The most difficult task for Erik ten Hag this summer could well be deciding which positions in his squad need urgent attention and which others can be postponed by a year.
Even Ten Hag’s performance at Selhurst Park on Sunday couldn’t do enough to cover Manchester United’s problems on the pitch as they suffered another defeat and had a terribly disappointing season. The Dutchman won’t have seen anything last weekend that he didn’t already know about United, although the way they were beaten will have highlighted what a huge task he has on his hands.
United are already working on a number of potential transfer deals to start their summer in the best possible way, and in particular they are looking to bolster a defense that has leaked 57 goals this season – 31 more than both Man City and Liverpool.
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Jurrien Timber and Pau Torres are both very interesting for the club as they are looking to sign a new centre-back this summer, while plenty of others have been linked with a move. United’s need for a new central defender stems not only from their difficulties this season, but also from the fact that Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe could all leave United in the summer.
It’s clear why United want to bolster their off-season ranks, but it’s far from the scenario United envisioned when they spent £42million to sign Raphael Varane a year ago.
One of the few highlights of the past season came when Varane was paraded in front of a packed Old Trafford ahead of their beating from Leeds on opening day. There was a real sense of excitement in the air that United had managed to attract such a world-class player, although such excitement has rarely been seen since.
The French central defender impressed, but missed 17 games in his debut campaign due to injury and illness. Varane has played fewer than Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot and Nemanja Matic this season, and just two more than Anthony Elanga.
Not only was he unlucky with an injury, but Varane also suffered from the system United played and the lack of a reliable central defender to partner with.
Speaking of which, Lindelof and Harry Maguire have both failed to live up to expectations at Old Trafford and both could be regularly dropped from the starting line up next season.
Maguire would never be dropped for long due to the captaincy and the extra control such an act would have brought, while Lindelof has always been seen as the replaceable option in any central defender combination.
There is a belief that the arrival of Ten Hag brought with it the freedom to make relentless and overdue team changes if necessary, with the defensive lineup definitely going to be reconfigured an area. United’s interest in signing another centre-back shows that the manager is clearly interested in strengthening his backline this summer, which in turn casts doubt on those already at the club.
The signing of Timber or Torres may well bring in the solidity United lacked in the back, but with it would come even more competition for places.
Maguire and Lindelof have arguably been United’s two most used central defenders this season. Under Ten Hag, however, they may struggle to even get on the field.