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Far-Fetched Friday: UCL Only Hope for United, Too Flawed to Win League
By: Jake Lofgren
On paper, United had a transfer window to remember. Manchester United signed three household names this summer in Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane, and Cristiano Ronaldo. These signings elevate the quality of United's already incredible side. I mean, Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the entire world. So this gives them the arrogance to go out and sign the biggest names in the football world despite not winning a trophy in the last four years. Signings like Sancho, Varane and Ronaldo all have significant clout because of their name and track record. Although, were these the right signings to make United a better team on the pitch? Well, that can't be answered quite yet, but there is significant reason to doubt that it does.
Welcome back to Far-Fetched Friday, where every Friday we give you a bold prediction that we believe will come to fruition. This Friday, we look at the red side of Manchester.
United was already the second-best team in the Premier League last season, even though the margin between them and Manchester City was 12 points. Manchester United still failed to fulfill the position they most desperately needed, which was a true defensive midfielder. Fred has proven time and time again that he is not good enough or even in the correct position to play as a 6 with Pogba and Fernandes as his midfield companions. This mismatch usually results in McTominay been paired with him, leaving one fewer position for United's plethora of attacking talents.
With Fred and McTominay together with a back four behind them, that means only four available spots for any combination of Ronaldo, Sancho, Martial, Rashford, Greenwood, Cavani, Van de Beek, and Jesse Lingard.
Ronaldo and Sancho are both players that are arguably world-class, but were they needed? United scored the second-most goals last season in the league, with 73, exceeding their xG (63.17) by nearly ten goals. Outperforming your xG by a margin this large means that you have a squad with great finishers on it. And while a plethora of attacking talent can be a good problem to have, that is not the case when you do so instead of meeting a more vital need somewhere else on your roster. United's insecurity to let Ronaldo go to Manchester City and their inability to avoid the peer pressure from their fans to sign Sancho certainly won't hinder their progress, but I'm not sure it really adds to it.
So then what about Varane? United definitely needed a center back to pair with Maguire that could replace Bailly or Lindelof. A good partner for Maguire would be a super athletic center back that can make up for Maguire's lack of footspeed. And while that may have been the case early in his career, Varane may not be that guy anymore as he is beginning to age. Nobody should act like this Varane is the same one of the past, at least not after his recent Champions League and EURO performances. Looking to Dayot Upamecano or Edmond Tabsoba may have been better, but only time will tell. United's lack of focus to address their midfield will cost them severely. They didn't have to go out and buy a world-beater, just someone athletic enough to cover space and make up for Pogba, Fernandes, and/or Van de Beek. The obvious answer was always Wilfrid Ndidi.
Manchester United is giving me some pretty serious deja vu to last season's Chelsea.
They start another season club legend at head coach, who has yet to really prove himself despite a few huge individual results. Then you have a transfer window that has everybody talking about them with new big names that inevitably may not have made the most sense. There is the fact that both were so close to winning a trophy despite both failing to win finals. And I know I just slandered United's decisions in the transfer window, but this does NOT mean I don't think the squad is capable of winning. Chelsea proved last season that the best team does not always win the Champions League.
A lot of it depends on the lottery of matchup draws and having an experienced squad. The only one United can control is the experienced squad, which they absolutely have. I mean, Ronaldo and Varane alone have enough experience with their insane UCL pedigrees. United's group is extremely beatable, like Chelsea's was, for them, now, they can hope that the knockout draws are favorable too. Even if they aren't, Ole will play as pragmatic as he always does against big clubs and depend on his team's world-class ability in counter attacks to nick enough goals to win.
Ole does not get any passes anymore, not with Ronaldo in the team.
So just like Chelsea did to Lampard with Tuchel. Do not be surprised if Conte takes over sometime throughout the season to try and rectify everything for United. The signings United made are very impressive, but there is significant reason to doubt if United's problems were addressed. Pretending like their problems are no longer there because they now have one of the best players of all time is fun, but still, a silly thing to do.
This prediction will be correct if United only makes a cup final(s) and finish outside of the top 2 in the Premier League, meaning that these signings did not make them a better team.
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