After announcing on Thursday morning that Juan Mata will leave the club when his contract expires at the end of this month, Manchester United have now said goodbye to three senior midfielders in less than 24 hours.
On Wednesday, they confirmed that both Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard will also no longer be registered employees of the club when their current deals reach their conclusions on June 30. The exits of the aforementioned trio have long since been expected, but confirmation of their departures has made it crystal clear that United have got their wheels in motion for their summer rebuild.
United need to make significant changes to the landscape of their first-team squad this summer and the departures of Pogba, Lingard and Mata will be seen as the correct first steps that had to be taken. They had all reached the end of the road as far as their Old Trafford careers were concerned; now United must look to the future.
What is all the more significant about their departures is that they have come from an area of the team that is in most need of essential maintenance this summer. United are crying out for a new defensive-minded midfielder, as well as a box-to-box-type operator. Barcelona ace Frenkie de Jong continues to attract plenty of attention.
Along with Nemanja Matic’s exit, United have cut their midfield roster from this season by four before the transfer window has even officially opened. Technically, however, they have only reduced it by one, with Andreas Pereira, Donny van de Beek and James Garner returning from loan spells at Flamengo, Everton and Nottingham Forest respectively. Each player’s futures is now under the spotlight and it remains to be seen what manager Erik ten Hag has planned for them.
Many supporters want to see Garner blooded into the first-team fold, believing that he should become a regular starter, while others hope that Ten Hag’s previous Ajax relationship with Van de Beek will see him get the chance to stake another claim. He will be desperate to make his mark next season after a disappointing opening two campaigns in England. Pereira is likely to be moved on, however.
As well as Van de Beek and Garner looking to force their way into Ten Hag’s plans, the Dutchman also has Scott McTominay, Hannibal Mejbri, Bruno Fernandes and Fred to call upon, who will all be jockeying for the three places in midfield, should he rely on a system that features a midfield trio. The task of keeping all seven of them happy — especially when United want to sign one new midfielder at the very least — already appears an impossible task, and will test the strength of the former Ajax boss’ man-management skills.
Naturally, it is understandable that Ten Hag will want to asses every member of his squad once pre-season training begins on June 27, but decisions will have to be made quickly, so that everyone has a firm understanding of who’ll be involved in his plans moving forward.
United know they need an upgrade on McTominay and Fred at the base of midfield with at least one new signing, but does Ten Hag view Van de Beek as a man for that task, with Fernandes acting as architect-in-chief just ahead of them?
It is an impossible question to answer at this moment in time, perhaps even for Ten Hag himself. But the fact of the matter is, even though United have already started trimming the squad by offloading Matic, Pogba, Lingard and Mata, they are in danger of remaining bloated in midfield without further departures.
Of the seven aforementioned midfielders that remain on United’s books for now, you would expect Pereira to be the most likely to depart — even though it remains to be seen if he will join Flamengo on a permanent basis. Garner, too, could also leave Old Trafford, albeit on loan again, but Ten Hag might grand plans for him, especially as he is a bit of a whizz when it comes to overseeing the development of exciting, young players.
But with at least one new midfielder expected to check in at Old Trafford, United’s midfield overhaul cannot stop with confirmation of Mata’s exit. They need to keep going, offloading two more at the very least.