Spotlight on Man Utd’s lack of signings ahead of Mourinho’s return
Manchester United need a response on the pitch when Jose Mourinho returns to Old Trafford as Tottenham manager on Sunday to calm the unease of supporters frustrated by a lack of movement in the transfer market.
Dutch international midfielder Donny Van de Beek is the only player United have signed in the transfer window so far with Monday’s deadline leaving precious little time for more deals to be concluded.
Despite boasting the third highest revenues in world football and securing a return to the riches of the Champions League, United have refused to meet Borussia Dortmund’s reported 120 million euro (£110 million,$140 million) valuation for England international winger Jadon Sancho.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit the Red Devils hard with no matchday revenue from a 76,000 capacity stadium – the biggest in the Premier League.
However, the uncertain financial climate has not stopped their rivals strengthening, with even Tottenham’s notoriously parsimonious chairman Daniel Levy backing Mourinho to try and get Spurs back into the top four.
That was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s task after Mourinho was sacked by United in December 2018 and the Norwegian succeeded in his first full season by leading his side to third in the Premier League and three semi-finals in the Europa League, FA Cup and League Cup.
After a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla in the last four of the Europa League in August during which he did not make a substitution until the 87th minute, Solskjaer was clear he needed more strength in depth to make United title contenders again.
Rather than closing the gap to Liverpool and Manchester City, United have spent less than England’s two outstanding sides of recent years.
“The club’s always working hard to have the strongest possible squad,” said Solskjaer on Friday. “They know my view and we’re here to strengthen in the long term.”
However, he prepared fans for the possibility that there would be no more arrivals before Monday.
“I keep reading about players that should be playing instead of ones that are playing: that tells me I’ve got a strong squad. We need to get fit and keep injury-free but there is more competition for places now.”
The outcry for new players has not been quietened by United’s poor start to the Premier League season.
A 3-1 home defeat by Crystal Palace dampened optimism of a title challenge this season before they escaped 3-2 victors at Brighton last weekend after the hosts hit the woodwork five times.
Failure to beat a Spurs side playing their fourth game in eight days this weekend will have alarm bells ringing that United risk going backwards this season with even greater competition for places in the top four.
On top of bringing back Gareth Bale on loan, Tottenham have upgraded their full-backs with the signings of Matt Doherty and Sergio Reguilon, bolstered the midfield in Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and finally seem set to bring in a backup for Harry Kane with the arrival of Carlos Vinicius on loan from Benfica.
Everton and Leicester have taken maximum points from their opening three games and have strengthened for a top-four challenge, while Arsenal are a different beast under Mikel Arteta.
Questions remain over whether Solskjaer has the tactical nous to have the same impact on United.
But there is no doubt it is the club’s owners, the Glazer family, and decision makers led by executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, rather than Solskjaer, that will be first to face the ire of supporters if last season’s progress proves to be another false dawn the club’s fall from grace since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
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