Manchester United have said farewell to three senior midfielders in less than 24 hours after revealing on Thursday morning that Juan Mata will depart the club when his contract ends at the end of this month.
They confirmed on Wednesday that both Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard will no longer be registered club employees when their present contracts expire on June 30. The departures of the aforementioned trio were widely anticipated, but confirmation of their departures has made it very evident that United has begun planning for their summer rebuild.
United need to make big changes to their first-team squad this summer, and the exits of Pogba, Lingard, and Mata will be considered as the necessary first steps. They had all reached the end of their Old Trafford careers, and now United must move forward.
Their departures are all the more significant because they come from an area of the team that is in desperate need of vital upkeep this summer. United is in desperate need of a new defensive midfielder as well as a box-to-box player. Frenkie de Jong of Barcelona continues to draw a lot of attention.
With the departure of Nemanja Matic, United have reduced their midfield squad from this season by four players before the transfer window has even opened. Technically, they have only decreased it by one, as Andreas Pereira, Donny van de Beek, and James Garner have all returned from loan spells at Flamengo, Everton, and Nottingham Forest, respectively. Each player’s future is now in doubt, and it remains to be seen what manager Erik ten Hag has in store for them.
Many supporters believe that Garner should be promoted to the first team, while others believe that Ten Hag’s prior Ajax relationship with Van de Beek will provide him the opportunity to stake another claim. After a poor first two seasons in England, he will be anxious to make an impression next season. Pereira, on the other hand, is likely to be let go.
Along with Van de Beek and Garner seeking to force their way into Ten Hag’s plans, the Dutchman also has Scott McTominay, Hannibal Mejbri, Bruno Fernandes, and Fred to call on, all of whom will be vying for the three midfield spots if Ten Hag opts for a midfield triple formation. Keeping all seven of them happy appears to be an impossible challenge, especially given United’s desire to add at least one new midfielder, and will put the former Ajax manager’s man-management talents to the test.
Naturally, Ten Hag will want to assess every member of his squad once preseason training begins on June 27, but decisions must be made swiftly so that everyone is clear on who will be engaged in his plans moving ahead.
United are aware that at least one new acquisition is required to replace McTominay and Fred at the base of midfield, but does Ten Hag see Van de Beek as the man for the job, with Fernandes serving as the architect-in-chief just ahead of them?
It’s a difficult question to answer right now, possibly even for Ten Hag himself. However, even though United have already begun to cut the team by releasing Matic, Pogba, Lingard, and Mata, they are in danger of remaining bloated in midfield unless further departures are made.
Of the seven aforementioned midfielders still, on United’s books, Pereira is the most likely to leave — however it is unclear whether he will join Flamengo on a permanent basis. Garner, too, might leave Old Trafford, albeit on loan, but Ten Hag may have big ambitions for him, especially given his track record in managing the development of promising young players.
But, with at least one new player anticipated to arrive at Old Trafford, United’s midfield upheaval cannot end with Mata’s departure. They need to keep going, at the very least dumping two more.