United have the squad to be back among the top four, although title challenge still looks far away
On Friday, Harry Maguire became the top Twitter trend, because Manchester United reportedly agreed to sign the 26-year-old centre-half from Leicester City. At £80m, Maguire would be the world’s most expensive defender, eclipsing the £75m that Liverpool paid Southampton for Virgil van Dijk in January 2018. Van Dijk made Liverpool serious Premier League title contenders and they ran Manchester City agonisingly close last term. The Dutch centre-half was the reason why Liverpool went on to annex the Champions League.
United badly needed a strong, allround player at the heart of their defence. Maguire could be the impact-player they have been looking for. Maguire’s signing is coming at a time, when the ‘Glazers Out’ movement has become a fad on social media. All said and done though, the United owners are backing the manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjær. The Norwegian, who took over from Jose Mourinho in December last year, had a topsy-turvy six months in charge. After initial promise, he saw United’s campaign fall apart towards the back end of the last season. Out of the Champions League, he is starting with a clean slate. Solskjær is aiming to take England’s biggest club back to the Ferguson-way. If the Romelu Lukaku-Paulo Dybala swap deal eventually happens, United will have all the bases covered. Solskjær will then have no room for excuses.
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It’s refreshing that United’s transfer policy has changed under Solskjær. Louis van Gaal was a misfit in English football. Mourinho searched for quick fixes, pretty akin to his managerial style. The Portuguese’s dated methods and approach saw him lose the dressing-room. He failed badly with regards to man-management.
Solskjær, notwithstanding his limited managerial experience at the top-level, so far has shown excellent man-management skills. Paul Pogba is a case in point. The Frenchman looked set to leave Old Trafford this season. Those Real Madrid overtures had been alarming. Also, Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, did his best to make life difficult for the United hierarchy. Solskjær’s ‘arm around the shoulder’ approach convinced Pogba to commit his immediate future to his boyhood club. A brownie point was won.
So far, United have made two signings—Daniel James for £15m from Swansea City and Aaron Wan-Bissaka for close to £50m (including add-ons) from Crystal Palace. The team needed a right back and Wan-Bissaka is considered to be one of the most promising right backs in England at the moment. Both Wan-Bissaka and James are electric with and without the ball. Maguire’s impending arrival will make the defence meaty. Also, Solskjær’s United have a strong British core a la Ferguson’s sides. And like his mentor, the current United manager’s training method is also very British.
In all pre-season matches, Solskjær used a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation. They won all their tour games. This is going to be the manager’s preferred system in the Premier League as well, where they will begin their campaign against Chelsea on August 11. “We need to improve and we need to be better. The more we improve and the more we get better, the bigger the chance we can challenge for trophies at the end of the season. These boys have shown their capabilities. If we just stay level-headed, I can see us improving a lot,” Solskjær told talkSPORT.
After the new signings, United have the squad to be back among the top four, although title challenge still looks a little far away.
Last month, Arsenal fans penned an open letter to voice their discontent to the club chiefs. It came on the heels of their bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur spending big, £63m, to sign midfielder Tanguy Ndombele. The Gunners under Unai Emery have since brought in Ivory Coast winger Nicolas Pepe from Lille for a club record fee of £72m. But they would yet again play catch-up, as the squad lacks depth. All is not well at Spurs. “I’m not in charge of this. I know nothing about the situation of my players, I’m only coaching them, trying to get the best from them.
“Things that may or may not happen — sell or buy players, extend contracts or not extend contracts — it’s not in my hands, it’s in the club’s hands and in Daniel Levy’s hands. At the moment, I’m just managing the team in the best way possible,” a seemingly frustrated Mauricio Pochettino said the other day. Pochettino’s genius have repeatedly helped the north London club punch well above their weight. He took Spurs to the Champions League final last season. Levy, the club chairman, must take note.
Chelsea are hit with a transfer ban and they have lost their only world-class footballer, Eden Hazard, to Real Madrid. The Blues’ new manager, club legend Frank Lampard, faces a baptism of fire. With a trigger-happy owner, Roman Abramovich, watching from afar, the feel-good factor that surrounded Lampard’s arrival at the Bridge, could evaporate by October-end.
Despite very little transfer activity during close season, the title race this time, too, is unlikely to go beyond Manchester City and Liverpool. They gave us one of the most extraordinary title races in the Premier League history last term. Pep Guardiola’s City won it on the final day. Fresh from their Champions League triumph, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool should be ready to respond.