Looking back at the summer and what might have been, it’s widely acknowledged that Manchester United were in the hunt for defensive reinforcements, particularly in the centre-back slots with Jose Mourinho urging the board to strengthen and improve.
Nevertheless, while options such as Toby Alderweireld at Spurs and Harry Maguire at Leicester City were tipped to complete moves to Old Trafford, neither materialised ahead of the earlier transfer deadline day in English football. Only full-back Diogo Dalot was signed to complement the existing options available to the Portuguese coach.
With the United defence continually under scrutiny, the league statistics are evidence enough that something needs to be done, indicating that such a leaky defence is in serious urgent need of attention, seemingly proving that Mourinho was right to be concerned ahead of the season.
A finish any striker would be proud of ?
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 15, 2018
It’s with good reason that in-play betting at Paddy Power continually features favourable odds for Man Utd to concede goals, having only managed to maintain one Premier League clean sheet and leaking 16 goals in the first 9 games. Injuries haven’t helped, but Mourinho has also shuffled the pack at the back on numerous occasions, frustratedly seeking the best combinations.
Amidst speculation that Mourinho could be given the funds to bid for another centre-back or two in the January transfer window, a host of names are already being linked. Inter Milan’s 23-year-old talent Milan Skriniar would certainly be an improvement, although his ability would come at a hefty price with the Italian club reluctant to sell one of their best players.
Older and perhaps a little wiser is 27-year-old Kalidou Koulibaly at Napoli, who has earned plenty of praise for his rock-solid consistency in Serie A. However, like any of the leading targets frequently linked with United, the Senegal international is on a long-term deal with his current club, meaning a huge transfer fee would likely be involved.
Marc Bartra: "I've known Luis Enrique since I was 17 years old and at Barcelona B."
"He’s a coach who is in control of all the tactical aspects and has won many titles. We can see the ambition and hunger that the coach has." pic.twitter.com/Yvx9bRU3Ku
— Fútbol España (@SpainSystem) October 13, 2018
Mourinho may need to go bargain hunting in the January sales, if there’s a reluctance to spend big. Already mentioned as a possible target a couple of years ago, 27-year-old Marc Bartra has since matured superbly at Real Betis in La Liga. Current whoscored.com stats suggest that his €30 million release clause value would be an absolute snip.
Meanwhile, it seems increasingly obvious that Man Utd may also be looking to offload players, with reports at talkSPORT suggesting that Turkish side Fenerbahce are interested in Marcos Rojo. The 28-year-old has struggled with injuries after appearing at the World Cup with Argentina and could be offloaded.
The hugely disappointing and error-prone start to the campaign for Eric Bailly has also raised doubts about his long-term future at Old Trafford. Along with interest in Europe, Spurs and Arsenal have both been mentioned as potential escape routes for the Ivory Coast player, with Mauricio Pochettino and Unai Emery both said to be admirers from his time in Spain.