The football season is over – albeit only for the moment, as players around the world begin to enjoy a brief vacation ahead of the rendezvous in Russia to take part in the biggest sporting competition in the world. Club football usually takes a back seat when continents and countries collide as Germany look to defend their World Cup in June.
In addition to being ‘the Broadway‘ to a professional footballer representing his country, the World Cup has, for years, greatly influenced the careers of footballers. There is nothing like a string of good performances in the World Cup to shine the spotlight on and propel one’s career to the highest level. For the English Premier League, the World Cup is ought to be the primary hunting ground as English clubs – with their coffers brimming with broadcast and commercial revenue – are set to cast their nets far and wide with a view to bolstering their squads before the transfer window shuts on the 9th of August, which is the Thursday before the season even begins.
And for Manchester United, the timing of the transfer window should be arbitrary. Having finished 19 points behind rivals Manchester City – and losing the FA Cup final against Chelsea in a game they largely underwhelmed – the way they ended the campaign is definitely a cause for concern despite the progress made in terms of points and results against top six.
United, quite against their nature, made an attacking replacement in January – for the outgoing Henrikh Mkhitaryan by bringing in one of the best players in the league – in Alexis Sanchez, yet their goal-scoring record in the 12 games (1.4 goals per game) he appeared in did not see an improvement to the 26 games before his arrival (2.04 goals per game). But however, what is rather comforting for United is the fact that they managed to win 4 of the 5 games against fellow top six sides with the Chilean in the side playing an integral role in each of the victories. In any case, Sanchez was a signing made for 2018/19 and beyond and his success depends on how well he thrives in a system devised by the Portuguese.
In a side, anchored and orchestrated by Paul Pogba in the middle, Alexis Sanchez could turn out to be a potent weapon for United on the break next season but what Mourinho needs to immediately address in the Summer is the wide full-back areas where having two 30+ year old ‘has been’ wingers simply may not be the way forward anymore, if they were to wrestle the league title away from their neighbours next season.
That is why they must move quickly with adding the likes of Juventus full-back Alex Sandro to their squad, who has been recently linked with a move to Manchester United.
A quick look at the numbers shows the kind of tenacity and consistency that the Brazilian 27-year old Sandro can bring to Old Trafford which was not long ago – home to exciting wide players always looking to take the game to the opposition. On the contrary, in the last few years, the Red Devils have looked toothless out wide more often than not, usually on both flanks, that has deprived their forwards of a good number of goal-scoring chances at crucial stages of the game.
Despite finishing second, United for the second time in three seasons created the least number of chances from open play among the top six in 2017/18. This is a damning indictment of a football club that takes pride in playing with style and swagger as it has done for large portions of its storied history.
Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have had strong campaigns under the Portuguese in their own right but there is no getting away from the fact they are severely limited in their ability that is required week-in-week-out to put in strong performances for a side that is attempting to bridge the gap in Manchester that is as wide as the river Irwell now.
Signing Sandro or someone of a that ilk early doors in the transfer window – is not an option for Jose Mourinho, if Manchester United were to be taken seriously come August.
They need to make a statement that warrants they should be.