Manchester United must ensure their stunning derby victory over Man City is the rule, rather than the exception.
Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw ensured the red half of Manchester claimed the local bragging rights over their rivals, in a one-off game that was so perfect Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could barely have scripted it himself. United won 2-0 and were good value for the three points, just as their 2-1 win at the Eithad Stadium last season was fully merited.
But despite finishing third and qualifying for the Champions League — largely thanks to the January arrival of Fernandes after that counter-attacking win at City — United did not kick on from their progress last season. Certainly their stagnation was evident at the beginning of this campaign and dreadful displays in the opening three games against Crystal Palace, Brighton and Tottenham. United were lucky to win one of the three.
Even since, despite marching up to second in the Premier League and securing some memorable wins along the way, the same issues have risen to the surface every now and then. Inconsistencies in the attacking performances, concerns over the solidity at the back and an inability to break down the disciplined and defensive teams — particularly at home.
They have also failed miserably in most ‘big games’ this season, save for the recent derby and the FA Cup triumph over Liverpool.
Alan Shearer proclaimed after Sunday’s derby win that the ability of United’s squad was not Solskjaer’s primary concern.
For him, the mentality and the consistency has to improve at Old Trafford. He said: “United have been a strange team this season and it is their inconsistency that has cost them their chance of winning the title — not a lack of ability.
“If they had played like they did in Sunday’s 2-0 win at Etihad Stadium more often, Solskjaer’s side would be a lot closer to Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table.”
You cannot really argue with Shearer’s summary of the current state of play. But it’s still possible that United need to reshape their squad with minimal transfers this summer.
First and foremost, they need back-up in defensive areas. There is certainly an over-reliance on Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back — and with Harry Maguire in the middile. Uncertainty persists over the captain’s best partner in the heart of defence.
MEN Sport understands United showed an interest in Kieran Trippier in January, as they sought a more experienced right-back to apply pressure on Wan-Bissaka. The England and former Tottenham man, 29, would fit the bill on a short-term contract. In the end United pulled away from a deal due to concerns over the ban Trippier received for breaching betting rules, but they could pounce for him again.
And although Dayot Upamecano, an erstwhile target of United’s, is bound for Bayern Munich, that doesn’t mean the Old Trafford club should hold back on reinforcing the central defence.
The same can be said for Jadon Sancho, another target from Germany United have (so far) missed out on. But he could still be available and in any case United need an elite right-winger, providing Edinson Cavani sticks around for another year in Manchester.
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Manchester United secured a memorable 2-0 derby victory over Man City at the Etihad Stadium.
Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw scored the goals to clinch an unexpected, but empathic, victory for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s troops against the league leaders.
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The other elephant in the room is Paul Pogba’s future. But if he can be retained, or replaced with a solid central midfielder, United could have the four transfers they need to give their squad enough of a lift.
It won’t take much, but there are some necessary transfers United need to make. Their ideal 25-man squad shouldn’t be too far off.
How a dream United squad may look
Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson, David de Gea, Nathan Bishop
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Kieran Trippier, Harry Maguire, Jules Kounde (or an elite centre-back), Eric Bailly, Axel Tuanzebe, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw, Alex Telles
Midfielders: Fred, Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba (or replacement), Donny van de Beek, Nemanja Matic, Bruno Fernandes
Wingers/forwards: Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood, Jadon Sancho, Edinson Cavani, Amad, Daniel James.