Erik ten Hag seems to knows the next two transfers Manchester United must make
Man United are lacking options in a couple of areas ahead of Thursday night’s Europa League clash with Omonia Nicosia.
The sight of Raphael Varane trudging back towards the Etihad Stadium away dressing room five minutes before half-time on Sunday afternoon must have sent a shiver down the spine of every Manchester United supporter.
The Frenchman, who joined United a little over a year ago from Real Madrid, has been a colossus at the back so far this season, forming a promising partnership with summer signing Lisandro Martinez. His presence and leadership qualities have been felt in just about every way imaginable, and that is even before the statistics begin to highlight his importance.
Therefore, it would have been no surprise to anyone when United’s supporters feared the worst when he went down with an ankle problem with just over half an hour on the clock. City capitalised on the Frenchman’s absence, bagging their second goal while he was still off the pitch receiving treatment, scoring from a corner.
He was back on his feet and on the pitch in time for Erling Haaland to score his second and the Blues’ third three minutes later, but his race was run a few minutes afterwards, being replaced by Victor Lindelof. United, of course, went on to concede a further three goals, meaning they only conceded two of the six they shipped while Varane was on the pitch.
With that statistic in mind, ten of the 14 goals the Reds have conceded in the Premier League so far this season have been when Varane has not been present. Admittedly, you cannot lay the blame for Sunday’s horror show at Varane for going off; the damage was done well before that juncture and the signs were there that City were only just getting started.
Manchester United’s Erik ten Hag pre Man City press conference on Harry Maguire and the team
However, United manager Erik ten Hag is bound to be concerned about Varane’s latest injury; he has become one of the first names on the teamsheet in recent weeks and is a valued figure in the project the Dutchman is overseeing.
He has been ruled out of tonight’s Europa League clash with Omonia Nicosia but Ten Hag hopes he will be back soon, although he did not give a definitive date when addressing the press pack at Carrington on Wednesday morning.
For United’s sake, they need it to be soon. Very soon. With Harry Maguire also sidelined with a hamstring problem, they are down to the bare bones at centre-back, so much so that Lindelof and Martinez are the only centre-backs to have been included in the squad for Thursday night’s meeting with Omonia. It is a far from ideal situation and another injury could spell serious trouble.
United wanted to add a new central-defender to their ranks at all costs during the summer, and got one in the form of Martinez. However, with Varane, unfortunately, prone to injury woes and Maguire struggling for any kind of form, they are short on resources, even if Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones are still lingering in the background somewhere.
With only two starting centre-back positions up for grabs, plus the importance of that area of the team remaining settled and consistent, it is hard to keep everyone happy.
However, across town, City have proven that you can never have too much quality in reserve. They have five top-level centre-backs in Ruben Dias, Aymeric Laporte, John Stones, Nathan Ake and Manuel Akanji, all of whom will believe they warrant a starting place every week.
It means United might not have a choice but to dip into the market in January for a centre-back, so long as it is a move that makes sense and is planned strategically. Most fans have lost all trust in Maguire, meaning the prospect of losing Varane or Martinez to injury would leave United in a sticky situation.
The same, too, can be argued at right-back. Diogo Dalot is the only right-sided full-back to have been named in the squad that has travelled to Cyprus with Aaron Wan-Bissaka still sidelined. The Portugal international has started every game so far this season and risks burning out before we even reach the mid-season pause for the World Cup, where he will have aspirations of starting for Portugal.
The 22-man squad that Ten Hag has taken to Cyprus has exposed several weaknesses in United’s ranks and they do need addressing as soon as possible. With Wan-Bissaka clearly not fancied by Ten Hag when he is fit, and Maguire’s form continuing to come under scrutiny, United must consider shopping in those two areas in the New Year.
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