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Manchester United’s summer transfer business has been a mixed bag thus far with the arrivals of Victor Lindelof and Romelu Lukaku strengthening the club in two key areas of weakness, however there remains areas of concern for Jose Mourinho ahead of the new Premier League campaign.
Mourinho has been abundantly clear in stating that he still hopes for two further additions before the transfer window closes with midfield and left-wing the positions the Portuguese coach feels he needs to bolster.
“I’m happy with my squad but I would like two more players, I’ve never hidden that. One player would be a midfielder that gives us balance and more options and another player would be an attacking player who can play through the wings and give us more attacking options,” he explained.
Now whilst this makes sense and United continue to pursue deals for Nemanja Matic and Ivan Perisic, Wednesday evening’s clash with Barcelona highlighted another position where the Reds are really light in quality and that is at left-back.
Mourinho is currently hamstrung by Luke Shaw’s continued fitness struggles as the former Real Madrid coach actually can’t plan with the English defender in mind but also can’t plan without him given his incredible talent and the investment the club previously made in him.
Now this may not make a lot of sense initially but it is important to understand the predicament that United find themselves in with relation to the Southampton academy graduate.
He arrived at Old Trafford for a fee of around £27 million with bonuses likely to take it far beyond the £30 million mark and was seen as a long-term project. Shaw was expected to make the left-back position his own for the next decade and given his incredible natural ability this wasn’t at all surprising.
The issue United now have is that following his horrific double leg-break in 2015, Shaw has not been able to find any form of consistent fitness with niggling injuries preventing him from being a regular in Jose Mourinho’s first-team.
Mourinho is known to steer away from players who are injury prone and it was unsurprising that both he and Shaw had a tumultuous relationship throughout the 2016/17 season.
Another injury setback
Now with that being said sources close to the United camp intimated that Shaw’s work throughout the summer of 2017 had set him up perfectly to enjoy a productive pre-season and be ready to take back his starting place in the team with Mourinho pleased with his progress.
This was the perfect news for United supporters but on the eve of the clash with Los Angeles Galaxy at the beginning of July, Mourinho confirmed that Shaw had suffered another injury and would be looking to return at the beginning of October, perhaps even late September if he is lucky.
Here is the issue and hopefully illustrates the difficulties Mourinho faces in planning for the left-back role.
If Shaw is fit and can get a run of games then there are few who are better than he is and he can only improve and it is this talent which is preventing the club going and signing an additional full-back.
Blind and Darmian not reliable enough
However Shaw’s fitness can’t be relied upon and this now leaves United in a position where either Daley Blind or Matteo Darmian are essentially first-choice. Neither are particularly quick and Blind is definitely uncomfortable playing in the position when he is much better in midfield.
Barcelona targeted both throughout the course of the match in Washington and regularly got the better of them.
Furthermore neither are particularly adept at joining in with attacking moves and United’s entire style of play is completely limited on the left hand side and as a knock-on so much pressure is put on Antonio Valencia on the right-hand side and thus their attacks become predictable.
Manchester City signed Benjamin Mendy from Monaco this summer and it is difficult to look at this signing and not say United could have done with him just as much. In Shaw’s absence, Manchester United have no athleticism at left-back whilst the defensive ability is also lacking.
This isn’t as big a concern as midfield because both Darmian and Blind are steady pairs of hands but they won’t take your team to the next level in a position that is of increasing importance in modern football.
Hampers the club’s style
The impact on United’s style is also noticeable with it difficult to play on the front foot and dominate their opponents, rather like the way Manchester City struggled last term when their ageing full-backs were totally inefficient within Pep Guardiola’s system.
Unfortunately this is something that probably can’t be addressed until next summer, perhaps even January depending on how Shaw recovers in the first half of the season.
Mourinho is aware of the problem as made clear by his very informal enquiries over Barcelona’s own Jordi Alba, but for the moment United have to keep some level of faith in 22-year-old Shaw in the hope he can get healthy.
Problem that must be sorted in the near future
For now the focus must be on strengthening the midfield and giving Paul Pogba an extra layer of protection whilst a winger who can provide service for Romelu Lukaku is a must.
They may not be doing the most attractive business of the summer but Manchester United know what they need and they have just over a month to get it done.
With eyes to the future however the left-back position is one which may need attention.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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