Manchester United

Manchester United

Premier League • England

The four problem positions Ratcliffe must fix at Man Utd this summer and who might solve their weaknesses

Ryan Baldi
Sir Jim Ratcliffe and the Manchester United badge

Man Utd are ready for a revamp under Ratcliffe

Sir Jim Ratcliffe has wasted no time in getting to work on what appears to be a lengthy to-do list since completing a partial takeover of Manchester United and, under the umbrella of his INEOS group’s sporting department, assuming decision-making control at the club.

A new CEO has already been appointed, with further key administrative hires in the works. There is also a belief that INEOS are weighing up a managerial change at the end of the season.

Changes will abound within the playing squad, too, once the transfer window opens in the summer.

With that in mind, here are the key problem areas within United’s squad that must be addressed.

Central midfield

It’s been a problem position for United ever since Michael Carrick’s abilities began to wane almost a decade ago. Many of the club’s on-field struggles in recent years result from an inability to exert any kind of control in games. Win or lose, there is almost always a chaotic feel to their middle third.

From Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin to Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Casemiro – hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent to shore up United’s midfield, yet still it is the area of the pitch in which they are most often outplayed and exploited.

Erik ten Hag attempted to remedy this issue in his first summer at Old Trafford through the unsuccessful pursuit of Frenkie De Jong. More recently, the emergence of academy standout Kobbie Mainoo has provided a level of calmness on the ball and ability to play through pressure that they have so desperately needed.

But the 18-year-old can’t do it alone. With question marks over 32-year-old Casemiro’s fitness and future, United must look to add another midfielder with the profile to complement Mainoo and form the bedrock of the centre of the Old Trafford pitch for years to come.

De Jong is again a rumoured target, this time with a belief that the Barcelona playmaker is gettable. Everton’s dynamic Belgian star Amadou Onana would also be an excellent fit, and the Toffees financial struggles could make him attainable.

Striker

Rasmus Hojlund’s electric recent form has eased United’s desperation in search of a goal-scorer to man the point of their attack. But like Mainoo in midfield, the young Dane cannot be expected shoulder the burden of propping up an entire positional department.

Hojlund’s recent injury absence has reinforced United’s need for depth up front, too. Anthony Martial is rarely fit and appears destined for a long overdue departure at the end of the season. Marcus Rashford has deputised for Hojlund of late, but the England star is much more comfortable operating from the left.

United’s frontline has a promising long-term outlook thanks to the improvement 21-year-old Hojlund has shown in taking his tally for the season to 13 goals in all competitions. A player with the versatility both to partner the former Atalanta star and deputise for him would make an ideal summer target.

Bologna’s gifted 6ft 4ins Dutch striker Joshua Zirkzee has been linked and – with his size, skill and experience for one so young at 22 – fits the bill.

IN DEPTH – Man Utd told why Joshua Zirkzee is the perfect No 9 with Ten Hag implored to make huge push to sign him

Right wing

If there is one position United have wasted more money than any other in trying to fill in recent years, it is the right side of their attack.

From Angel di Maria’s ill-fated then-British-record £59.7 million signing from Real Madrid back in 2014 to Jadon Sancho and Antony more recently.

United paid £73 million to sign Sancho from Borussia Dortmund in 2021, bringing to a successful conclusion an 18-month courtship of their top wide target, only to quickly discover he is better suited to playing on the left. Poor form and a fallout with Ten Hag has seen the England winger jettisoned, back with Dortmund on loan and unlikely to fetch much return on investment when United eventually sell him.

And Antony, a player hand-picked by Ten Hag to solve United’s right-side problem, is shaping up to be arguably the worst signing in the club’s history. Arriving from Ten Hag’s former club Ajax for £84 million in 2022, the Brazilian is the club’s second most expensive signing ever, behind only Pogba.

A disappointing first season at Old Trafford has been followed by a 2023-24 campaign in which Antony has scored zero Premier League goals and provided zero assists en route to losing his place in Ten Hag’s team. United are said to be considering cutting their losses on the 24-year-old this summer. Those losses will be significant.

The club’s new INEOS overlords have identified Crystal Palace’s Michael Olise as their top candidate for the right wing. Buying from within the Premier League always comes at a premium, but Olise has shown the dynamism, creativity and – most importantly – consistency of delivery from wide that United crave.

Centre-back

A combination of injuries and undulating individual form has meant United have struggled to field a consistent central defensive partnership so far this season.

Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire have both spent spells on the sidelines this term after presumably displeasing Ten Hag with their performances, while Victor Lindelof continues to look sub-standard as a starter.

Surprise summer signing Jonny Evans has performed admirably, but the 36-year-old cannot be considered foundational to the club’s future.

For his tenacity in the tackle and passing ability from deep, Lisandro Martinez is among the first names on Ten Hag’s team sheet when fit. But the cursed Argentinian defender had no sooner returned from a lengthy injury absence this season than he suffered another injury.

And although Maguire’s form has improved since he returned to the line-up after being dropped at the start of the season, his presence still presents a stylistic issue for United. The England centre-back’s lack of pace means he has to form part of a deep defensive line or else be exposed by speedy opponents. When United want to press high, this results in a huge spaces between their attack and defence.

Ratcliffe and co. come with an expert knowledge of French football thanks to INEOS’s ownership of Nice. As such, Lille’s towering 18-year-old centre-back Leny Yoro has emerged as a key defensive target.

Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite is another. The 21-year-old is valued at £100 million but appears to have the makings of being one of the best Premier League defenders for a decade or more.