It’s been seven years since Sir Alex Ferguson departed Old Trafford in emotional scenes after 26 years at the helm. Everybody knew they would be huge, almost impossible shoes to fill but not many predicted the Premier League turmoil that would follow.
F.A. Cup, League Cup, and Europa League victories have eased the blow of seventh, sixth, and fifth-placed finishes in the league that the Red Devils fans had become so accustomed to winning.
Long-term striker problems at United?
One position that has been particularly troublesome is the central striking role. Once famed for their embarrassment of riches with the likes of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, and Wayne Rooney at their disposal, Manchester United have been misfiring in recent seasons.
The one-season wonder of Zlatan Ibrahimović brought temporary respite but Romelu Lukaku’s £90million move failed to ever really ignite.
Solskjaer’s side has been linked with former Celtic striker Moussa Dembele for several months now. The 23-year-old Frenchman has bagged 22 goals as well as securing seven assists in all competitions so far in the current campaign and has attracted attention from several of the continent’s top teams.
According to CaughtOffside, United have recently enquired about Wolves star Raul Jimenez. The 29-year-old has been in fine form ever since making the move from Benfica to the midlands club initially on-loan two years ago. His 22 goals and 10 assists in all competitions this season have seen him linked with Juventus and Liverpool as well as the twenty times league champions.
Whilst Dembele and Jimenez would certainly add goals and strength in depth to United’s squad, particularly with the expected departure of on-loan striker Odion Ighalo, whether they are needed is disputable.
United's early-season struggles
Many criticised Ed Woodward and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the summer for not replacing the departed Lukaku and at times early on in the season their queries appeared justified.
A hamstring injury to main striker Anthony Martial kept him out from the end of August to the beginning of October and United looked limp, lifeless, and unthreatening in his absence with Marcus Rashford struggling through the middle.
However, Martial’s return to fitness and Rashford’s return to form, coupled with the addition of Bruno Fernandes and the breakthrough of 18-year-old Mason Greenwood made for a far more menacing attack as the season wore on.
Right-wing a problem position
One area that was a constant weak point though, and has been for a number of years, is the right-wing position. Although the likes of Greenwood, Dan James, and Juan Mata have filled in admirably, United have no natural wide-man to provide balance with Rashford on the left-hand side.
This has led to the United board making 20-year-old Jadon Sancho their top transfer priority. The Dortmund star has shone since making the move to Germany and his 17 goals and 19 assists in all competitions this season places him amongst the best performers in Europe.
If United are able to capture their number one target in Sancho, they would be adding one of the world’s best wingers who would not only add a vast number of goals to the team directly but also create far more opportunities for the likes of Rashford and Martial.
How far is United's attack behind the league leaders?
Manchester City’s front-three of Sergio Aguero, Riyad Mahrez, and Raheem Sterling has scored a combined 34 Premier League goals between them so far in 2019/20. Runaway league leaders Liverpool’s famed front-three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino are just ahead on 38 league goals.
Compare this to United’s current attacking trio Martial, Rashford, and Greenwood’s total of 30 and it is clear the Old Trafford club isn’t a million miles away.
When you dig a little deeper and realise that Greenwood has played the least amount of minutes of all the aforementioned players, completing less than half the amount of Mahrez who’s recorded the second-lowest total and that the academy graduate has achieved the second-highest goals to game ratio behind only Aguero, the future suddenly looks far less glum for fifth-placed United.
Could buying a striker do more harm than good?
Buying a top-class striker such as Jimenez or Dembele may not only upset and unsettle Martial, but they may block the path for the extremely promising Greenwood. What sort of message would it send to a teenager widely regarded as United’s best homegrown talent since Rashford with the potential to exceed his predecessor?
Solskjaer and the club’s hierarchy should place all of their efforts and attention into finalising a move for Sancho and allow Greenwood to develop at his natural pace with a clear route to the first-team visible.
A deadly attack involving Rashford, Martial, and Sancho backed up by the potential of James, Greenwood, and Tahith Chong would provide balance, pace, and goals in abundance all while adhering to the traditional United philosophies of entertaining attacking football and placing faith in the youth.