Talk to the average Manchester United fan on the street and it becomes clear that they think the current squad is still not good enough to challenge Manchester City. Most fans will come up with their own personal wish-list, a blueprint for success for the club. Everyone wants the luxury signing of course, but is it necessarily the right move?
The problem is that signing players is not always the most important thing in the summer. Ironically, Manchester City are a good example of that. In the summer transfer window last year, City, while spending a fair amount on defenders, did not completely overhaul their first eleven. Indeed, their star performers last season – De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling and Sané – had all been at the club since 2016 or earlier. You could argue that Pep Guardiola’s coaching and nous improved that quartet immeasurably.
United have now spent over £700 million since Alex Ferguson left the club. The big spending is so commonplace that even the arrival of Fred for £50+ million is greeted with a shrug by fans. The Brazilian could undoubtedly be a hit at United, but that’s beside the point. He joins a side where the system and philosophy seem to be all over the place.
Joining a club like United, the majority of players are expected to improve, to step up. Look at the likes of Anthony Martial – has there been any progression to his career since bursting on to the scene three years ago? The same could be said for Marcus Rashford? Why spend £31.5 million on Victor Lindelof if he is not going to be nurtured properly? The Swede, along with Eric Bailly, seems to have regressed since joining United. That’s a bad sign for two young players.
Despite the fact that United are expected to again go on a spending spree this summer, the bookmakers do not agree that it will be enough to catch City. They are currently third-favourites with Ladbrokes football betting at 6/1. The fact that Manchester City are odds-on favourites (8/13) shows the gap that remains between the two clubs.
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Again, United’s players might look towards Liverpool (5/1 for the title, despite finishing behind United last year) with a sense of envy. The Reds play with a sense of philosophy and tactical assuredness which every player seems to understand. This seems to be absent at Old Trafford at the moment. The disjointedness at United suggests that, Fred or whoever else joins the Brazilian, will not be completing the ‘final piece of the puzzle’, but rather add to the incoherence of the team and its tactics.
All of this might seem a little harsh on the team that finished second in the Premier League last season. But it is undeniable that United – on paper – should be achieving much more than they have done in the last few seasons. Fans who demand big signings seem to forget that United have been doing that for the last few years, with mixed results. Perhaps a different tactic is required this summer, one of honing the players already at Mourinho’s disposal. Indeed, if all of United’s squad played to their potential, they would be much closer to their cross-city rivals. It might be time to put some belief into them.