The Manchester United transfer mistake that is starting to hurt them
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a selection headache when he takes United to Newcastle on Sunday, but this isn’t the kind of headache managers want, where players are pushing each other for a starting place, instead this is a dilemma of which out of form players the Norwegian has to turn to to start at St James’ Park.
The injuries are pilling up again for Manchester United and that, combined with some average performances from fringe players against Rochdale and AZ Alkmaar, have left Solskjaer with a real conundrum ahead of the ‘crisis derby’ in the North East.
When you look at the likely players available to Solskjaer for the trip to Newcastle you can see why many United fans are fearing an embarassment. It would be no surprise to see a 10 game winless run away from home stretch to 11. The biggest positive for Solskjaer’s side heading north is that Newcastle are in an even worse state. It’s a game that has the neutrals ready to open the popcorn at 4.30pm on Sunday, not in anticipation of a classic, but in expectancy of some car crash telly.
In the summer United signed Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Daniel James. All three have made positive starts to their careers at the club, although Wan-Bissaka has fallen prey to the injury/illness crisis that continues to envelop at Old Trafford. But the issue was never with the quality of the signings, it’s with the quantity.
United can pat themselves on the back for those three acquisitions, but it was never going to be enough, and that was before Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku were allowed to leave in the final weeks of the transfer window without being replaced.
Injuries have now hit again for United, with Wan-Bissaka sidelined through illness alongside the injured Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw, Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones and Eric Bailly. The latter two might be peripheral figures this season, but the other five would all be likely starters at Newcastle if they were available.
Any side that has five first team players missing is going to be weaker for it, but United’s top six rivals would all back their squad depth to help see them through it. The same can probably be said of Leicester City.
At United the absence of Wan-Bissaka, Shaw, Pogba, Lingard and Martial has only exposed just how weak this squad is behind a starting XI that is hardly writing its name into Old Trafford folklore anyway.
The day after the summer transfer window closed Solskjaer expressed his satisfaction with the work done by the club, insisting there was no sense of frustration.
“Do you know, I think when the transfer window closes it’s a great feeling of relief. Now it’s done, now we know we’re looking forward and I’m delighted with the three we’ve signed,” he said.
That (frustration)’s not the feeling inside the club, anyway. And the feeling with the fans I’ve met are they’re excited with the ones we’ve had. There are always going to be fans out there wanting to sign players, that’s just part and parcel of being here.
“So the players are here now and they have been shown that trust and we believe in them.”
As Solskjaer assesses his threadbare options this weekend it would be interesting to know if he still holds the same view, because the failure to add any strength in depth to this squad is now being exposed as a desperately poor decision.
While the centre back partnership of Victor Lindelof and Maguire is a positive for United, every other position this weekend looks short of quality. At full-back Ashley Young and Diogo Dalot are mid-table options, while the picture is even more distressing in midfield.
It is in the centre of the pitch where United’s transfer mistakes have been most costly. Since January Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera have departed with no replacements signed. Fellaini was much derided during his time in Manchester, but if it was between him, Nemanja Matic and Fred to start against Newcastle this weekend then there would be only one winner.
Matic and Fred were awful for United at AZ Alkmaar. Both are on borrowed time and should really be nowhere near the first team picture in the Premier League. Instead the injury to Pogba means one will almost have to start against Newcastle, with Juan Mata the most advanced option. It will be a midfield three that wouldn’t strike fear into any other Premier League side.
In attack United are desperately missing Martial, a statement that in itself reveals how short of options Solskjaer is there. Marcus Rashford continues to look short of confidence while Andreas Pereira has done nothing to convince he has a future worthy of the new four-year contract he signed earlier this year.
There are calls for more youngsters to start, but you fear for the teenagers coming into this side at the moment. Sunday may be time to unleash Mason Greenwood in the Premier League at last, but James Garner and Brandon Williams might have to wait for their opportunities and it might not be a bad decision. A bad afternoon in a team shorn of confidence and belief could be damaging to their future prospects.
One way or another Solskjaer is going to have to pick players that shouldn’t be playing for Manchester United this weekend. A transfer window that fell desperately short in terms of quantity has seen to that. January can’t come round quickly enough.
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