The five-step plan for Manchester United to turn their season around
What was supposed to be a new era at Man United is responsible for their lowest point since the club was relegated. If they don’t act now they have to fall on their sword.
Get four more signings in – minimum
Whether it is pursuing a Barcelona midfielder for an inordinate period, getting misled by pre-season results, being led down the garden path by marquee names, recruiting only three players or entering August without two priority targets, this summer is a mash-up of United’s worst summer transfer windows.
Their results have increased the need for new blood: a defensive midfielder, a controlling midfielder, a goalscorer and another forward. A back-up goalkeeper is still required unless Matej Kovar and Nathan Bishop’s loans to Cheltenham and Wycombe have been called off.
Accept a defensive midfielder is non-negotiable
Erik ten Hag might have been sold a pup by a club that is so rudderless the football director has travelled to Barcelona and Turin only to return without done deals, yet Ten Hag’s willingness to go a transfer window without recruiting a defensive midfielder is delusional.
The position is non-negotiable at Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal. Ten Hag is tone-deaf if he thinks Frenkie de Jong (a deal that has gone from possible to nigh-on impossible) is panacea. Brentford might have gobbled up De Jong, accustomed to a sedate pace in Spain and the Netherlands, as they did Christian Eriksen.
Moises Caicedo, unearthed by United in Ecuador, singlehandedly divorced the Fred and Scott McTominay matrimony in Brighton’s win. United do not have a single defensive midfielder in their squad and are open to selling the untried James Garner.
United need someone to keep vigil. Relocating Lisandro Martinez there would undermine his signing as a centre-back but that is where he initially started for Ajax.
Adrien Rabiot is capable of holding the fort but the way United’s transfer window is developing he could occupy the De Jong role as the Dutchman continues to resist extradition to Manchester.
Reassign the captaincy
It is not too late to strip Harry Maguire of the captaincy. It is not that Maguire has been the particularly execrable (others were worse in the Brighton and Brentford debacles) but it would improve the atmosphere of the dressing room and, potentially, his form.
Too many in the United squad do not believe in Maguire as captain and the privilege of starting football it grants. Mikel Arteta withdrew the captaincy from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in December last year and Arsenal have made short and long-term gains.
Maguire does not have enough support from teammates or fans to be captain
Resolve the Ronaldo situation
“That’s not what he is telling me,” Ten Hag replied on Friday when it was suggested that starting a wantaway was unwise.
“So has he told you he’s staying?” Ten Hag did not reply directly to that follow-up question.
Ronaldo wants out but the suggestion he is an unprofessional troublemaker is insulting. Ronaldo was geeing up teammates after Mathias Jensen put Brentford 2-0 up, stressing one goal could make the difference. Essentially, he was a captain without the armband.
Much was made of his full-time departure. That is the baggage that comes with Ronaldo, who has not had a particularly ardent attachment with any of the fanbases he has played for. Maguire was not far behind him as he headed down the tunnel at the Community Stadium.
After Arthur Albiston slotted in a late winner on the Anfield cabbage patch in 1981, he dashed indoors. Too much can be made of a player not acknowledging the away fans.
Kill the complacent culture
Dean Henderson is more aligned with Ten Hag’s style than David de Gea, Luke Shaw did not deserve to start the season, McTominay and Fred is not a progressive partnership and Bruno Fernandes is still starting despite extending his dreadful run of form.
Henderson saved a penalty in Forest’s win over West Ham
Ten Hag, accustomed to depicting Premier League reject signings as coups at Ajax, was always a more compliant choice than Mauricio Pochettino. While he is a demonstrative presence he has not picked enough battles in a squad that is subjecting United fans to their worst days in 50 years.
Henderson, cocky to his detriment at times, is a more modern ‘keeper than De Gea, whose contract situation and salary arguably makes him unsellable. Henderson would be the more sellable asset next year, so would United cash in on a 26-year-old goalie and extend a 32-year-old’s expiry date? They are prone to doling out incongruous contracts.
It would help if there was quality depth in the squad for Ten Hag to get ruthless (there was only one change at Brentford) but there isn’t and United are reducing themselves to putting Garner up for sale.
Garner is sellable as he had the good fortune not to be at United last season.