The Red Devils have propelled themselves into contention for a Champions League place – but insiders expect two arrivals during the winter window
Manchester United’s summer transfer window was a rare success but it is an indictment of the club’s previous state of flux that there is still so much work to do.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James and Harry Maguire have all impressed since arriving at Old Trafford but it has become clear that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side is still short on creativity on midfield and require greater strength in depth up front.
So, while United have propelled themselves into contention for the top-four finish they so desperately crave, the Premier League’s fifth-placed team are expected to make at least two signings in January.
Whether Ed Woodward delivers the kind of quality Solskjaer is seeking to secure Champions League football remains to be seen, though, given the executive vice-chairman has regularly disappointed his managers in past windows.
Solskjaer has made it clear that he calls the shots when it comes to transfer targets at Old Trafford and he has already turned down the chance to sign several players fans may have welcomed with open arms.
‘I’ll always have the final say,” the Norwegian declared. “Nobody comes in the door without me saying yes.
“It has to be that way, even though signing players is a process involving other members of staff.
“I don’t really speak to agents, because I have nothing to do with the money side of it, but the final decision on who becomes a Manchester United player will be mine.”
And that’s ultimately why neither Christian Eriksen nor Paulo Dybala arrived last summer, as Solskjaer was left unconvinced they truly wanted to join United.
United were keen on Erling Braut Haaland before he announced his move to Borussia Dortmund, with United briefing that they were concerned by the influence and demands of agent Mino Raiola.
In light of Mason Greenwood’s emergence, United are probably not desperate for any player who could stand his way, and perhaps Jadon Sancho will move on in January. United could beat Chelsea to his signature, but the London club seem the most confident of securing him from Germany.
Recent reports suggest that Gedson Fernandes could be available, with Benfica apparently happy to both compromise on his release clause, and to allow him to leave on an initial loan period. That his name has come from nowhere suggests one of two things: United are quickly working through their shortlist, or they are scrabbling for any easy signing that is presented to them.
Speaking of the Bianconeri, Mario Mandzukic has swapped Italy for Qatar, reducing United’s options when it comes to strikers they could sign to provide something different to Martial and Marcus Rashford up front.
Elsewhere, United are especially keen on acquiring an innovative midfielder and Eriksen remains of interest, given the Dane’s Tottenham contract will expire at the end of the season.
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy obviously doesn’t want to strengthen a top-four rival but he would rather sell Eriksen in January rather than run the risk of losing the playmaker for nothing in the summer.
Whether Eriksen would accept a move to Old Trafford remains unclear, though, as it is believed that he favours a move to Spain.
Consequently, Leicester’s James Maddison is an attractive alternative but the problem is that not even a bid of £80m ($105m) might be sufficient to persuade the Foxes to part company with one of their most important players at a time when they’re striving for a top-four finish.
Emre Can has also been linked with a move to United because of his lack of game time at Juventus but he seems more likely to end up at Paris Saint-Germain.
In addition, it has been claimed that Can would only arrive at Old Trafford as part of a player-plus-cash deal for Paul Pogba .
Obviously, the Frenchman has been consistently linked with a move away from United but recent comments from agent Mino Raiola suggest that the 26-year-old may stay put if other midfielders of world-class quality are signed with the specific aim of getting the best out of Pogba.
Woodward would obviously be delighted to keep Pogba due to his commercial value despite the inconsistent performances he has delivered on the pitch since his return from Juventus.
As a result, there are other players who seem closer to the exit than Pogba.
First up is Argentine defender Marcos Rojo . He has barely featured so far this season and is now behind Axel Tuanzebe and Brandon Williams in the pecking order and United would be delighted to get his £160,000-a-week ($209,000) salary off their wage bill.
Nemanja Matic is on similarly high wages at United, around £120,000 ($157,000) a week, but has also found his chances in the first team limited.
Relegated to Europa League and Carabao Cup appearances, the 31-year-old midfielder has been linked to Inter.
Chris Smalling’s loan deal at Roma could be made permanent, given the massive impact the centre-half has made since arriving at the Stadio Olimpico last summer.
Alexis Sanchez’s move to Inter hasn’t gone anywhere near as well because of injury but there is a chance that Inter could nonetheless decide to buy the Chilean outright.
Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes are currently running down their contracts and are being overlooked for even the smallest of games.
If they do not soon commit to new deals, then both of them could be sold in order to make sure they do not leave for nothing in the summer.
HOW THEY COULD LINE UP
If United do manage to make new signings, the starting line-up could be slightly different going into the second half of the season.
Assuming that Pogba is kept for at least the rest of the campaign, then expect McTominay to partner the 26-year-old in the midfield two.
Ahead of him, Eriksen would be expected to support the forwards with greater accuracy than Jesse Lingard and much more energy than Juan Mata.
Martial’s place would also be at risk if another striker wass brought in to spearhead a 4-2-3-1 formation, although one could argue that the French forward is already under pressure from Greenwood.
In addition, Phil Jones, Rojo and Matic could also be excised from the squad, giving younger players the chance to compete for places on the bench.