Transfer News

Man United might have to take transfer gamble in January to achieve their targets

Last week’s batch of Covid-enforced postponements has given the Premier League a skewwhiff feel.

If the old adage was never to look at the table until 10 games had been played, then there’s a feeling that even glancing at it now will only tell us half a story given the disparity between the workload of teams.

The danger with that approach is that while time might not be of the essence just yet, the clock is certainly ticking on the 2021/22 season. The title race looks set fair and for now Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea have all played 18 games, but below them, it’s becoming a muddle.

That trio would leave one position left for next season’s Champions League places but of the four contenders at the moment, none of Arsenal, West Ham, Manchester United or Tottenham have played the same number of fixtures. Michael Masi would find it impossible to work out who is in pole position of that quartet.

That might be why there’s no sense of panic amongst any of the contenders, but it’s certainly United who have the most to lose. This was supposed to be a four-horse race for the title but United had clattered too many fences by October. They’ve had to re-align their targets since then.

The interim appointment of Ralf Rangnick has eased the tension at Old Trafford after some disastrous displays under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but fourth place doesn’t look like a cast-iron guarantee for United, even if it’s badly needed for financial and footballing reasons. Imagine telling Cristiano Ronaldo that what could be his final season in Europe’s elite will be played out in the Europa League.

United have two games in hand on Arsenal, who currently occupy fourth, and are five points behind them. They also beat the Gunners at Old Trafford recently and those two postponements, away at Brentford and at home to Brighton, would be worth six points if they went to the pools panel. Unfortunately, United will still have to take care of business on the pitch further into the season.

Arsenal were a laughing stock at the start of the season and they continue to lose almost every significant game they play, but Mikel Arteta’s side are now making short work of the rest of the league and they have a youthful squad growing in confidence. They are a danger to United.

And if there was some hubristic cheer at seeing Liverpool’s challenge falter in North London on Sunday, it would have been met with agonised faces at the potential resurgence of Tottenham under Antonio Conte. Spurs have three games in hand compared to United’s two and are only one point further back.

If they get their act together under Conte – who has a track record of improving teams quickly – and Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min take a shine to the Italian’s 3-5-2, a system which usually benefits his twin forwards, then they could become dangerous in the second half of the season, especially now they’re out of Europe.

Then there’s West Ham, the outsiders of the top four but a team that consistently refuse to go away. If we were to presume all teams were to win their games in hand – a dangerous assumption, it must be said – then there would be four points separating those four teams.

So while United might think the managerial change will propel them forward once again, they can’t take that outcome for granted. Rangnick’s brace of 1-0 wins against Crystal Palace and Norwich City have shown glimpses of promise but also signs of old failings proving hard to eradicate. There is much work to be done.

Any analysis of the second half of the Premier League season is also impossible to do without a nod towards Covid, but beyond accepting it’s probably going to have an impact there’s not much more that can be said. Some teams might be forced to play with severely weakened sides, others might benefit from postponements. All that can be done is to stack the odds in your favour.

Maybe the January transfer window provides that opportunity. It’s likely to be another quiet mid-season window in the Premier League – aside from Newcastle – but United will sign a holding midfielder if they can. It’s the one area of the squad that was neglected in the summer when upgrades were clearly needed.

Getting the right man in January won’t be easy, but United might need to be aggressive with their approach if it’s an area that Rangnick has earmarked for improvement.

He likes Fred and Scott McTominay but if United are to compete at the highest level domestically and in Europe they need a stronger midfield, while there are also limited options behind them.

So while United might find some natural improvement under Rangnick in the second half of last season, they should also spend to manufacture some marginal gains.

See also  Man United in talks with French giants for 28-year-old South American midfielder
Back to top button