A January Roadmap for Manchester United

Manchester United are in the midst of their best season of the post-Alex Ferguson era. Sitting second-place, and with a points tally that would usually be sufficient for first, United’s current campaign promises to be a marked improvement on each of the past four. Jose Mourinho, it’s clear, has successfully restored some of the pre-eminence that was a hallmark of United for a quarter of a century under Ferguson.

However, it’s also true that the tangible dominance of Pep Guardiola’s side across the city has cast a cloud over Mourinho’s achievements. Despite some hefty spending from the Portuguese, his squad still has some way to go before it can rival the one assembled by his Spanish nemesis. This coming January transfer window will be an opportune time for Mourinho to restore some cross-city equilibrium.

Depth is the problem

There are presently a number of players who simply aren’t up to the task at Old Trafford. Clearing them out in January will be a hard task, but this window must be all about setting up for next year. The Red Devils may well continue challenging in the Champions League and the FA Cup, but, realistically, the Premier League is gone.

Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind are very much sporadic players for United nowadays, with both picking up a hefty wage every week. United’s need for full-backs is reinforced by the pronounced improvement in Manchester City after their £130 million splurge on Kyle Walker, Danilo, and Benjamin Mendy last summer. Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini, and Michael Carrick are also players occupying slots without fulfilling their roles. Herrera has been poor when called upon this year, and both Fellaini’s and Carrick’s contracts are expiring in the summer, and both are frequently out injured.

Moving further up the pitch, there are more problems. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is out of contract in the summer, and has yet to display the kind of form that existed before the serious injury that kept him sidelined until November. Added to that, there are doubts surrounding Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s future after a catastrophic collapse in his form. With deficiencies arising throughout the squad, depth is the concern for Mourinho and United.

Who should they go after?

United’s inability to create chances in the absence of Paul Pogba was shocking. He’s the sole marksman in this team. The contract situation of Mesut Ozil at Arsenal should have the Old Trafford hierarchy on high alert. Ozil’s current deal expires in the summer, and it looks highly unlikely he’ll be at the Emirates next year. The German was at his best with Mourinho as his manager at Real Madrid and a reunion makes a lot of sense. He’s been far more consistent this year, and has delivered in big games, with masterful displays against Tottenham and Liverpool.

Depth in central midfield has been a real problem. Outside of Matic and Pogba, United are really short of good options. Leon Goretzka of Schalke has been touted as a target for clubs all over Europe, and United should make it a priority to go and get him. His undoubtable quality would bring another dimension to Mourinho’s side.

Genuine wingers have been hard to come by for United, with so-called ‘number 10’ players often forced out wide. The availability of Leicester’s title-winner Riyad Mahrez should be in the forefront of the targets for Ed Woodward. The Algerian is a wonderful player, fantastic skill combines itself with the ability to finish on both feet and dribble past any full-back in the world, he’d be perfect for United.

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