This was the summer three Manchester United wishes came true. Unfortunately a fourth was too much to ask.
One: United signed Jadon Sancho, a player the club have been pursuing for two years and following even longer. He was signed for 20 per cent less than Dortmund’s asking price of a year ago.
Two: Raphael Varane signs 10 years after Sir Alex Ferguson tried to sign him. Still at his peak, the Frenchman is arguably the best centre-back United have had since the days of Ferdinand and Vidic.
Three: Cristiano Ronaldo returns! This in itself is a deal which would transform most summer windows into a 10/10. United ensured this was a net gain by keeping hold of Edinson Cavani too.
A fourth wish too much to ask
The common complaint last season among supporters was not the lack of goals, or the defence which improved after a poor start. It was the midfield.
United’s preferred pairing of Fred and Scott McTominay were unspectacular but effective, and with the latter temporarily out with injury, it has highlighted just how short United are.
With the trio of Varane, Sancho, and Ronaldo, United have improved the squad immeasurably, but the fear is that the midfield will be the reason the team fall short this season.
United are not the only team to improve this summer. Chelsea have strengthened with a new striker, while Manchester City added Jack Grealish. Liverpool will be stronger than last year simply by getting their key players healthy again.
It is very possible United could improve on last season’s point tally and still end up in third position, the standard will be so high.
Winning a cup will be seen as progress if United can get there. But it will be a long season with small margin for error.
What we have seen in United’s two away games to start the season is that the team lacks strength in midfield.
Nemanja Matic has taken a step backwards over the past 12 months, and we have seen various combinations of Paul Pogba with Fred and McTominay as a two over the past year plus to realise that may not be a winning combination.
Donny van de Beek is an enigma who may come good, but we can’t tell if he can’t get off the bench.
United had a chance to add a player this summer, with Premier League players like Yves Bissouma and Ruben Neves looking like affordable and sensible additions.
Another low cost potential addition, Teun Koopmeiners, signed for Champions League group rivals Atalanta for just over £10 million.
These are the type of deals United should be considering taking a gamble on. Standing by and letting Chelsea sign Saul Niguez on loan was another perplexing choice.
Any kind of upgrade on Matic as a defensive midfield option would have had United fans celebrating further.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a great squad to work with, but he is no miracle worker. The midfield lacks quality and depth. It is enough to get by and be competitive, but is it really enough to win.
The one miracle worker is Cristiano Ronaldo. He may be able to help cover for the deficiencies behind him. Now the transfer window is closed, we can only watch and hope.
We can still celebrate what United have done
In comparison to previous wretched transfer windows – see Dalot, Fred and Lee Grant in 2018 the last time United finished second, this has been a momentous summer.
There is a lot to celebrate and the overall sentiment should be a happy one at what United have been able to achieve.
But the midfield is the one doubt left hanging over an otherwise perfect summer, with Paul Pogba also yet to sign a contract extension.
Ronaldo’s deal covers United after Cavani leaves, and the summer of 2022 will surely be focused on improving the midfield.
Solskjaer has to try and do his best to ensure that waiting on the position until next year is not a costly decision.
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