Spurs last time out, while midfielder Casemiro also returned to the bench in that fixture. In addition, centre-backs Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof could be back available for the FA Cup fourth-round tie against Newport County.
Ten Hag hasn’t been furnished with any external reinforcements just yet, but it seems there could be some significant activity before the month is out.
“Huge” Man Utd deal teased
According to Football Insider, which shared some Man Utd transfer news, the Red Devils could strike a “huge” big-money deal before the end of the month. One or two loan moves are more likely, but depending on departures, there may be room for a more high-profile addition. With United reliant on shifting further players, it’s likely that any “marquee” permanent signing would be “last-gasp” – and centre-back will be the primary area of focus.
The report notes that United have trimmed their wage bill already by sending Jadon Sancho on loan to Borussia Dortmund, with the Bundesliga club set to cover 40% of his £250k-per-week salary. Hannibal Mejbri and Facundo Pellistri’s temporary moves to Sevilla and Granada respectively have freed up extra funds, too.
United should focus on striker instead
United’s defensive record this season isn’t where Ten Hag would want it to be. They’ve conceded 29 goals in their 21 matches, and while that’s the sixth-lowest amount in the division, it’s still an excessive average of 1.38 per match. The Red Devils have actually been let off the hook by wasteful finishing at times as well, with their opponents amassing 33.7 expected goals up to this point (the eight-highest in the league).
From that standpoint, you can see why he might want a new centre-back, but Ten Hag should also recognise the extent of the upheaval in that department. Even before Christmas, he used ten different partnerships at the heart of defence in the midst of repeated injuries, but things should settle down now with Martinez back and Maguire and Lindelof both closing in on returns.
There’s a strong argument, then, that Ten Hag should place faith in his fit-again defenders to shore United up, and instead address their glaring issues at the other end. They urgently need to take the load off Rasmus Hojlund, who’s only scored two Premier League goals so far, and inject some life into an attack that’s scored fewer goals (24) than five teams in the bottom half.