Manchester United’s preparations for the 2018-19 campaign are well underway with one main question in mind: What should be done to compete with local rivals, Manchester City, following what was a major reality check last season?
A city turning blue
Not only did Man City run out victorious at Old Trafford in the Premier League for a second straight season, but Pep Guardiola composed a scintillating capture of the title with a record-breaking 100 points.
United did place second — the club’s highest finish since Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season in charge — but the fact 19 points separated themselves and their noisy neighbours tells you all you need to know about the current gulf in class between the two Manchester sides. Indeed, the only taste of superiority José Mourinho and co. had over City was the dramatic 3-2 comeback win at the Etihad Stadium, spearheaded by Paul Pogba and Alexis Sánchez, in April to deny the hosts clinching the title in the most unthinkable way possible.
After so many years as the face of the city in terms of success and support, Manchester United could be losing their edge, allowing the city of Manchester to turn blue. What The Red Devils prioritise in the summer transfer window could at least halt that transition next term.
Signings for the long term
Supporters have been calling for United to act on the transfer front, and that’s exactly what the club has done so far during the close season by bringing in not one, but two new defensive additions. It was widely known going into the transfer window that a long-term replacement for Michael Carrick was crucial after the captain retired at the end of last season to join Mourinho’s backroom staff.
United were quick to find that player and made Shakhtar Donetsk holding midfielder Fred their first summer signing in a deal worth £48m – the Brazilian is set to be officially announced in the next week.
19-year-old FC Porto right-back Diogo Dalot has also arrived to provide much-needed strong competition for new captain Antonio Valencia and is seen as the experienced Ecuadorian’s long-term successor.
But the biggest signing United have made this summer, without a doubt, is finally agreeing terms with David de Gea for a contract extension. It’s expected to be confirmed by the club over the coming days that the 27-year-old Spaniard has put pen to paper for five more years at Old Trafford, meaning United will have the world’s best for the most of his peak years.
The missing ingredient: experience in defence
Reports suggest that Mourinho is looking to bring in a new centre-back, left-back, and back-up striker for Romelu Lukaku before the transfer window slams shut at 5PM on August 9, and the former is said to be the priority. United have signed plenty of young centre-backs over the past few years – Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf have joined under the watch of Mourinho – but they don’t offer what has been desperately needed since the days of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
That thing is experience. Bailly is arguably the best player in the position aged just 24, and what he requires is an experienced name who could also act as a long-term partner in the heart of the defence. United’s reputation as one of the, statistically, best defensive sides in Europe is predominantly down to De Gea’s brilliance, and it’s about time a top-of-the-range star was brought in the make the Spanish goalkeeper’s job a lot easier.
Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane are names that Mourinho is reportedly interested in, but Tottenham Hotspur man Toby Alderweireld is known to be a top target. Negotiations have already taken place for Alderweireld with United willing to pay up to £55m for the Belgian, but Daniel Levy seemingly wants £70m for his prize defender which has stalled talks.
United’s primary need
It remains incredibly likely that there will be a new centre-half in Mourinho’s squad for the 2018-19 campaign, as well as at left-back with the futures of Daley Blind, Luke Shaw and Matteo Darmian all uncertain. The latest reports suggest that Mourinho is willing to offer Shaw another chance to prove he can be a long-term option whilst Ashley Young remains first choice at the start of the new season.
It’s no secret that United need to sort out the position though – Juventus’ Alex Sandro, Spurs’ Danny Rose and Celtic’s Kieran Tierney have been said to be targets in the past – but most supporters would be completely sure when saying a central defender is vital. Only time will tell whether The Red Devils even manage to sign a centre-back on their shortlist, but if they manage it they’ll be one step closer to levelling the quality of Guardiola’s men, who are expected to be on the march again once August rolls around.