There might be time left in the January transfer window but Manchester United’s main focus is already on looking to strengthen their squad in the summer.
In the final few days of the current window, it is highly unlikely we will see any new arrivals at Old Trafford, with the focus instead on trying to trim a bloated squad.
But that doesn’t mean Ralf Rangnick didn’t want any new signings this month. The interim manager is well aware of the reinvestment needed in midfield, but with a new permanent manager planned before the end of the season, United had the perfect excuse to stall their spending and wait for their new boss before making big transfer decisions.
United have already identified midfield as their priority position for the summer, regardless of who takes charge next, but there could still be a shift in the type of player they chase depending on managerial preference.
The transfer plans could also be influenced by United’s recent formation change, which has seen a switch to a 4-3-3 with one holding midfielder and two number eights playing either side of them.
United are long-time admirers of Declan Rice and the West Ham midfielder asked Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw about the club while on international duty with England last year.
However, he is a player who usually operates in an axis at the base of a 4-2-3-1 set-up and not necessarily as the anchor of a three-man midfield.
Against smaller sides, West Ham have sometimes utilized Rice as the sole defensive option in midfield, but in most games he is given license to roam by having Tomas Soucek next to him.
If United do want to persist with the 4-3-3 approach long-term, they will likely need someone who is more of a defensive specialist in the mold of a younger Nemanja Matic.
Instead, it could lead to someone like Wilfred Ndidi, Yves Bissouma, Franck Kessie or Boubacar Kamara coming in at the base of midfield as a priority this summer, with Rice potentially viewed as more of a Paul Pogba replacement.
The recent success of Fred in a more advanced role has also lessened the need for a box-to-box option, with the most pressing issue surely finding a defensive anchor to piece it together.
Scott McTominay has impressed lately in a deeper role, but there remain concerns regarding his long-term suitability for the position and just how easy teams have found it to play through United in recent weeks.
By adding a defensive-minded midfielder, United would not only acquire the final piece of the jigsaw in regards to their 4-3-3 set-up but such a signing could also help them immensely if they ever switch back to a 4-2 -3-1 as well.
Ahead of a summer in which fans will demand United go on the offensive, the key to its success could be by going defensive.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.