Manchester United need three players in the next 12 days or else their season is over
The 20-time English champions were defeated on Sunday, but worse still was the news that Marcus Rashford would be absent for the upcoming stretch
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Manchester United are in the midst of a crisis and have just 12 days of the transfer window to save their entire season.
A 2-0 loss at Anfield to Liverpool on Sunday in the Premier League was not as bad as many feared, but the league table nevertheless remains a miserable sight. With only 15 games to play, they have to close a five-point gap to Chelsea in order to maintain hopes of qualifying for the Champions League through league play. There is no longer any margin of safety.
The bleakest news came when it was confirmed that Marcus Rashford could be out for a couple of months. The injury, a stress fracture that was worsened at Wolves, is something that could well have been avoided. Rashford has been carrying this side since before Christmas, with 14 league goals, and was evidently on the cusp of brilliance. His hard work has taken him from an exciting if inconsistent presence to a player ready to lead from the front.
Without him, there is no spark in United’s attack. Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira simply don’t have the nous to play as a No.10 and Juan Mata’s physical decline leaves him way off the pace for such a role. Anthony Martial and Daniel James are still miles from Rashford’s level, meaning United may struggle to break down even the weakest defences in his absence. With a goal difference of just plus nine, it is clear that United are barely scraping by this season.
Worse still, United are struggling all over the pitch and not just up front. Harry Maguire came up against Virgil van Dijk at set pieces on Sunday and showed the only comparable attribute they currently share is the size of their transfer fees. Alongside Victor Lindelof, the United central defenders are vulnerable, and the presence once again of Luke Shaw showed how shallow the squad depth is.
Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba, meanwhile, have sat out much of winter and will sit out part of spring with injury, and so there is scarcely a midfield to discuss, much less criticise.
There are three areas of the club that need addressing in the transfer window immediately.
Up to the opening of this window, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were anticipating that Erling Braut Haaland would arrive from Red Bull Salzburg. That would have given them the chance to work on other deals to reinforce the midfield that might have presented themselves. The engagement with Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola on transfers suggests that there is money to spend if attractive opportunities can be found.
Of course, hubris cost them over Haaland. The 19-year-old grabbed a debut hat-trick for Borussia Dortmund hours before rumours over Rashford’s back injury were starting to break. The failure to land the teenager, coupled with United’s continued on-field struggles, led them to turn to Bruno Fernandes as a serious target for the first time. Sporting CP were ready to listen to offers, and the current brinkmanship both sides are engaging in could well ultimately be resolved before the month is out. The Portuguese side will be aware that United are only going to become more desperate as the transfer deadline closes in, but similarly United know that Fernandes’ club are in a precarious situation financially.
Now Woodward knows that he is in the crosshairs of the fans, he will probably be forced to find the money from somewhere to get Fernandes. The circumstances that led United’s executive vice-chairman and manager to go back in for the goalscoring midfielder have only become more compelling in the last few days.
Assuming Pogba, McTominay and Rashford all return around late March, they may walk back into an unsalvageable season. It is vital that United face the next few months with positive momentum in order to avoid yet another post-Sir Alex Ferguson era collapse.
One signing is no longer close to enough. United were linked with loan moves for Boubakary Soumare and Marcos Llorente – of Lille and Atletico Madrid respectively – which could well provide evidence that work is still being done in the background. Solskjaer’s hints that a striker needs to arrive temporarily should be hugely concerning for United fans, given the strategy for the upcoming summer.
In the last window, United adopted an approach of focusing on one deal at a time. That meant that progress for James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and Maguire was torturously slow despite the devoted efforts of the transfer committee. They did not back themselves to juggle more than one deal at any time, and could only then manage, roughly, one signing per month.
A similar hit-rate could see Woodward fail to sign a single player this January, and yet they are in need of three in 12 days. If there is one deal to be agreed at a time, that means one every four days.
Any mistake could cost Solskjaer his job, Woodward what is left of his reputation, and the club not just this season, but the next.