Manchester United fans hoping for a January transfer spree might need to ease their expectations ahead of the window reopening in just over a month’s time.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reiterated he was in a great position regarding his squad strength when quizzed by the press on Friday afternoon, with the manager still struggling to trim his star-studded squad down to 18 for a typical Premier League match day.
It’s a different matter when it comes to Champions League matches, with the larger squad size and increased substitutions playing to United’s strengths, but unless the same rules are implemented at a domestic level it makes signing any new players a hard argument to push to the board.
United’s bloated squad is emphasised by the fact that they will still have to cut deserving players from the team this weekend away at Southampton, even with Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay both likely to miss through injury.
It gives Solskjaer a difficult headache ahead of the trip to St Mary’s with his side in need of the perfect balance against a team which has been so impressive under Ralph Hasenhuttl this calendar year.
Playing too open will leave United emphatically exposed on the counter-attack, but playing too safe could leave them stuck for ideas as they look to breakdown an impressive defensive unit.
The injury blow to McTominay means Solskjaer looks unlikely to be able to play him in an axis with Fred on Sunday afternoon, meaning he will need to make a decision on who fills the deeper midfield role.
Nemanja Matic remains the ‘safest’ option for this role, as proved by his late introduction against Istanbul Basaksehir in midweek, but his limited mobility could prove costly against a team which presses so intensely.
Instead there is argument to suggest Donny van de Beek should continue in his role as a defensive option, a position switch which could make or break his tricky first season at the club.
During the Champions League win at Old Trafford in midweek it was the 23-year-old who impressed the most with a cultured and controlling display in the United midfield. Not only did the Dutchman adequately anchor the attacking talents of Bruno Fernandes, but his passing range and creativity ensured Solskjaer’s side were still able to orchestrate attacks from deep with quick passes to their two wide men.
After only one standout display in the role it is important not to get too carried away, but such an emphatic showing has certainly eased fears over the long-term plan to replace Matic at the club.
Solskjaer’s faith in the veteran Serbian was reinforced by his late cameo on Tuesday night, yet the Norwegian knows he can’t continue to solely rely on the 32-year-old to offer such security in the defensive midfield role.
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Manchester United returned to winning ways in the Champions League with a 4-1 victory over Istanbul Basaksehir at Old Trafford.
Bruno Fernandes’ brace set Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side on course for a third successive win, with Marcus Rashford and Daniel James also on the scoresheet.
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Fred and McTominay have proven themselves as a worthy duo to replace him, but their joint inclusion is not a luxury which can always be afforded by the United manager.
With such a bloated squad there is little argument to support the need for a new defensive midfield signing in the next two years, especially when Van de Beek has demonstrated such a talent in the deeper role.
United’s summer signing might very well be the perfect long-term successor to Matic in a reworked deep midfield role, but it will only work if Solskjaer shows his faith with a decent run of games.