Transfer Talk: Ten Hag Eyeing Summer Revamp
As the 2022/23 season nears completion, Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag will be eager to see out the remainder of the current campaign before continuing his rebuild during the off-season.
United are left with five matches in the Premier League, followed by a showdown with Manchester City in the FA Cup final. The Red Devils, currently in 4th place, are still in prime position to earn qualification for next season's UEFA Champions League.
United are just 1 point above Liverpool but have two games in hand over their arch rivals whom are also in the mix for Champions League football next term.
Brighton and Hove Albion, victors over United past Thursday, are 8 points adrift but have played one game fewer than their most recent opponents. The Seagulls ran out 1-0 winners, with thanks to a stoppage-time penalty, to sustain their hopes of an improbable top-four finish.
Brighton may end the campaign with a maximum 73 points but, admittedly, they have a difficult run of matches between now and the end of the season, including each of the current top three teams in the space of ten days.
Roberto de Zerbi's side are due a trip to the capital for a clash with Arsenal before visiting Newcastle four days later. Their final home game sees them host champions-elect Man City, before a crucial encounter at Aston Villa on the final day.
United, meanwhile, are left with trips to West Ham Utd and Bournemouth in addition to home matches versus Wolves, Chelsea and Fulham.
An imminent outing at the London Stadium will serve us a crucial checkpoint in United's bid for a return to Europe's elite. West Ham have sparked a resurgence in form of late while United have been below-par on the road for most of this season.
Against teams currently in the top half of the Premier League table, United have recorded a solitary victory at Fulham – shortly before the FIFA World Cup, via a late winner by Alejandro Garnacho. Heavy defeats at Brentford, Man City, Liverpool et al. mean that United have conceded 29 goals and scored only 10 against top-half teams.
Fortunately for Ten Hag, West Ham are closer to the bottom than the top of the log however that by no means suggests the visitors will have it easy at the London Stadium on Sunday evening.
The Hammers, currently 4 points above the relegation zone, still have a lot to fight for and they will not shy away from a shaky United outfit.
On the contrary, results at home have been pleasing to say the least. United are unbeaten since a 2-1 loss to Brighton on the opening day of the season. With three home games still to play, qualification for the Champions League is in their own hands.
Whilst his efforts towards restoring Old Trafford as a fortress have been largely successful, Ten Hag will undoubtedly be disappointed in his team's results on their travels. Needless to say there is much work to be done in regards to raising the level away from home.
With just a handful of outings remaining this term, the United manager may have one eye on the close season in which his rebuild will enter its next phase.
As it stands, United trail leaders Man City by 19 points and the manager needs to be backed financially in the summer transfer market in order for his team to close the gap to their local rivals.
A substantial factor behind the extent of United's transfer kitty hinges on the ownership of the club. Despite aiming to secure 'new investment' in the first quarter of 2023, the Glazer family remain in control of Manchester United amidst a host of formal bids for the entity.
Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al-Thani and Sir Jim Ratcliffe are both eager to assume controlling powers at one of the most recognised sporting institutions on the planet, although groups of United fans have reservations over both candidates in the running to become the top dog at Old Trafford.
It remains unclear the identity, or the time frame, of any successful bid. One thing for certain is any takeover would signify a world-record sum for a sporting franchise.
Sealing qualification for UEFA Champions League would boost United's revenue and, significantly, their ability to attract some of the world's best players.
Ten Hag will need to improve all areas of the pitch though there is no doubt his priority will be the purchase of a new striker.
To put it bluntly, neither Anthony Martial nor Wout Weghorst are good enough to lead the line for a club as big as United and major investment is required for a world-class goal scorer.
Harry Kane has been persistently linked with a switch to Old Trafford. The Tottenham striker and England captain recently netted his 209th goal in the English top flight, usurping United legend Wayne Rooney as the second-highest scorer in Premier League history.
Kane turns 30 in June and is nearing the final 12 months of his contract at Spurs. While he stands out as a top contender to secure a move to Old Trafford, Ten Hag and his recruitment team will be reluctant to get involved in protracted negotiations with their counterparts at Spurs.
Daniel Levy, chairman of the Tottenham board, is known to be the hardest of bargains and he may well be determined to keep hold of Kane and possibly even convince the forward to extend his stay in North London.
Despite the risk of losing Kane on a free transfer in June 2024, Levy and Spurs are expected to demand a fee in the region of £100million for their most prized asset.
United previously dealt with Levy in 2008, preceding the signing of Dimitar Berbatov. United and Spurs were locked in talks for several weeks before the Bulgarian striker eventually swapped his white shirt for a red one on deadline day.
United spent the majority of last summer chasing a player who didn't end up joining the club, and there is a reluctance to make the same mistake again. With that said, United may still rekindle their interest in a certain Frenkie de Jong.
De Jong, 25, was Ten Hag's primary transfer target upon switching Amsterdam for Manchester, although the Dutch midfielder opted to stay put at Barcelona.
After knocking the Catalan giants out of the Europa League, there is every chance Ten Hag will try once more to enforce his midfield and lure his countryman to a reunion following their time together at Ajax.
On top of arrivals, another pertinent issue which urgently needs addressing is United's dismal record in player sales.
Knowing when to move players on has been unbeknown to the decision makers over the past decade since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down as United manager and David Gill subsequently relinquished his role as chief-executive. Ed Woodward was more concerned about shirt sales than he was players.
One could count on one hand how many players United have sold for profit since 2013.
Amongst this squad, Ten Hag has players signed under five different United managers and this in itself is an indictment of how desperately a squad overhaul is needed.
If one was to compare this with the likes of Liverpool or Man City, they would find almost all of their current players have been signed under the jurisdiction of Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, respectively.
The number of first-team players heading for the Old Trafford departure lounge should, realistically, reach double figures by the time September rolls around. Another unsatisfactory attempt at offloading senior players would likely result in Ten Hag's and United's summer budget being curtailed significantly.
David de Gea is close to signing a contract extension while Dean Henderson's loan at Nottingham Forest has been cut short due to a thigh injury.
The goalkeeping situation has been unfeasible for several years now and, financially, it would make more sense to sell Henderson, as the England keeper could command a transfer fee in the region of £20million.
Several defenders could also be heading for the exit doors in attempt to alleviate the hefty wage bill. The future of club captain Harry Maguire is up in the air while Aaron Wan-Bissaka's value has reemerged following some decent showings this term.
Brandon Williams has played just five minutes of football for the senior team under Ten Hag but, with just over a year left on his current deal, United would be lucky to receive £10million for the full-back.
The on-loan pair of Eric Bailly and Alex Telles are unlikely to feature in Ten Hag's plans going forward. Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe are set to leave the club when their contracts expire at the end of June.
When Ten Hag was announced as the new United manager, there was renewed optimism that Donny van de Beek's fortunes would change.
However, the Dutch midfielder sustained a season-ending knee injury in January and it is difficult to see reclaiming his place in the team beyond this campaign. A return to Ajax could be on the cards in order for the 26-year-old to jumpstart his career.
One or both of Scott McTominay and Fred may be approaching the end of their time at Old Trafford as Ten Hag seeks reinforcements in midfield.
At the top end of the pitch, it is difficult another season for Martial with just one year remaining on his deal. The France forward remains one of the highest earners in the United dressing room although his market value has deflated considerably in recent years.
United pride themselves on a successful academy though they hardly ever sell any graduates for worthwhile fees. Last year, James Garner joined Everton for £10million and Anthony Elanga could follow suit and sign for a team lower down in the Premier League.
Man United Upcoming Fixtures:
7 May - West Ham Utd (A) - Premier League
13 May - Wolves (H) - Premier League
20 May - Bournemouth (A) - Premier League
25 May - Chelsea (H) - Premier League
28 May - Fulham (H) - Premier League
3 June - Man City (N) - FA Cup Final
(Cover photo: Jack Thomas via Getty Images)