With the eventual addition of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, theManchester Unitedfirst-team squad now stands at 29, bloated by the returning loanees Timothy Fosu-Mensah,Axel Tuanzebe,Dean Hendersonand Joel Pereira. If you think it is an exaggeration to include Pereira after he started five times for KV Kortrijk in Belgium, the United Twitter account wished him a happy birthday on Friday.
The 29 excludes the teenage quartet ofAngel Gomes,James Garner, Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood – players Solskjaer has promised Europa League minutes to. Add them and it balloons to 33. Without Garner, United have as many goalkeepers as they have central midfielders (five).
There is an awful lot of excess fat to cut off with the Premier League transfer window open for 40 more days. Some of the 33 will be sold permanently, loaned or kept in the Under-23s for the interim but what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is striving for is beyond his reach this summer.
Manchester City’s supremacy last season and the season before was underpinned by having two proven quality players in almost every position. In midfield, it is Fernandinho or Ilkay Gundogan, David or Bernardo Silva, Kevin de Bruyne or Phil Foden. Up front; Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling or Leroy Sane or Riyad Mahrez. The brilliant Bernardo flitters between the midfield and attack seamlessly.
Save the odd area (Claudio Bravo will be back-up to Ederson when fit-again) they have assembled a near-perfect squad, with the auxiliary left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko a steadier presence than the wayward Benjamin Mendy. United have released one square peg jammed into a round hole in Antonio Valencia and this is expected to be Ashley Young’s last year with the club.
Young has natural fitness levels Luke Shaw might envy but is not a credible competitor for a left-back whose form significantly subsided after he signed a long-term contract in October. Shaw did not lack effort but, having survived United’s interest in replacing him, he is devoid of a natural left-back to push him on.
On the opposite side, United finally have two specialist and selectable right-backs. That Diogo Dalot, 20, and Wan-Bissaka, 21, are still relatively raw is a risk but their dynamism will refresh a stagnant area in the squad and left winger Daniel James is also right-footed.
Where James primarily plays is relevant, seeing as the last area United needed to strengthen was the left flank. Even legislating for the demise of Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial’s moribund performances and Marcus Rashford’s apparent full-time centre forward status, a capable right-sided forward was essential and when James was moved there for Wales against Croatia he flagged.
Whether it is Juan Mata or Jesse Lingard, United do not have the multi-functional forward for the right. The only other areas of the squad where they arguably have two ‘quality’ options are goalkeeper, (David de Gea and Sergio Romero) up front (Rashford and Romelu Lukaku) and centre-back at a push (Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly or Chris Smalling). It is still debatable and Lukaku might not play for United again.
Fred is an undefined midfielder, bought to replace Michael Carrick but vulnerable whenever isolated in a deep-lying role. Scott McTominay has gone from defensive to attack-minded under Solskjaer, though that could be a purple patch. Andreas Pereira started last season as a holding midfielder before switching back to an preferred adventurous role.
It is five years in August since Pereira made his debut at MK Dons and he enters the last year of his contract on Monday. The Brazilian turns 24 on New Year’s Day and there is perhaps little incentive to make an improved offer to a player with 11 club starts to his name.
Nemanja Matic is out of contract next year and, given how his form has wilted over the last 18 months, cannot be assured of having his extension triggered by United. Garner, 18, is expected to travel to Australasia for the pre-season tour.
The club’s indecision over signing a centre half is affected by the surplus of options. There are six, overall, including Tuanzebe. The maligned Marcos Rojo would ideally be shifted to make room for one but is on around £160,000-a-week.
City are focused on replacing Vincent Kompany with a quality centre half and, however flawed John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi are, they are international regulars and sufficient squad options. As are Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren, Liverpool’s defensive Champions League final substitutes.