Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s position at Manchester United feels more safe than ever before and the club are preparing to move forward with the next phase of his squad build.
Things are going well under Solskjaer, who has been tipped for the sack many times by fans on social media but has never actually been under genuine threat, such is the faith in the plan of Old Trafford bosses.
Yet now, with United second in the Premier League table and through to the Europa League last 16, the club can not stand still. They are aiming to allow him room to kick on.
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The financial landscape is tricky but there are five key positions that need to be addressed over the coming months, while the club will also begin to talk about terms of an extended contract for the boss.
So, what are the areas of focus?
Well, they need to make a decision over David de Gea and Dean Henderson - who is going to be No.1 next season? They are searching for a new centre-back to play alongside Harry Maguire. They want a new right-back to challenge Aaron Wan-Bissaka. They need to find a solution for Paul Pogba, who still seems intent on leaving. And, of course, there is the Jadon Sancho saga, with a deal still possible if Borussia Dortmund are willing to drop their valuation.

De Gea or Henderson?

Let’s start with the situation over their goalkeeper shirt, because one of De Gea and Henderson is going to leave the club this year.
Sources are indicating that Henderson is frustrated by his lack of opportunities this term. He was expecting more of a chance to compete as the club’s Premier League keeper but has only played two and a half games. His other ten outings have been in cup competitions.

Who will be number one next season: Dean Henderson or David De Gea?

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United would be willing to listen to offers for De Gea at the end of this season, but they don’t hold much hope of finding a buyer, largely due to his high wages. There’s a small chance PSG come knocking - they are also looking at Hugo Lloris and Gianluigi Donnarumma - but at this stage there has been no contact.
If De Gea stays, sources say Henderson will very likely ask for a move. He feels ready for regular action and if that’s not at United, as he dreams, it’ll have to be elsewhere.

New centre-back, right-back the priority

Defence is an issue the club have been looking at for the past year but they are having to be wary of how much cash they will have available to strengthen in that area. As previously discussed in Transfer Notebook, Jules Kounde of Sevilla is a player that has impressed recruitment staff, yet his current value is upwards of £60 million and that is not going to happen at this time.
Villarreal’s Pau Torres might yet emerge as a more realistic target at centre back. He is reported to have a release clause of around £43m which seems to be about the maximum we should expect United to spend on a defender. United would love to give Solskjaer an open cheque book but in these times it is just not possible. Eric Bailly could be on the move, which might help open up some options.
Wan-Bissaka is heavily relied on week-after-week so a new full-back is needed. United have been linked with Norwich City’s Max Aarons but having two £50m players competing for the same spot does not seem wise or likely. Kieran Trippier from Atletico Madrid has been considered but again, seems unlikely. Ideally United are searching for someone who has potential to grow but is also established in the position.

Lingard could be makeweight for Rice

In midfield Pogba is going to be on the move if he gets his way but his latest injury problems add fresh doubt to the fact United still expect a significant fee for the player, who was signed for £89m and is contracted until 2022. Real Madrid and Juventus seem the most likely landing spots for Pogba. If he goes, there is no certainty United replace him though.
Donny van de Beek can expect to become a more key member of the side next term and his versatility will be key, while the club are going to give 18-year-old Hannibal Mejbri an opportunity to show he is ready for the first-team. He has played centrally and off the left for United’s under-23s and there is a feeling he is maturing well. With the transfer market expected to be similar to that of the past two windows, given the impact of Covid-19, there will be a priority on trying to include Mejbri and fellow youngsters Shola Shoretire and Joe Hugill in the plans.
It’s worth remembering that others will be moving on though and if Phil Jones and Juan Mata both leave, space will open up in the wage bill. It is also very possible Jesse Lingard will request a transfer.

Jesse Lingard of West Ham United celebrates with team mates

Image credit: Getty Images

West Ham were surprised when United turned their nose up at a potential permanent deal for him in January. On top of the £1.5million loan fee, they were willing to include a buyout clause for him to join permanently in a £15m move. United said no.
It seemed strange at the time but United knew he was capable of the form he has been showing this past month and now will be looking for upwards of £20m if he leaves in the summer.
One factor that might now come into that equation is if United decide to pursue Declan Rice. British targets are prioritised and they have long-standing interest in him as a midfield transfer, particularly as they know they could also use him in defence if needed.
He would cost at least £50m and West Ham don’t want to sell Rice so for now it’s a case of wait and see, as the player also seems very settled. It’s possible Lingard could be offered as a makeweight.

Martial sale could hold key to Sancho arrival

The final third is where United also need to make sure they are in good shape. Edinson Cavani is increasingly expected to sign a one-year extension and the club are very excited about the future three of Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood.
There is the big question that still looms over Sancho though. As we reported, United no longer value him at the same price they did a year ago but are still interested in the player. There has been no progress on a deal but the situation will be revisited towards the summer to see if Dortmund would be willing to accept an offer that is closer to £50m than £100m.
An interesting situation to look out for that could impact that pursuit surrounds the future of Anthony Martial. Sources believe there are figures at the club that would now be willing to consider serious offers for the player.
The patience and refusal to panic buy at United looks like it is starting to pay off but this next phase is likely to determine just how seriously they can be considered as genuine contenders to fight for honours again in the Premier League and in Europe.
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