If Manchester United decide to press ahead with a move for Real Madrid left-back Sergio Reguilon this summer then it could leave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with six senior full-backs this season.
The attraction of Reguilon is clear. He is a more attacking full-back than Luke Shaw, could be available for as little as £18million and recently made his Spain debut at the age of 23.
It would give Solskjaer two reliable options at left-back and plenty of competition. Shaw could be used if United wanted a more defensive option, while he can also fill in as the left-sided centre back in a back three, with Reguilon as a wing-back.
On the face of it left-back might not be the area most in need of strengthening at United – and the club had originally shelved plans to buy in that position after Brandon Williams’ emergence – but finding a more attacking option is part of the evolution of Solskjaer’s team.
United still rate Williams, who turned 20 earlier this month, but rather than freezing him out, signing Reguilon could allow him to move back to right-back. He has been playing as a right-footed left-back, but would be more comfortable back in his original position, competing with Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
The £45million full-back had a good first season at United, even if there are developments still to be made in his attacking game. That was an area Wan-Bissaka improved on in the second half of last season and at 22 he has plenty of time to learn how to contribute in the final third, which is essential if United are to become one of the elite teams in England and Europe once more.
By the end of this season, Solskjaer will expect to see more developments in Wan-Bissaka’s game, in terms of timing his runs into the final third and producing a more consistent final ball.
If Williams does move across to challenge on the right, it still leaves United with two senior full-backs who could struggle for minutes.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah had the year option on his contract taken up and featured six times after the season restarted. It was a good story for the Holland international, who had gone more than three years since his previous United appearances, but even with his versatility a bonus the 22-year-old has his work cut out to make the grade in a squad that is improving and evolving constantly.
If that’s the case for Fosu-Mensah, then it must surely be the case for Diogo Dalot too. There was excitement about the Portuguese youngster for much of his first season at the club after a £19million move from Porto, but he failed to kick on last season and it was damning that Fosu-Mensah was picked ahead of him. Dalot is still only 21 but he played just once after the season restarted, in an unconvincing FA Cup quarter-final success at Norwich City.
The cluster of full-backs is before Ethan Laird is taken into account. The 19-year-old featured for the first team twice last season and trained with them after the season restarted. He may have been earmarked for a loan move this summer but a hamstring injury he suffered in the Under-21s’ 6-0 win at Salford City on Wednesday leaves his immediate future unclear.
There is going to be no natural new order with these full-backs. Shaw is the oldest at 25, Williams has just turned 20, Wan-Bissaka and Fosu-Mensah are 22, Dalot 21. Reguilon, if he signs, is 23 and United rate Laird, still 19, highly.
Instead, players need to be sold to slim down the options. Ideally, Solskjaer will want two options on either side. Land Reguilon and in 12 months’ time you would expect it to be the Spain international and Shaw on the left, with Wan-Bissaka and Williams on the right. That would leave Laird as a youngster getting minutes in cup games, or heading out on loan, and would mean departures for Dalot and Fosu-Mensah.
United have seen the dangers of overstocking on central defenders before selling those who are unwanted, leaving them with arguably three players too many in that position now, in Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones.
They can’t make the same mistake at full-back, which is why the picture needs to become clearer over the next year.