Jadon Sancho just the beginning of Manchester United's revolution under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

James Robson
·4-min read
Manchester United via Getty Imag
Manchester United via Getty Imag

Manchester United jumped three places in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first full season in charge. But the move from sixth to third will be nothing like as daunting as breaking into the top two.

Solskjaer knows that and has made it clear to his superiors at Old Trafford that the individual development he’s overseen in so many players now needs to be supplemented by transformative additions.

There is no better evidence of the impact the right signing can make than the dramatic change of fortunes United enjoyed almost overnight following Bruno Fernandes’ arrival.

Solskjaer knew he needed to get his business near-perfect over three windows to have any chance of bridging the gap to Manchester City and Liverpool – and so far his recruitment has been faultless.

Now it is a case of providing the finishing touches that can turn a team from being able to win on the big occasion, to one that can amass 95 points at the same time as juggling a Champions League campaign.

Guardiola took City from third to first with the signings of Ederson, Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte, Bernardo Silva.

Liverpool went from fourth to champions of Europe and within a whisker of the title after adding Virgil van Dijk, Alisson, Naby Keita and Fabinho to his squad. A year later they ended their 30-year wait for a league championship.

Now United need to follow suit, with Jadon Sancho just the start.

The England winger will add more sparkle to a forward line that has the potential to be the deadliest in Europe. By focusing on him, Solskjaer is demonstrating his determination not to settle for good enough.

Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood have been outstanding – particularly since the return from lockdown. But Solskjaer wants more. More goals, more pace, more threat.

(AFP/Getty Images)
(AFP/Getty Images)

Sancho will be a statement signing, but there are holes elsewhere in the squad that will prevent United from matching the consistency of Liverpool or City. His reluctance to change his starting XI in the final weeks of the campaign underlined his lack of faith in his support cast.

He has found a style that is effective regardless of the system – be it three at the back, a diamond in midfield or his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. The problem is he doesn’t have the cover to allow him to play that style when resting his stars.

There is no alternative to Fernandes at No10, which is why a move for Jack Grealish makes sense, but he will have to come at a significantly cheaper price than Aston Villa’s valuation of £70million.

Donny van de Beek could be a more viable option.

Deeper in midfield, Fred’s impressive season tailed off when he lost the rhythm of playing week in, week out. He doesn’t look like a player suited to rotation, which will be a problem if Solskjaer continues to favour Nemanja Matic or Scott McTominay alongside Pogba.

James Garner should get more of an opportunity next season, with United’s manager keen to step up the young midfielder’s progress to the first team. If he can make the strides seen by Greenwood and Brandon Williams this season, he could make the holding role his own.

Central defence remains an intriguing area. Solskjaer spent heavily to bring in Harry Maguire last summer, but is still to find a partner to create the type of defence that proved the bedrock for Sir Alex Ferguson’s sides.

There are high hopes for Teden Mengi. Axel Tuanzebe was expected to make the step up this season, but injuries have slowed his progress.

Given Solskjaer places so much importance in players being able to show physical robustness, it remains to be seen if he will place his faith in him next term.

There are similar concerns about Eric Bailly, who United’s coaches are convinced has the potential to be a top quality defender.

(AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Phil Jones’ long-standing fitness issues may finally bring an end to United career, while Marcos Rojo appears to have no future at the club.

In that sense Chris Smalling could be a useful addition upon his return from Roma. Should buyers be found for Jones and Rojo, reintegrating Smalling into the pool of centre-backs would make sense, even if only as a short-term solution.

Still United look short in the centre. Solskjaer remains an admirer of Kalidou Koulibaly, but the Napoli defender’s price will surely rule him out of a move when United are set to commit so much to Sancho.

This won’t be a summer where he gets to splash the cash in the manner of Guardiola and Klopp in their most pivotal windows, but there is still money to commit to his team building.

The pursuit of Sancho is evidence of that – but he alone will not be enough to turn third place into a title challenge.

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