This time next week the judgements will be landing. So far nine weeks of one of the more unusual transfer windows have passed, unusual aside from the fact it’s been accompanied by the usual frenzied debate around the business Manchester United are conducting.
That comes with the territory for United now. When the biggest club in the country has gone seven years without a credible title challenge the expectation is that the next transfer window will be the catalyst for change. So far it doesn’t look like happening this summer.
But United will be judged when the window closes next Monday. It might be disappointing that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad wasn’t stronger for the start of the Premier League season, but that will fade if the final week brings increased activity and the sight of Jadon Sancho arriving at Carrington.
If it’s another week of frustration then the judgement will be harsh. Donny van de Beek is clearly a good player but he alone is not enough to propel this side forward in the manner expected. The momentum garnered in the second half of last season will be squandered without a strong finish to this window.
For now, let’s focus on the positives. United got their Premier League season up and running with a fortuitous win at Brighton on Saturday. It gives them a platform to build on, an unsteady one, but it’s a platform nonetheless.
The greater encouragement for United should come from their rivals. This season was never going to produce a title challenge, it was about closing the gap on Manchester City and Liverpool and ensuring another top-four finish.
The way Chelsea spent in the summer appeared to put third place within their grasp this season, but so far Frank Lampard has failed to integrate those new signings into a coherent side. There will be more to come and there are new arrivals who still aren’t fit, but right now Chelsea look no better than the defensively frail side United pipped last season.
As far as the challengers go, Tottenham don’t appear to have improved significantly for a pre-season under Jose Mourinho and Wolves have stalled. Everton have started well but it remains a stretch to see them finishing in the top four. Arsenal’s improvement under Mikel Arteta has been eye-catching, but their defensive set-up against fellow big six sides isn’t translating to games against the other 14 sides in the league.
So for all that their rivals have done more business than they have, neither have given United much to fear so far. United are playing catch-up in the market but a big Sancho-shaped statement of their own in the next seven days could be significant for this season.
They will also believe there is still a chance to close that gap to City, who appear to have the same problems this season as they did last.
While United fans have concerns about how their season has begun and the lack of new arrivals, they aren’t the only set of supporters unconvinced by what they’ve seen so far.
That’s why this week could prove to be defining for the aims of this season. Land Sancho and Alex Telles and a repeat of last year’s third-place will look achievable once more.
It’s not just off the pitch where this week will tell us plenty either. On Wednesday United could progress to the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup if they can repeat Saturday’s win at Brighton, extending Solskjaer’s impressive knockout record at the club.
Then on Sunday comes the first meeting with a fellow ‘big six’ side, with Mourinho and Tottenham at Old Trafford. Spurs play on Tuesday (against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup) and Thursday (Maccabi Haifa in the Europa League) this week and that could give United the edge at the weekend.
If they can beat Tottenham then it will be an early psychological blow in the race for next season’s Champions League places. If they can do so having had a good week in the transfer market, then it could redefine what’s possible this season.