Manchester United’s summer transfer window is set to be a pivotal period for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side as they look to push further towards competing for the Premier League title.
A significant turnaround in the second-half of the season has seen United shoot up the table and Sunday’s 3-1 win over Tottenham has all but secured a top-four finish and Champions League qualification next year.
With a 23-game unbeaten away streak in the Premier League, United have shown the sort of consistency that has been lacking in domestic campaigns previously.
It provides plenty of encouragement ahead of next season, when the squad will also be buoyed by the return of fans to Old Trafford.
Despite their improvements, investment in the summer transfer window is required to push United closer to their goals and there are a number of targets in sight.
United are in the market for a midfielder amid the possibility Paul Pogba could leave in the summer as he approaches the final year of his deal.
The club are also interested in signing a centre-back, a right-back and a striker in the summer, with scouts monitoring defenders Raphael Varane and Pau Torres, as well as Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland.
West Ham midfielder Declan Rice is a candidate to be drafted into the club and the MEN understands that the 22-year-old is interested in a move to Old Trafford, having sounded out his England colleagues during the recent international break.
That will provide United with encouragement to pursue a deal, with Solskjaer’s side tracking Rice for almost two years in their hunt to land a defensive midfielder, though there is belief that he can be a box-to-box player in the future.
West Ham are vying for a spot in the top four themselves though and, if Champions League qualification is secured, they could price United out of a transfer.
The Hammers are under little pressure to sell, as Rice is contracted with the east London side until 2024, while the club also have the option to extend the deal by another 12 months.
If United are to land the majority of their preferred targets this summer, outgoing deals will also need to be agreed and Solskjaer could have the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone in a swoop for Rice.
Jesse Lingard has excelled on loan with the Hammers since moving to the club in the January transfer window, netting eight goals and contributing three assists in just nine Premier League appearances for David Moyes side.
Unsurprisingly, West Ham are interested in signing Lingard on a permanent basis when the transfer window opens in the summer and that could provide United with the opportunity to use their academy graduate as makeweight in a deal to sign Rice.
Lingard’s impact on a potential transfer runs deeper than that though, as he could encourage Rice to pursue a transfer this summer in discussions with his West Ham and England team-mate.
With Rice having spoken to United players about a potential move during the previous international break, notably Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, it’s likely that he has also held discussions with Lingard about life at Manchester United.
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While Lingard’s position in the United squad has plummeted, it’s unlikely he would speak ill of a side where he developed as a player, spending over a decade with the club and winning numerous titles – including the FA Cup and Europa League.
United helped to establish Lingard as a Premier League regular and England international, propelling him to heights that may have been unachievable with other clubs, and they could do the same with Rice if he opts to complete a transfer.
Lingard could, therefore, be a secret weapon for United, laying down the groundwork in persuading Rice that moving to Old Trafford is the best step for his career.