The magnitude of Erik ten Hag’s challenge at Manchester United this summer cannot be overstated.
Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Arsenal was just another clear reminder of how much work needs to be done at Old Trafford this summer, both in terms of personnel and the cultural transformation that the club requires in order to get back on track. Individual errors were once again the architects of United’s latest collapse, which has reached the point where no one is surprised.
Raphael Varane and Alex Telles’ defending in the build-up to Nuno Tavares’ third-minute opener was far too casual and uninspiring, highlighting why United have conceded nine goals in their last three Premier League outings and have the worst defensive record of any side currently residing inside the top-eight in the table. This season, they have conceded 51 goals in 34 games.
While Varane, one of United’s better defenders this season, and Telles were responsible for the first goal, it was Bruno Fernandes, who had previously squandered a penalty spot chance to pull Ralf Rangnick’s side level, who was responsible for Arsenal’s third. Granit Xhaka caught the Portugal international off guard, and the Swiss midfielder blasted a powerful shot that left David de Gea helpless.
United’s midfield troubles, particularly on the defensive side of the game, were once again highlighted. It’s difficult to keep track of how many times their lack of a world-class defensive midfielder has cost them this season.
Although Rangnick indicated after the defeat to Liverpool that it was not unrealistic to expect ten new players this summer, emphasizing the enormity of the reconstruction project that awaits Ten Hag, it is the defensive-midfield department that will garner the most attention and interest. United absolutely needs to find a player to fill that role, whether that means going all-in for a big-money acquisition or being shrewd and prudent enough to sign an unknown quantity who is on the rise.
Whatever happens, James Garner deserves a chance to show himself. Given his form, in the Championship this season and Ten Hag’s love for fostering youth, the England Under-21 international has been revolutionary for Nottingham Forest this season and is extremely likely to earn a spot in Ten Hag’s plans for next season.
However, while there is a lot of enthusiasm and excitement surrounding Garner, which is understandable, it is difficult to see him becoming a regular starter next season, though it cannot be ruled out completely. For the sake of argument, you’d expect him to be a squad player, coming off the bench and playing cup games here and there.
Regardless of Ten Hag’s plans for him, he will provide United with a new option in a difficult position. As a teenager who has never been in and around the first-team group on a regular basis, he is likely to buy into anything Ten Hag expects of his players, which means United might benefit tremendously from his own, undeniable levels of talent.
While Garner might provide United with a new midfield option, Brandon Williams could fight for the left-back position. Both Luke Shaw and Telles have battled for form and consistency this season, so Williams will fancy his chances, especially after admitting he is “motivated” to return from his loan spell at Norwich City and take over the left-back place.
Williams, who has made 50 appearances for United, has impressed in a difficult season for Norwich, indicating that he has what it takes to play in the Premier League. Although he is still young, and the jury is still out on whether he can be a seasoned performer for a team of the Reds’ caliber, he, like Garner, has the potential to be an important squad player in a difficult position.
As a result, if United’s summer recruitment drive costs in the double digits, as Rangnick has hinted, having ready-made options, at the very least to give competition, might help them save a significant amount of money in the transfer market. At Old Trafford, a fresh vision is being implemented, and there is no reason why the youth cannot fit in.