Manchester United look set to invest heavily once again this summer – but who will they sign?
This last week has seen rumours that Cristiano Ronaldo, who has won three of the last four Ballon d’Or awards, will return to Old Trafford. Despite odds as low as 9/4 on the 20th June (sourced from Online Bookies), transfer stories where the two best players in the world are concerned should be approached with caution. Even when there is little substance behind these stories, they often benefit both parties: news outlets gain attention and the player normally earns a bigger contract. There is a small possibility that Ronaldo feels he ‘has unfinished business at United’, as has been reported. Whether that is genuine, or a convenient soundbite used to force Real Madrid to be more supportive in his tax case, remains to be seen.
If Manchester United do pull off a shock deal for Ronaldo, it would be at the expense of David De Gea, their only consistent performer in the post-Fergie era. In which case, the Red Devils will need another goalkeeper to compete with Sergio Romero and Joel Pereira for the number one jersey. The romantic option would be Kasper Schmeichel, son of United legend Peter, who helped Leicester to the title in 15/16 and enjoyed another impressive campaign last term. However, it became apparent last season that United have at least one able deputy in their ranks, so any move for another Schmeichel would depend on De Gea leaving.
Another option in the goalkeeping department could be Gianluigi Donnarumma (14/1). Since becoming the second-youngest ever stopper to start a Serie A fixture, he has made waves in Italy. Touted as the national team’s long-term replacement for namesake Buffon, he has great strength and agility with leadership that belies his tender years. This would be an unlikely move, with Donnarumma expected to go to Real Madrid, arguably the only club that could prize away De Gea.
A more familiar addition for Jose Mourinho could be Willian (3/1). Once regarded as a flair player at Shaktar Donetsk, the wide man found his industrious side under the Portuguese boss. He started 28 of Chelsea’s 38 Premier League matches en route to their 14/15 crown, despite only scoring two goals in the competition. That shows how much Mourinho valued the work he did without the ball to provide tactical balance, allowing more creative individuals to shine. Since Antonio Conte’s arrival, Willian has not been fancied as a wing-back in his system, yet nor does he possess the guile to displace his competitors in a more advanced role, despite ending the campaign in positive form. Wide in a 4-2-3-1 formation whilst working under Mourinho, Willian could prove useful.
Michael Carrick has extended his contract for another year but it is apparent that his legs are not what they were, so Manchester United need strengthening in the deep midfield area. Fabinho (1/3), who is widely expected to sign, may not offer the same passing range as the ex-Spurs man has, but makes up for that with other qualities. He made on average 3.3 tackles per game in the Champions League according to WhoScored and 2.1 interceptions, establishing himself as one of the best holding midfielders in Europe. The combative Brazilian may be attracted to working under a manager who brought the best out of Costinha, Claude Makelele, Esteban Cambiasso, Nemanja Matic and last season, Ander Herrera.
Another name to add to that list could be Eric Dier. The 23-year-old had an outstanding 15/16 campaign for Tottenham, staying disciplined to allow full-backs and midfielders to press forward. The arrival of Victor Wanyama last summer has seen Dier start just 16 games as a midfielder in 16/17, far more often performing centrally in a back-three. Mourinho may admire his willingness to adapt to any defensive job, as well as his physicality.
If United do a deal for Dier, they could raid Tottenham once again. The M16 suitors have plenty of options at left-back, but none of them are without at least one major flaw. Luke Shaw struggles to stay fit, Matteo Darmian is right footed, Daley Blind has little pace while Demetri Mitchell is untested bar one good debut against Crystal Palace. Danny Rose himself could miss the start of next season due to a long-term injury, but has a more reliable track record in that regard and is one of the world’s most complete left-backs.
The other full-back position was less problematic for the Red Devils, Antonio Valencia storming up and down the flank as though he were a natural right-back. The Ecuadorian is 31 however and his athleticism is likely to come to the fore when his game time is carefully managed. To do this, Mourinho has reportedly targeted the speedy Nelson Semedo. According to Mundo Deportivo, the 23-year-old has been the subject of a bid worth 35 million Euros, after he assisted the winning goal in the Taca de Portugal final with Benfica.
A man with eight assists and 11 goals last season is Ivan Perisic (8/13) – and that is just the start of what Inter Milan’s key man could offer at Manchester United. His adaptability was evident last summer at the European Championships, where he put in some great individual displays for Croatia. When the opposing team has the ball, the winger presses with ferocity, intelligently using his body to force the full-back to move the ball into favourable areas. When his team has the ball, Perisic will hug the touchline and stretch play to allow creative central midfielders more time and space in possession. When he himself has the ball, he will take on his full-back one-on-one with powerful runs and show his capability with both feet. This is a dynamic performer capable of fitting into any system and could be an asset to the Red Devils, with a deal appearing very likely.
Like Perisic, Alvaro Morata (2/5) looks set to sign at Old Trafford this summer. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s exit along with wasteful finishing last term means another striker was high on the list of priorities and Morata fits the bill. Not only did the Spaniard score more goals (20) than he started games (19) last term, he is also a versatile forward with a range of attributes. He is good in the air and can hold the ball up yet also has quick feet, sharp movement and a strong work rate. The Real Madrid man’s arrival would complete what is shaping up to be an exciting summer at Old Trafford.