Saturday 24 February 2018

Manchester United have no plans to strengthen squad in January window despite recent slump

Jose Mourinho saw his side lose a third game in a row with defeat at Watford on Sunday
Jose Mourinho saw his side lose a third game in a row with defeat at Watford on Sunday

Ian Herbert

Manchester United believe that Jose Mourinho is equipped with a competitive squad for the Premier League season and are unlikely to strengthen further in January, despite three defeats in a week which have put the new manager under early pressure.

The club spent heavily in the summer to ensure that the Portuguese was equipped for the new campaign. There is no sense that further emergency purchases are considered necessary, despite the weaknesses in defence and central midfield which were revealed in the 3-1 defeat at Watford. The poverty of the performance and result pile pressure on the squad for Wednesday night’s EFL Cup tie at mid-table League One side Northampton Town.

A decision to wait until next summer to add more reinforcements would reflect the way United have dealt in recent years with the January transfer window, which Alex Ferguson always felt provided poor value.

The only players brought in by United in the past two winters have been Juan Mata (£37.1m) and goalkeeper Victor Valdes on a free transfer and the club appear to feel that the substantial £145m outlay on Paul Pogba (£89m), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£26m) and Eric Bailly (£30m) is enough, along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s £200,000-a-week wages.

It is possible that United could trim their squad and sell to fund reinforcements. The large size of the squad was revealed in the Europa League at Feyenoord last week, where Mourinho made eight changes and still fielded what on paper was a strong side.

Mourinho’s defensive problems have been exacerbated by a possible groin strain sustained at Watford by full back Luke Shaw, who underwent a scan on Monday. Shaw appeared to have been injured shortly before the left side of United’s defence was exposed when Watford scored a second goal on Sunday.

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney has had a tough time of late

The problems United experienced in central midfield stem from Mourinho’s struggle to find the right balance, with Wayne Rooney’s poor performance at Vicarage Lane adding to the sense that the captain is being indulged. A poll by the Red Issue Sanctuary forum has found that 99.08 per cent of United supporters believe Rooney should now be dropped by Mourinho, whose side face champions Leicester City at Old Trafford on Saturday lunchtime.

But the defensive problems appear to relate to the quality of personnel. Neither Daley Blind nor Chris Smalling have provided the strength and leadership United grew accustomed to when Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were in charge in central defence for Ferguson.

United were linked to Southampton’s Portuguese defender Jose Fonte this summer, though any possible deal is thought to have fallen through because of United’s wish to sell before heading back out into the market. Southampton needed any business to be concluded rapidly to prevent themselves being exposed when the new season began.

The experienced 32-year-old was enigmatic when asked recently about a possible move to join Mourinho falling down. “Was I disappointed the Man United move didn’t happen? Let’s leave that for another time,” he said. “Now I’m focused on Southampton.”

Mourinho identified Shaw, Smalling and De Gea for criticism in the aftermath of the defeat. Of Shaw and the second goal, he said: “Our left back is 25m distance from [Nordin Amrabat]. Even at 25m then you have to jump and go press.  But no, we wait.”

The manager’s criticism of individuals was a source of surprise and comment in some forums on Monday. It was one of Ferguson’s articles of faith to keep personal criticism behind closed doors.

Independent News Service

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