The hardest task for Erik ten Hag this summer might well be deciding which positions in his squad need urgent attention and which others can be delayed for another year.
Not even the appearance of Ten Hag at Selhurst Park on Sunday could do enough to cover the issues Manchester United have on the pitch, as they fell to yet another defeat to bookend a dreadfully disappointing season. The Dutchman won’t have seen anything he didn’t already know about United last weekend, though the manner of their defeat will have further emphasizing what a daunting task he has on his hands.
United are already getting to work on a number of potential transfer deals to kickstart their summer in the best possible way, and in particular, they are looking at strengthening a defense that leaked 57 goals this season – 31 more than both Man City and Liverpool.
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Jurrien Timber and Pau Torres are both of strong interest to the club as they look to sign a new center-back this summer, while there are plenty of others who have been linked with a move. United’s need for a new central defender not only stems from their issues this season but also the fact that Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe could all leave United in the summer.
It is clear why United want to bolster their ranks in the off-season, but it is far from the United envisaged scenario when they spent £ 42million to sign Raphael Varane a year ago.
One of the few highlights from the past season came when Varane was paraded in front of a packed Old Trafford ahead of their thrashing of Leeds on the opening day. There was a real sense of excitement in the air that United had managed to sign such a world-class player, although such excitement has rarely been seen since.
The French center-back has impressed in glimpses but has missed 17 games through injury and illness in his debut campaign. Varane made fewer appearances than Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot and Nemanja Matic this season, and only two more than Anthony Elanga.
Not only was he unfortunate with injury, but Varane suffered as a result of the United system played as well as the lack of a reliable center-back partner to form a partnership with.
Speaking of which, Lindelof and Harry Maguire have both failed to live up to expectations at Old Trafford and both could find themselves out of the starting line up on a regular basis next season.
Maguire was never going to get dropped for a long period of time due to having the captaincy and the extra scrutiny such an act would have brought, while Lindelof has always been viewed as the expendable option in any center-back pairing.
There is a belief that Ten Hag’s arrival has brought with it the freedom to make ruthless, and overdue, squad changes if necessary, with the defensive setup one area sure to be reconfigured. United’s interest in signing another center-back shows the manager is clearly interested in strengthening his backline as a matter of urgency this summer, which in turn casts further doubt on those already at the club.
The signing of Timber or Torres could well bring with it the solidity United have been missing at the back, but with it would come even more competition for places.
Maguire and Lindelof might have been United’s two most used center-backs this season. However, under Ten Hag they might struggle to even get on the pitch.