Manchester United knew they needed a lot of change this summer, and they have gotten a lot of it in the last few days, whether they like it or not. Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, and Juan Mata will all leave the club at the end of the month when their contracts run out. This will make Erik ten Hag’s first job of rebuilding the team even harder.
They join Lee Grant, Nemanja Matic, and Edinson Cavani in leaving the club. This brings the number of players leaving United to six, and that’s before they count the players who are still under contract but will be allowed to leave.
Ten Hag’s biggest challenge this summer will be to replace the players who are leaving with new players he brings in. It’s unlikely that he’ll be able to do this for every single player, though.
United has never spent more than £150 million on permanent deals in a single window. Even though spending is usually higher in summers when they don’t qualify for the Champions League, it would be unrealistic to expect anywhere near the ten new players Ralf Rangnick suggested before he left.
United could make as many as five or six new signings this summer, but three or four seems more likely based on how they’ve done things in the past. So, Ten Hag will have to find cheap ways to fix some problem spots this summer. For example, he might already have three teenagers at the club who could help make up for the loss of Lingard and Mata.
Lingard played in 22 games and was on the field for a total of 548 minutes. This means that on average, he was on the field for just under 25 minutes per game. Mata only played in 12 games all season, for a total of 409 minutes. Of those minutes, 173 were played in the last three games of the season as part of his farewell tour.
It means that United don’t necessarily need to sign new players to replace the two this summer. Instead, they just need players who can step into their side roles and add to the first-team squad as needed. Hannibal Mejbri, Shola Shoretire, and Alejandro Garnacho all have a chance of doing that, and their own plans for growth could fit perfectly with United’s need for attacking options who won’t expect to start every week.
All three of these young players are already stars for United at the academy level. However, none of them are quite ready for regular senior football, and they aren’t being challenged enough in the youth ranks. Hannibal has been a first-team player since January when he came back from the African Cup of Nations with Tunisia. Next season, he is likely to play even more with the first team.
Shoretire is another player who could get more playing time under Ten Hag. He has already made five appearances for the first team, and the fact that he can play on the right wing could help him since United doesn’t have many players there.
Garnacho is one of the most interesting players in the academy right now, and he could skip the U23s and go straight to the senior team this summer.
It’s probably still too early for any of the three to start games regularly with the first team, but as backups for players like Lingard and Mata, they wouldn’t need to.
Instead, all three could get important playing time in the Carabao Cup and Europa League in the first half of the season. This would give Ten Hag enough time to judge their progress before the January transfer window.
With so many problems to fix and so many players leaving this summer, United fans shouldn’t be surprised that some problems will have to be put on hold until they can be dealt with properly in the future.
Instead of United’s free agents, three talented people could take their place.