Erik ten Hag’s most difficult challenge this summer may be determining which spots in his squad requires immediate repair and which can wait another year.
Even the presence of Ten Hag at Selhurst Park on Sunday was insufficient to mask Manchester United’s problems on the field, as they suffered yet another defeat to round up a painfully disappointing season. The Dutchman will have seen nothing new about United last weekend, albeit the manner of their defeat will have highlighted what a difficult challenge he faces.
United are already working on a variety of prospective transfer transactions in order to jumpstart their summer in the best possible way, with a particular focus on bolstering a defense that allowed 57 goals this season – 31 more than both Manchester City and Liverpool.
Jurrien Timber and Pau Torres are both of considerable interest to the club as they attempt to acquire a new center-back this summer, and there have been other others connected with a transfer. United’s need for a new center defense arises not only from their problems this season, but also from the fact that Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, and Axel Tuanzebe are all expected to leave in the summer.
It’s understandable why United want to bolster their squad in the off-season, but it’s not the scenario they envisioned when they paid £42 million to sign Raphael Varane a year ago.
One of the few highlights of the previous season came when Varane was paraded in front of a full Old Trafford ahead of United’s opening-day hammering of Leeds. There was genuine excitement in the air that United had signed such a world-class player, albeit such enthusiasm has rarely been seen since.
In his debut season, the French center-back has impressed in flashes but has missed 17 games due to injury and illness. Varane appeared in fewer games this season than Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot, and Nemanja Matic, and only two more than Anthony Elanga.
Not only was he unlucky with injuries, but Varane also suffered as a result of the system United used and the lack of a reliable center-back partner with whom to develop a partnership.
Speaking of which, both Lindelof and Harry Maguire have fallen short of expectations at Old Trafford and could find themselves out of the starting lineup on a regular basis next season.
Maguire was never going to be dropped for an extended length of time because of his leadership and the additional scrutiny such an act would have brought, whilst Lindelof has always been considered as the expendable option in any center-back duo.
Ten Hag’s appointment is thought to have brought with it the leeway to make brutal, and long-overdue, team changes, with the defensive system being one area that is certain to be overhauled. United’s interest in signing another center-back demonstrates that the manager is certainly keen on strengthening his backline as soon as possible this summer, casting additional doubt on those already at the club.
The addition of Timber or Torres may provide the defensive stability that United has been lacking, but it would also increase competition for positions.
Maguire and Lindelof have been two of United’s most used center-backs this season. However, under Ten Hag, they may struggle to go on the field at all.