Five Key Signings Manchester United Should Target This Summer
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Five Key Signings Manchester United Should Target This Summer

03/07/24 12:45

Manager Erik ten Hag faces criticism, but recruitment decisions aren't entirely his fault. Despite poor performances, there are promising signs for United fans.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, with his 25% stake, has taken over football operations at United, revamping the hierarchy with key appointments: Sir Dave Brailsford, Jason Wilcox as technical director, Omar Berrada as chief executive, and Dan Ashworth as sporting director. The next step is transforming the playing squad.

A major overhaul is expected, with only Kobbie Mainoo, Alejandro Garnacho, and Rasmus Hojlund considered untouchable. A significant spending spree to replace outgoing players is likely, and I have highlighted five potential stars to help transform United's first team.

Jarrad Branthwaite: Everton's Rising Star Perfect for Manchester United

Age: 21 Position: Central Defender
Current Club: Everton & England
Estimated Fee: £60m

Manchester United have their eyes set on Everton's 21-year-old central defender, Jarrad Branthwaite. The former Carlisle United man joined the Toffees in 2020 and, after loan spells with Blackburn Rovers and PSV Eindhoven, has cemented his place in Everton's first team.

Standing at 6ft 4in with a powerful build, Branthwaite brings the physical presence United's defence currently lacks. He excels in deep defensive roles and is adept at protecting the penalty area—a crucial skill given United's defensive frailties this season.

Branthwaite's ability to close down space and neutralise threats makes him an ideal candidate to shore up United's back line.

Additionally, his left-footedness and ball-playing capabilities would be a significant asset, helping United transition to a more possession-based style, especially after the signing of Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana.

Although Branthwaite's domestic transfer wouldn't come cheap, his profile and potential make him a perfect fit for Manchester United's defensive needs.

Matthijs De Ligt: The Dutch Defender Who Could Strengthen Manchester United's Backline

Age: 24
Position: Central Defender
Current Club: Bayern Munich and Netherlands Estimated Fee: £45m

Matthijs de Ligt could be a significant addition to Manchester United's defence, bringing the modern qualities of a centre-back they lacked last season. With his ability to play out from the back and strong aerial skills, De Ligt addresses key weaknesses in United's defensive setup.

However, De Ligt's data is mixed. While his progressive carries lag behind Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire, and his challenges lost aren't outstanding, he remains a solid defender.

The concern is his lack of pace, similar to Lisandro Martinez, which could limit Erik ten Hag's tactical flexibility, especially against fast counter-attacks.

On the positive side, De Ligt's previous experience with Ten Hag at Ajax could ease his tactical integration. The potential partnership with Martinez offers a complementary left/right-footed combination, beneficial for defensive balance.

Injuries are a major concern, though. De Ligt's recurrent knee ligament issues and a history of missing an average of 12 games per season due to injury pose significant risks. With United's defensive ranks already thin due to injuries, this could be a gamble.

Ultimately, De Ligt's success at United would hinge on his adaptation to the physically demanding Premier League and managing his injury risks. Despite these challenges, his qualities could provide the boost United's defence needs.

Morten Hjulmand: Sporting CP’s Midfield Dynamo Targeted by Manchester United

Age: 25
Position: Defensive Midfielder
Current Club: Sporting CP & Denmark
Estimated Fee: £69m

Morten Hjulmand has caught the eye of Manchester United after an impressive start at Sporting Lisbon. The Danish midfielder, who joined from Lecce last summer, has quickly become a key player in Portugal.

Despite his relatively low profile, Hjulmand's performances have propelled him into the spotlight, with United reportedly interested in activating his £69 million release clause.

Hjulmand's career has been marked by a nomadic journey, starting at FC Copenhagen and moving through Austrian side Admira Wacker before his breakout in Italy. Internationally, he receives advice from Christian Eriksen, adding to the potential synergy at United.

Despite being a lifelong Arsenal fan, his skills as a defensive midfielder could make him a valuable asset for United, bringing needed versatility and youth to their midfield.

Known for his ability to recycle possession and break lines with progressive passes, Hjulmand also excels in tackling. While not a prolific goal-scorer, he is capable of striking from distance.

His leadership qualities were evident as captain at Lecce, and he continues to impress at Sporting, making 20 appearances and aiding their ascent to the top of the table and the Europa League knockout stages.

Fluent in three languages and learning Portuguese, Hjulmand has seamlessly integrated into Sporting's midfield. Should he join United, he could bring much-needed dynamism and depth to their squad—though his Arsenal tattoo might need to stay hidden.

Michael Olise: Crystal Palace's Creative Spark for Manchester United

Age: 22
Position: Winger
Current Club: Crystal Palace & France
Estimated Fee: £55m

This one might sting a bit for United fans, especially after their recent struggles against Olise and Palace. The French U21 international winger Michael Olise is just the player Manchester United need to inject some creativity into their wide areas.

Olise is a versatile and intelligent winger, capable of stretching the pitch on the outside or drifting inside to exploit space in the channels. His ability to link play and create opportunities for teammates around the opposition's penalty area would be invaluable for United.

Currently, United's wide options, including Marcus Rashford, Alejandro Garnacho, and Antony, are more geared towards a direct and transitional style of play, often focusing on individual efforts. While this approach has its benefits, adding a player like Olise would bring much-needed variety to United's attack.

Olise's knack for linking play from deep positions and creating chances would complement United's existing forwards, while his ability to finish when breaking into the penalty area adds another layer to his game. For £55m, Olise could be the creative spark Manchester United's attack is missing.

Joshua Zirkzee: The Unique Talent Manchester United Need

Age: 23
Position: Center Forward Current Club: Bologna & Netherlands
Estimated Fee: £40m

Joshua Zirkzee stands out at 6’4” with the skill set of a playmaker and the pace to exploit the channels. Manchester United are among several clubs eyeing his unique abilities, seeing him as a potential key addition to their squad.

Zirkzee's breakthrough season at Bologna saw him help the club qualify for Europe's elite competition for the first time in 60 years, earning him a call-up to Ronald Koeman's Netherlands squad for Euro 2024.

Zirkzee's statistics are impressive, ranking among the top 10 players in Serie A for goals from open play, chances created, and successful dribbles. His all-around threat to defences is evident, but it's his potential that excites the most.

Despite early challenges at Bayern Munich, where he joined at 16 and scored four Bundesliga goals, Zirkzee has developed significantly, showcasing his unique profile.

Compared to Zlatan Ibrahimovic for his height, skill, and flair, Zirkzee's hold-up play is notable, ranking third in Serie A for lay-off passes.

His finishing abilities, highlighted during his time at Anderlecht, and significant improvements in off-the-ball work make him a standout player.

Last season, he topped Serie A for high turnovers and ranked second for possession won in the final third.

Zirkzee's combination of physical presence, technical skill, and tactical intelligence makes him a rare find in the market. With a £40m fee, Manchester United could secure a forward whose unique abilities and recent progress suggest he could be a transformative signing for their attack.

Benji Kosartiyer
Journalist
Jamie Somerville

Writer

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