Donny van de Beek looks set to be Manchester United’s first signing of the summer, but his arrival could kick off some departures.
Van de Beek is a player who often plays much the same role that Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba are there for. They are creative players who also pose a goalscoring threat, but at 23 there is likely much more to come from the Dutch international than the older pair.
It is not immediately obvious where he will fit in under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The manager has reportedly been scouting him extensively, so presumably has an idea about where he will fit in alongside Pogba and Fernandes.
Given the financial constraints put in place due to the coronavirus, it can be assumed that he is coming to play regularly in the first team. There simply is not enough money to bring someone in to sit on the subs bench. More obviously, there are not enough decent midfielders at the club to keep him out of the first eleven.
Matic and Fred are probably the main casualties. Fred has shown a significant improvement under Solskjaer, but it would be wrong to suggest he offers more than willing running. He’s an adequate option off the bench when players are tired, but if United are to make a better fist of securing Champions League football and challenging in Europe, then he is a player who could be upgraded.
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Matic, similarly, stepped up in the second half of the season when it looked as if he were set on a move to Italy when considering his options in 2019. He can screen the back four and pick a pass, but no longer has the fitness to play two or three games a week reliably, nor has he ever been particularly mobile. At almost a decade younger, Van de Beek offers far more energy, and while it might not be great news for Matic to see a new midfielder arrive, it offers the club and the player the option to extend the career of the 32-year-old Serbian.
Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes - Manchester United
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While Van de Beek is an attacking player, he offers much more defensively than Pogba and is more rugged than Fernandes. Given the concerns that linger over Pogba’s often dawdling play in front of the defence, this is a chance to take the Frenchman further away from the back four. And given Pogba’s still disappointing consistency, there is less need to rely upon him to up his game. With a new contract on the horizon, there is a remote chance the examples of Fernandes and Van de Beek will get him to snap out of his fugue state.
A transfer fee of £40 million is eminently more affordable than Jadon Sancho, but if United are to pursue more targets then existing players will have to be sacrificed. Scott McTominay is probably safe after signing a new contract, but rumours of a departure for Fred would make sense given he would probably raise a decent sum. It seems more likely still that Andreas Pereira will be shifted out given how far he is now from the first team. Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard both play in slightly different positions but could also be eased out to accommodate his wages.
Understandably, much of the attention so far in this transfer window has been focused on the negotiations between Borussia Dortmund and United for Sancho, but there are many areas to improve in the squad. Solskjaer wants a right winger, but he also wanted a central midfielder. There are weaknesses in central defence and a new left-back is probably needed if the back line is ever going to be more than a cause of concern. Another central midfielder is well down the list of the team’s priorities, but Solskjaer is likely to be satisfied nonetheless.