Even though it was only pre-season, United’s 4-1 defeat against Liverpool in Ann Arbor, Michigan – in front of a 95,000 strong crowd – really stung the manager and properly unravelled Mourinho’s frustration and general negativity in a rather revealing press conference.
The Portuguese manager is clearly unhappy with the way the preparations have gone on in the United States – the number of players he is missing either through injury or an extended post-World Cup holiday – unfinished businesses in the transfer market, both in and out – and more importantly, the squad that is available now not really clicking into gear with only game to go before the Premier League begins at Old Trafford. It is squeaky-bum time now for Manchester United.
Out of the three or four areas that need strengthening – the two obvious positions are fullback – where United at the moment have two players over 30 years old and a returning Luke Shaw, whose fitness has always been and will continue to be a fat question mark and centre-half – where United – though have five international standard center-backs in their ranks, they are not all good or experienced enough to challenge for the league under Mourinho – whose style of football, unfortunately, demands a lot of solid, error-free defending to succeed.
With this in mind and United firmly in the market for a centre-half who would replace the outgoing Marcos Rojo (most likely) – and thereby directly improve not only the squad as a whole, but the first eleven too, in the process – there are two standout options in the Premier League, who they are already strongly linked with – Toby Alderweireld and Harry Maguire.
Outside England, there are plenty of names that sound promising, from Raphael Varane to Jose Gimenez, Milan Skriniar to Alessio Romagnoli – but very few of those, if any at all – is even remotely possible to sign at this stage of the transfer window, assuming that there has been zero contact – with the respective clubs already halfway through their preparations and not to mention that most of them being able to offer Champions League football leaving United with little leverage.
The interesting thing about United’s potential options within the Premier League is how they represent two completely different pathways that the club could take by buying one or the other.
In Toby Alderweireld, Jose Mourinho will get the kind of player he builds title-winning teams around: ready-made, arguably world-class and Premier League hardened defender who is at the peak of his powers now.
The Belgian’s flexibility across defence, having played under Pochettino in various different roles and systems, will also come in handy given Mourinho’s recent inclination to switch to a back three in the big games away from home. Alderweireld’s strangely underrated prowess with the ball also far exceeds that of what United currently possess at the back and will make a great deal of improvement to their starting line-up without question. With a player like him at the back – who can initiate attacking moves from the back – more often than United’s current defenders have done, this move is a no-brainer from a footballing standpoint.
With the 29-year old, only having a year remaining in his contract with Spurs – should United’s offer be tempting enough, there is no reason why the Red Devils cannot land the defender even though it is well documented that any deal with Daniel Levy is a dance with death, in financial terms.
It is not surprising that United’s valuation of the defender is some way off of Spurs’ expectation but that gap, which is supposedly £10-million, could be bridged, provided United recoup some cash from the sales of Darmian – who has expressed his desire to leave and potentially Marcos Rojo who is attracting interest from newly promoted Wolverhampton.
Given that Alderweireld could leave the club for about half of his current valuation by Spurs at £25-million at the end of next season, it would make sense for Levy to budge in now to cash in on the wantaway defender.
For Mourinho’s sake, if he is only going to get one more player in the transfer window, it better be this guy.