It finally happened.
In a shocking move over the weekend, Manchester United secured its first summer 2020 transfer and scored one of Europe’s most prized creative midfielders.
Donny Van De Beek has been available for transfer, in the £40 million region, since the summer of 2019 when it appeared inevitable he was going to move to Real Madrid. Following a strong 2019 Champions League campaign, where a 21 year old Van De Beek helped lead a young Ajax squad to the semifinals, clubs around Europe began eyeing his signature. Fast forward a year later and due to the financial implications of COVID, Real Madrid has passed on the Dutchman and allowed Ole Gunnar Solksjær the opportunity to pounce. Manchester United officially announced the transfer this morning; however, Van De Beek’s father and Dutch teammate Virgil Van Dijk confirmed the rumored transfer earlier in the week when they congratulated the youngster on taking the next step up in his bright career.
At long last, United’s brass has finally pushed through the club’s first transfer of this summer’s window. While five weeks seems like a short period of time eclipsed, being one of the last three Premier League teams to sign a player this summer has had fans rightfully worried. Early reported Jadon Sancho pursuits have gone silent and without any word from management since the window opened July 27th, it seemed United fans were destined for another disappointing summer - until this past weekend.
While maybe not the club’s top priority heading into the offseason, the United faithful have noticed over the past season, mainly due to injuries, a lack of creative and quality depth from the midfield. Having been outpriced of moves for British center mid’s James Maddison and Jack Grealish, each overvalued at £80 million, United turned their attention to the half-price Ajax playmaker. Despite being touted as a top attacking midfielder, the exciting part of this transfer is VDB’s versatility. With his athletic ability at 6 foot 165 pounds, he is more equipped defensively than Grealish and Maddison to potentially complement stars Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes in a fluid midfield trio. Add in VDB’s 68 goal contributions over the last three seasons and one can understand why United fans are already swooning over the idea of the midfield trident in action.
While there is understandable fervor building around Manchester, there are still obvious holes within the squad that Solksjær must address this summer if United are to improve on their 3rd place, 66 point season last year. In no particular order, here are the following areas of need that should be addressed this summer in order for United to compete for the Premier League in 2020-2021.
- Right Winger
- Center Back
- Holding Midfielder
- Backup Striker
- Backup Left Back
As mentioned, United are reportedly desperate to sign budding phenom Jadon Sancho out of Borussia Dortmund. The 19 year old Englishman is looking for a return home and United have a gaping hole on the right side of their attack for Sancho to slide in perfectly. This surely is Solksjær’s top priority this summer as last year he saw his United squad lack the offensive firepower necessary to advance past their three semifinal cup competition finishes. If United are priced out of a move for Sancho, look for them to move on to alternative or short term fixes to aid Mason Greenwood on the right.
Despite paying £140 million total for three center backs in the last four summers, United must once again address this area of the pitch. With captain Harry Maguire currently battling legal troubles in Greece, Eric Bailly’s and Axel Tuanzebe’s injury-prone records, and Lindelöf’s mistake-laden performances, United are lacking reliable options in defense. Adding a left footed center back with pace would compensate for Maguire’s shortcomings and add much needed stability at the back. As well as center back, left back depth is a concern with starter Luke Shaw’s injury history. A left-footed backup would allow Brandon Williams to move over as Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s support on the right and United to remove dead weight at the fullback position.
Since Romelu Lukaku’s departure last summer, the club has been yearning for center forward competition for Anthony Martial. Odion Ighalo has been a nice secondary option for the club since arriving in January but needs to be replaced with a younger, quality addition this summer or over the winter window when his loan expires.
Finally, although United now have a clear top six midfield selection with VDB’s transfer, a new holding midfielder should be on the cards within the next year. Nemanja Matic has been on fire since the start 2020 and his resurgence has delayed United’s need to sign a specialist midfielder in front of the back four. However, Matic is slowing down at 32 and with the uncertainty of either Fred or Scott McTominay as the long term solution, a new holding midfielder would strengthen the squad on Matic’s inevitable days off.
United’s biggest squad improvements this summer certainly are expected to come through the above purchases, if they happen. However, in order to take on these additional wages and bodies, the club has to depart with more players this summer than just Alexis Sanchez and two loans. The below players are surplus to squad requirements and should be sold to either free up the wage bill or playing time for the rest of the team.
- Sergio Romero – GK
- Chris Smalling – CB
- Marcos Rojo – CB
- Phil Jones – CB
- Jesse Lingard – CAM/Winger
- Andreas Pereira – CAM/CM/RW
In one final category of player moves this summer, United could strengthen their already excellent youth pipeline by allowing some youngsters to go out on loans. These up and coming players, all 21 or younger, could stand to gain from first team playing time elsewhere that they otherwise would have been deprived of at United this season.
- Matej Kovar – GK
- Diogo Dalot – Fullback
- Ethan Laird – Fullback
- Dylan Levitt – CM
- James Garner – CM
Alas, if all goes according to plan, which in soccer never happens, here is my final squad for Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solksjær in 2020-2021.