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The United Stand: Manchester United are missing one final piece of the jigsaw in order to challenge

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(Image credit: PA Images)

Since becoming the permanent manager of Manchester United back in March 2019, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been implementing his vision onto the club, shaping the first team into a vibrant and young side, but one with plenty of quality that can compete for major honours.

The Reds finished second last season under the Norwegian head coach, but it never felt as though United ever really mounted much of a challenge for the Premier League title, finishing 12 points behind the eventual winners, Manchester City.

The last time a Manchester United side finished in second place was back in 2018 under Jose Mourinho. What followed was one of the most lacklustre transfer windows in the club’s recent history, signing Fred, Lee Grant, and Diogo Dalot, despite having an 18-point gap to catch up to Pep Guardiola’s champions.

This time around, the club is not messing about behind the scenes. United have already managed to secure the signings of Jadon Sancho, Tom Heaton, and Raphael Varane to add an immense amount of quality and depth to the squad ahead of what is shaping up to be a very exciting season for the Premier League giants.

Sancho will fill a massive void on the right flank after his arrival from Borussia Dortmund for a reported £73 million. United have been screaming out for a right-winger for many years – one that can hug the touchline and provide high-quality crosses into the area, but also a player that can drift inside into the halfspaces and create play through the central areas.

Varane, on the other hand, has massively bolstered Solskjaer’s defensive line. The World Cup-winner will likely replace Victor Lindelof alongside Harry Maguire and this partnership has the potential to be the best in the world.

Adding both Sancho and Varane to the first-team for a combined fee of just £105 million is some very astute business by the Red Devils, but is it enough to overtake Manchester City?

There is still one key issue that needs to be resolved before United can even think about becoming Premier League champions again, and that is to sign a deep-lying playmaker.

In his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, Solskjaer typically opts for a double-pivot of Fred and Scott McTominay in the midfield. The pair work well together and combine energy with good spatial coverage and tactical intelligence.

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However, one could argue that both players are performing the role of one man. What Solskjaer needs is a player who can protect the space in front of the backline and can break opposition lines with their passing. A footballer of this archetype could aid the Norwegian manager in his willingness to shift the team’s formation to more of a 4-3-3.

The perfect example of this type of player would be Sergio Busquets, or even Michael Carrick in his heyday. Nemanja Matic can do a solid job in this role but since the beginning of the 2020/21 campaign, the Serbian midfielder has seen out 90 minutes on just 11 occasions in all competitions.

During the current transfer window, Manchester United have been linked with players such as Declan Rice, Eduardo Camavinga and Saul Niguez, but none of these are all-rounded enough to play as a lone ‘6’.

Moving forward, due to the uncertainty around signing a midfielder with just three weeks of the transfer window remaining, it looks as though Solskjaer will rotate between playing Matic and utilising a double-pivot of Fred and McTominay.

In a year’s time, the centre-forward position will become another problem area for the coaching staff with Edinson Cavani set to leave after his one-year deal is up. However, at the moment, the most pressing issue is in midfield and fans will be hoping that a signing can be made within the final few weeks of the summer window to remedy this issue.

Should this come to fruition, there should be no more excuses as to why Manchester United cannot go all the way in the league, or potentially even the UEFA Champions League next season.

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