Manchester United’s transfer policy finally looks to have turned for the better over this summer, with the club signing two players that genuinely enhance the starting XI and patch long-existing holes.
Getting in Cristiano Ronaldo gives the fans a legend and the team an undisputed top striker to feed. Raphael Varane – after years of waiting – comes as an elite-tier centre back who will only help to bring up Harry Maguire’s level of play.
While undeniably talented, it can easily be argued that Jadon Sancho wasn’t a necessary signing, or even one with an eye on the future – given the talent already on the wings and those coming through the system. Still, a superb talent who will hopefully develop into a key player.
However, even after these classy moves and a decent start to the season, pundits don’t rate the team as proper contenders. So, what more is needed?
A mixed start to the season
Manchester United started the Premier League season rather well, especially considering that two core pieces to the starting XI will need time to get acclimated. Unbeaten in five with only one draw was sound, but the 1-0 loss to Aston Villa and draw with Everton before the international break exposed a couple of weaknesses. Still, seven games in, the Red Devils were fourth, just two points back of Chelsea, and the bookies still have United listed as one of the favourites for the Premier League title.
In the Champions League, BSC Young Boys proved to be an instant banana appeal in Stadion Wankdorf, with the Swiss side nabbing a late 2-1 winner. Still, maybe that was the wake-up call that a pumped-up side needed, as they put in an astute showing to come back for a 2-1 home win against Villarreal.
Bowing out to West Ham United in the EFL Cup rubbed one trophy off the list of potential silverware, but looking at the team selected, that seemed to almost be by design – leaving it to Manchester City for the fifth time in a row.
What should United target after their start?
The Premier League is the most difficult top-flight to win in Europe due to the sheer level of competition throughout the table. While United undoubtedly have a very good team, Chelsea, Liverpool, and City are much further along the build process and have stronger teams right now as a result.
This is reflected in the odds from the best betting sites, with United priced at 16/1 for the league title. That said, their 7/1 odds for the FA Cup and 12/1 for the Champions League do show that there’s faith in the Red Devils beating most other teams in knockout games. As this review site highlights, outside of offering competitive odds the most popular bookmakers will offer various features to bring in fans, such as live betting or even live streams, making them a companion to the game-day experience.
Still, even with the ‘easiest’ of those trophies to win, United distinctly lack in one key role in modern football: defensive midfield. As it stands, Nemanja Matic is the only truly defence-first central midfielder available to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, while the leading English silverware contenders boast go-to talents like N’Golo Kanté, Fabinho, and Rodri.
As is always the case, United are being linked to January signings already, with two potential gems from Olympiacos being touted. However, they come in the form of a central midfielder and attacking midfielder. To create a true contender team, the likes of Wilfred Ndidi, Kalvin Phillips, or Ismaël Bennacer should be the top targets, bringing balance and stability to the currently top-heavy starting XI.
Manchester United do have the talent and personalities to go toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite, boasting fearless young stars and trophy-collecting veterans. Still, to solidify the team, one more patch needs to be filled.