Unless Manchester United’s final home game of the Premier League season against Fulham is moved to a Monday night then Old Trafford will stand silent and deserted for an entire season.
The government’s roadmap out of lockdown specified Monday, May 17 for a return of fans to stadiums, in time for the final weekend of the Premier League season but in all likelihood too late to inject some life into Old Trafford for this season.
The idea of a full football season being played out without a single paying spectator passing through the Old Trafford turnstiles is still difficult to accept, even as it becomes a reality. It’s certainly a season very few will remember with much fondness.
A full campaign without matchday revenue will have a significant impact on the balance sheets of Premier League clubs as well. United estimate that every home game played without a full stadium, in seats and in hospitality boxes, was seeing them haemorrhage between £4m and £5m.
With 27 home games already guaranteed this season and at least one more looking a certainty in the Europa League that could cost United another £100million, on top of the losses they’ve already sustained.
They’re far from the only club that is counting the cost of the pandemic and after a full season without matchday revenue the summer transfer window will likely be another quiet affair.
There might be shards of light on the horizon, but it still seems too early to predict when stadiums will be full again, given the return of fans in May is capped at 25% of capacity or 10,000 people.
A second successive season of Champions League revenue will be vital to United, but it might not be a panacea to take the kind of aggressive approach to the transfer market seen at Chelsea in 2020. Last summer United preached caution and acted accordingly, refusing to get close to Borussia Dortmund’s seven-figure valuation of Jadon Sancho.
Even if a bidding war for Sancho escalates this summer it’s unlikely the Bundesliga side will achieve the £108 million fee they were holding out for. The impact on the transfer market isn’t going to stop at just one window.
The question now is whether United return for Sancho themselves. There are probably three areas of the United squad that would, in an ideal scenario, be strengthened this summer, with competition for Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back, a new centre back and a right-winger top of a shopping list that presumes Edinson Cavani will be given a one-year contract extension, pushing the striker issue back to 2022.
Realistically United might find it difficult to fund three major additions this summer. A rival for Wan-Bissaka would appear a must-have and will probably be the easiest deal to do, but for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer it might be a case of deciding between a centre back and a right-winger.
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Manchester United made heavy weather of their 3-1 win over Newcastle, eventually getting the job done at Old Trafford.
Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Bruno Fernandes were on the scoresheet as United got back to winning ways in the league. They have a Europa League second leg vs Real Sociedad on Thursday.
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On recent evidence, it might be that strengthening the spine of the team in defence is considered more important. As United’s title challenge has withered it’s the defence that has been under the spotlight. This is a team that are the top goalscorers in the Premier League after all, even if that figure is swelled by the 15 they plundered against compliant opposition in Leeds United and Southampton.
That might mean that United miss out permanently on Sancho. The England winger looks certain to leave Dortmund this summer, especially if they fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Having looked likely to land the 20-year-old last year, seeing a talent as exciting as Sancho move elsewhere will be a bitter pill to swallow, especially if he heads to another Premier League club, but it might be a sacrifice United are forced into.
The final decision on top targets and just how much there is in the kitty this summer can wait for now, but with every club likely to take a cautious approach in the market, United might need to use the time between now and the season’s finale at the end of May to finalise the order of priority for Solskjaer’s rebuild.