There is no disguising the size of the challenge awaiting Erik ten Hag at Manchester United this summer.
Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Arsenal was another stark reminder of just how much work needs to be done at Old Trafford this summer, both with the staff within the squad and the shift in culture that the club needs, in a bid to put itself back on the road to recovery. Individual mistakes were, once again, the architects of United’s latest collapse and it has reached the stage where nobody is surprised anymore.
The defending from Raphael Varane and Alex Telles in the build up to Nuno Tavares’ third-minute opener was far too casual and uninspiring, highlighting exactly why United have conceded nine goals in their last three Premier League outings and boast the worst defensive record of any side currently camped inside the top-eight in the table. They have now shipped in 51 goals in 34 matches this season.
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Whilst Varane, who has been one of United’s better defenders this season, and Telles were guilty for the first goal, it was Bruno Fernandes, who had earlier missed the chance to bring Ralf Rangnick’s side level from the penalty spot, that was guilty of paving the way for Arsenal to net their third. The Portugal international was caught out by Granit Xhaka and the Swiss midfielder unleashed an unstoppable shot, leaving David de Gea with no chance.
Again, United’s midfield woes, particularly on the defensive side of the operation, were exposed. It is impossible, at this stage, to keep count of just how many times their lack of a world-class defensive midfielder has cost them this season.
Although Rangnick, after the defeat to Liverpool, admitted that it was not unrealistic to expect ten new additions this summer, highlighting the sheer size of the rebuilding project awaiting Ten Hag, it is the defensive-midfield department that is going to attract the most attention and focus. United desperately need to source a player to fulfill that role, whether it be via going all in for a big-money signing or being smart and sensitive to recruit an unknown quantity that is up and coming.
Whatever happens, James Garner deserves to get the chance to prove his worth. The England Under-21 international has been revolutionary for Nottingham Forest this season and is highly likely to earn a place in Ten Hag’s plans for next season, given his form in the Championship this term and the latter’s fondness for developing youth.
But whilst plenty of hype and excitement surrounds Garner, and understandably so, it’s hard to imagine him becoming a regular starter next season, although it can not be ruled out for certain. For sake of argument, you would expect him to be a squad player, featuring off the bench and starting the occasional cup match.
Nevertheless, whatever Ten Hag’s plan for him proves to be, he will offer United a fresh option in a problematic area. As a youngster who has never been in and around the first-team squad regularly, he is likely to buy into whatever Ten Hag demands of his players, meaning United could prosper from his own, undisputed levels of talent quite significantly.
Whilst Garner could offer United a fresh option in midfield, Brandon Williams could throw his hat into the ring to compete for the left-back berth. Both Luke Shaw and Telles have struggled for form and consistency this season, meaning Williams will fancy his chances of throwing his hat into the ring, especially when he has admitted he is “determined” to return from his loan spell at Norwich City and make the left-back spot his own.
Williams, who has 50 appearances for United to his name, has impressed in what has been a difficult season for Norwich, proving that he has what it takes to play in the Premier League. Although he is still young and the jury remains out on whether he can be a seasoned performer for a club of the Reds’ stature, he, like Garner, has the potential to be a key squad player in a problematic position.
Therefore, if United’s summer recruitment drive takes them into double figures like Rangnick has suggested it could, having ready-made options, at least to provide competition, could help them save a great amount of money in the transfer market. A new vision is to be installed at Old Trafford and there is no reason why the youngsters can not fit in.
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