Scouting Report: Players Needed at Manchester Utd: 2019/2020 Season
So it's March of 2019 and Manchester Utd Football club has not yet appointed a Director of Football, or a permanent manager..but the show must go on, right? The ideal situation would have been to bring in a DOF now, let him start fixing the squad, and be a part of the permanent manager hiring process..but seeing as that is not the case, this article will assume that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will get the job ( I'll explain the assumption ), and a DOF may or may not be appointed.
Someone has to be in charge of thinking ahead to the summer, figuring out which players to bring in, which to let go, etc. Based on the current set up, Marcel Bout is the Head of Global Scouting, and Jim Lawlor is the Chief Scout. Alongside Ole, Phelan, Carrick, and McKenna, these would make up the current "Director of Football" crew.
But what should they do? Who should they bring in? What players should be sold? I am going to assume a singular identity for all, and take myself as the Director of Football for Manchester Utd Football club. Here's what I'd do for the summer of 2019;
The first thing to do when trying to construct a squad, is to be aware of what football system and formation you are trying to bring in players for. Since Ole is the current manager, we have to go off his systems and formations ( hence the previous assumption ).
Bringing in new players has to be a deliberate action to fill in specific positions and roles in the system that the coach will play ( not just superstars for the sake of it ). Broadly speaking, Ole has used 2 approaches;
1. Against "smaller" teams: Seek to dominate possession and be proactive, high/intense press, quick passing combos/ball circulation chance creation dynamics.
2. Against "high quality" teams: Counter attack.
He has predominantly used the 4-3-3, 4-4-2 flat, and 4-4-2 diamond formations for those 2 umbrella systems. I would seek to bring in players that are well suited for both systems, and at least those 3 formations. Let's delve into the positions I think need to be strengthened;
Right Wing Forward (RWF)
The famous and problematic Right Wing Forward position. It will exist in the 4-3-3 as the right forward and as the outside right in a flat 4-4-2. In a 4-4-2 diamond, this player can play at the tip as the ball carrier. Currently, Jesse Lingard is the occupant of this position. I love Lingard so much, and he's a lot better than people give him credit for, but I think a higher level player should be brought in, with Lingard acting as the backup/rotator.
For #Oleball, this position requires a fast player, someone that can beat his man ( both inside and outside/out wide ) in 1 V 1 situations, and good close ball control to beat his way out of multiple markers.
Someone that can cross the ball ( both on the ground and aerially ) accurately and create chances for the forwards and attacking midfielders ( with passes too ), someone that can press intensely and track back to support the right back. Someone that has efficient off the ball movement into space, and someone that can drift infield to create overloads in the middle when needed.
This player needs to also be a good finisher with a decent to high goal output rate and chance creation.
I know you are thinking about Jadon Sancho, and to be honest he fits the bill ( not the finished article yet of course ) and will be a great signing for now and for the future. But I want to recommend realistic/probably easier signings where possible. Sancho has all this current hype around him and it will cost an arm and a leg ( I'd rather spend the arm and the leg on another position that I'll talk about later ).
Putting all of these together, my choice for the RWF position would be none other than Hirving Lozano.
Hirving Lozano Scouting Summary
Position: RWF. Can also play from the left
Club: PSV Eindhoven
Strengths: Everything I mentioned needed for this position at a relatively high and consistent level, goals and assists
Weakness: Temperament: He can have a hot head, but nothing that Uncle Phelan can't handle eh?
Price: Definitely will be affordable
Degree of Transfer Difficulty: Not so high. And PSV are not known to be hard nails to crack
Player Willingness to Leave: High for a much bigger club like Manchester Utd
Lozano would be very ideal for Manchester Utd. Still only 23, he is a signing for now, and for many years to come. He has been delivering for PSV for 2 seasons running now ( 38 goals and counting ), with numerous chances created too, and being an attacking force for them. 10/10 signing, will recommend.
Central Defensive Midfield (CDM)
Nemanja Matic is the current occupant of this position. He has had such an amazing career and was once among the elites for this position, but he is on the downward trajectory, and should be replaced by a younger and more effective player. If he doesn't mind being second choice, he can remain at the club, if he minds, then he can be sold off.
For #Oleball, this position requires Xabi Alonso. Yes really. If I could somehow bring back prime Alonso, I would. This position requires the player to be strong/effective in both phases of play ( attacking and defending ), good/confident on the ball, and his positional awareness should be top notch.
Can protect the ball supremely in possession, can win the ball back with strong and well timed tackles, can press intensely, can intercept and block off opposition passing lanes, can participate in the initial build up with the defenders, can create from deep ( very good vision and accuracy ), is energetic, and has a wide passing range.
This player should also be good with relatively short pass and move combos, and be able to dictate possession. Did I also mention he should be able to pop up with goals here and there?
My choice for this would be straight up Ruben Neves.
Ruben Neves Scouting Summary
Club: Wolverhampton Wanderers FC
Strengths: Everything I mentioned needed for this position at a good and consistent level, a couple of goals ( stunners ) and a couple of assists.
Weakness: I genuinely cannot think of a weakness other than he isn't even the finished article yet. Scary eh? He has the potential to turn out into a beast for this postion.
Price: Definitely will be affordable. Plays for Wolves. Jorge Mendes as his agent may put a little twist.
Degree of Transfer Difficulty: Not so high. Jorge Mendes may be the stumbling block as he'd look for many bidders for his client.
Player Willingness to Leave: High for a much bigger club like Manchester Utd
I think Neves would be amazing for this role. He would slot into that Manchester Utd team with ease, can square off/dominate against any opponent, and is never shy to get stuck in too. He also has the advantage of already being in the English Premier League, so adaptation should be relatively easy. Manchester Utd will be sorted out for years in the CDM position if accomplished. 10/10 signing. Will recommend.
Center Back (CB)
The one position I think majority of the funds should go to. Victor Lindelof is perfect for 1 of the slots, but he needs a partner. Current occupants are Smalling (mainly), Jones, and Baily. Manchester Utd need an experienced and very high level center back, and it is a priority.
This player should be physically strong ( to dominate opposition players on the ground and in the air ), should be fast, be a great tackler, have great anticipation, can put his body on the line, is aggressive in his duels, has good situational awareness, leadership, and good positioning. He will be the aggressor/stopper to the calm and cleaning up Lindelof.
My choice for this position is Kalidou Koulibaly.
Kalidou Koulibaly Scouting Summary
Club: S.S.C Napoli
Strengths: Everything I mentioned needed for this position at a very high and consistent level.
Weakness: Sometimes his positioning can be so-so, as he will chase his man and the ball out of his defensive zone, but this may be due to his role in that Napoli team as the super aggressive defender out of the defensive pair.
Price: Through the roof. He will be super expensive. I don't even want to imagine.
Degree of Transfer Difficulty: Very High. Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis can be Daniel Levy raised to the power of 1000. Will definitely make things difficult, but it is not an impossible task with the right amount and buttons pushed. Maybe send him Rojo as part of the deal and kill 2 birds with one stone? Ha.
Player Willingness to Leave: Relatively high. May feel he needs a move to get to that next level for his career.
Koulibaly is a Center Back currently at the top of his game. Supremely talented, very experienced, dependable, and a leader at the back. This is the type of signing that can really equip Manchester Utd with the defensive foundation needed to truly compete.
Will dovetail well as a partner and leader for Lindelof, and in fact the whole defense. Will bring a presence, strong mentality, and is also pretty good on the ball ( as a carrier and short range passer ). Utd needs a CB, and he will be awesome. Break the bank please. 10/10 signing. Will recommend.
Center Forward ( CF )
The current occupants of this role are Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku has his strengths and can be useful for certain situations and styles, but for systems that require the CF to participate in high/intense pressing, quick link up play and fluid movement, he will be limited.
Rashford seems more suitable, but he is young and has not yet reached the high consistent/ruthless finishing level needed for the club to truly compete. The club has a very serious decision to make here.
Jettison the expensively purchased Lukaku so early into his Utd career and make Rashford the number 1 CF ( buy an old/experienced back up or promote Greenwood )? Or just keep both Lukaku and Rashford and continue to use them for different situations?
My choice would be a 3rd angle, sell Lukaku, buy a proven forward who will fit #Oleball better, and stick with Rashford as the 2nd choice. There is always the possibility that Rashford makes that jump to the next level next season, but it is a chance too high to take. I think Manchester Utd needs a super clinical and dependable striker to lead the line. Will be key to any title challenge.
If I had a magic wand, I'd try for Harry Kane ( he would be so perfect ), but Daniel Levy can be Aurelio De Laurentiis raised to the power of 2000. So who? Icardi? I really do not want any Manchester Utd players to end up with broken homes ( they all seem so happy with their wives and partners, let's keep it this way please ).
But jokes apart, this is one position I feel Utd really needs to address, and I don't have any ready made options. I guess a DOF needs a good assistant to help out in such situations, and so I nominate you the reader. Share your possible center forward choices with me. You can tweet me @otoiks , or comment in the comments section here. Thank you.
Players To Leave
This aspect is almost just as important as bringing in players. The squad needs to be purged of deadwood, and the wage bill needs to be freed up for the incoming. I think these players have reached the end, and need to be moved on;
Antonio Valencia: Already set in motion. Great servant over the years, but time to leave.
Juan Mata: I love him, but he isn't as effective as before. Time to leave.
Phil Jones: I think he just got a new contract, but I would rescind this. There is absolutely no reason to keep him. Time to leave.
Matteo Darmian: Can be a useful utility, but it is time to leave.
Alexis Sanchez: Baring any miracle between now and the end of the season ( maybe he just starts playing super well out of the blue and gets his real self back ), he should be gone. Club should cut its losses and move on. Happens. Time to leave.
Marcos Rojo: A better Center Back than he is a Left Back, but cannot stay fit enough to be reliable. Time to leave.
Lukaku?: Depends on the striker route the club decides to take. Time is temporarily paused.
6/7 players would be leaving, 4/5 incoming. I'd promote Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood to offset, and bring back Axel Tuanzebe from loan to be a decent defensive squad option.
Sort out the contracts for De Gea and Ander Herrera ASAP
Choose a new permanent captain
Possible First Team
Romero, Grant, Baily, Smalling, Young, Tuanzebe, Fred, Pereira, Matic? , McTominay, Lingard, Rashford, Greenwood to make up the first team.
Buying 4 players for those 4 positions I mentioned will be a great step to fixing the team, and if another Right Back can also be acquired, then it would even be more perfect. There is also the hope that some of the current players ( e.g Martial, Fred, Rashford ) will make that progression to the next level of their abilities. Subsequent transfer windows can then be used judiciously.
This Manchester Utd team is in the pre-winning cycle phase, and a summer like this presents the opportunity to further set the team up for a proper challenge, it must not be wasted. With the right new players, right existing players, and the right management crew, Utd could be primed to properly compete. Let's hope the club gets it right.
N.B: Man Utd may well go ahead and buy none of these players, or all, or some, but they are just what I think. No guarentee the club will do this, or if they do, that the players will all be successful. There are so many more intangibles.