Which Player from Outside the Premier League Top 6 Should Man Utd Sign in Jan.?

Paul Ansorge@@utdrantcastFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2017

Could Ryan Bertrand be a solution to United's left-back problem?
Could Ryan Bertrand be a solution to United's left-back problem?Associated Press

Manchester United's squad is looking well-balanced at the moment.

In two transfer windows, manager Jose Mourinho has brought in Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (twice).

Almost all of those are important first-team players, almost all of those are of exceptional quality and almost none of them would fit the criteria for this particular game.

The rules here are simple: We asked a number of mostly United-focused writers, podcasters and fans about which player the club should sign if they had to pick one from the Premier League who plays outside of the perceived big six. That means no one from Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspuror anyone from outside of the English top flight.

Romelu Lukaku: A signing from outside of the top six that has worked brilliantly.
Romelu Lukaku: A signing from outside of the top six that has worked brilliantly.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

This is not a strategy Mourinho has opted for often. The one exception is Lukaku, signed from Everton who finished seventh last season, and a player who made himself an exception to this general principle by shining wherever he played during his formative years. The success of this transfer for United so far is pretty clear.

It was interesting to note, though, that many of those asked struggled for an answer a bit, with some citing the increased gap in quality between the league's haves and have-not-quite-so-much. But there are some gems out there.

Ryan Grant, a freelance journalist who writes for the club's website among other places, was one who pointed out that gap.

"There honestly aren't many players outside of the top six that I'd say would improve United at the moment," he said.

"I guess that if it's going to be a straight shootout between [Marcus] Rashford and [Anthony] Martial for a spot on the left wing, we may need to think about some long-term back-up for Lukaku once Zlatan leaves. I also think we're possibly still lacking an out-and-out right-winger.

"I've been really impressed by Richarlison at Watford and think he could cut it at a bigger club; at just 20 years old, he's got plenty of potential and would suit United's style in my opinion."

Greg Johnson, editor-in-chief at Football.London, agreed with that selection. Richarlison has made an impressive start to his Premier League career, although Mourinho would presumably prefer evidence of his quality over a longer period.

Jay Motty, former co-host of the much-missed Red Mancunian podcast had a United-specific take on the same issue—the Red Devils' lack of an out-and-out right-winger.

"People may scoff, but I'd take back either [Wilfried] Zaha or Josh King," he said. "They're match-winners who've improved immensely since leaving Old Trafford."

Zaha in particular is the kind of player who could help United's attack.

Although his first attempt at a move to the Red Devils was a disaster, he has benefited enormously from his move back to the comfortable environs of Selhurst Park, and Crystal Palace have missed him terribly in his absence through injury this season.

With his ability to beat players apparently at will and an aptitude for playing on the right flank, Zaha would also make up for a slight gap in United's squad.

Have Hope of YouTube channel Have Hope Hut and the Talking Tactics podcast also suggested the former Red as an option, saying his presence would improve the squad because they "don't really have a natural attacking winger."

Hope also suggested Mamadou Sakho as a potential improved partner for Bailly, as well as a genuine left-field shout in Xherdan Shaqiri, to add to the number of skilled wingers on display.

As well as King and Zaha, Motty added: "We also need a left-back and again I'll get a few raised eyebrows but why not take a punt on [Ryan] Bertrand; he's the next best thing to a fully fit [Luke] Shaw."

Muhammad Butt, feature writer for Squawka.com, agreed emphatically:

"It has to be Bertrand. He's solid, athletic and technically skilled. He can defend, can attack, he's not young [28] and a left-back. The last part is crucial. For all Mourinho's talk [Marcus] Rashford has been the only youngster he's unreservedly trusted. Everyone else [in that category] has been marginalised."

Shaw's fitness is a huge factor in just how good United can be this season—particularly when the tests get sterner in the months ahead. It was encouraging to see him get a cameo against Burton Albion in the Carabao Cup, but Mourinho has been content to use his back-up cast in the bigger games.

For now, that means Ashley Young—a better left-back than anyone expected but obviously not one of the best in the game. As we have already seen—and will again as more people mention Bertrand—this is clearly a position in which United can strengthen, either through the re-emergence of Shaw or by bringing in a replacement.

Carl Anka, freelance writer also of the Talking Tactics podcast looked to a different position in defence.

"I really like Jamaal Lascelles," he said. "He is young [23] and doesn't shirk responsibility or the dirty work of being a defender. If I was being really rude, I'd call him the player we thought Chris Smalling would be. Instead, I'll just call him one of the most promising centre-backs in the league right now."

The mention of Smalling is key here. While he is still at the club, and Mourinho still trusts him, United do not need another centre-back. But unless the England international's form returns to its 2016 vintage—not impossible under the Portuguese's tutelage—an upgrade could be in order.

Lascelles has impressed since his arrival in the Premier League. With another season under his belt at Newcastle United, he could be one to consider.

Richard Cann, co-host of the Red Voices podcast gave a thoughtful response:

"It's hard to be too picky about United's squad given their start to the season, but there are still areas of weakness," he said. 

"Juan Mata has done well on the right but lacks the pace and durability to effectively counter away from home as Martial or Rashford can on the left, and delivery from the right remains an issue.

"Despite struggling so far this term, there is still a player in Riyad Mahrez, who has a directness that can be highly effective.

"Capable with both feet, he still likes to come inside leaving room for Antonio Valencia to run the touchline.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 26: Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on August 26, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Robbie Ja
Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

"Alternatively, a wild card would be Watford's Richarlison, highly rated at Fluminense but an unknown in England. It may be early days, but the winger has already displayed pace and trickery, with an eye for goal and a physique that has allowed him to adapt immediately to the rigours of the English game. 

"United also still lack dynamism and drive in midfield if Paul Pogba is missing and while [Marouane] Fellaini and [Ander] Herrera capably deputise they offer something a little different.

"Wilfred Ndidi of Leicester City has shown real promise in a dynamic midfield role and at 20 has been a rare plus in a troubled season at the King Power Stadium. He'd be a project for Mourinho, whose controversial handling of young players has not prevented the great strides made by Rashford and Martial this season.

"Alternatively, Mikel Merino has impressed at Newcastle, with, at 21, technique and composure beyond his team-mates, although as a loanee from Dortmund his inclusion may be cheating.

"Finally, United could do with a left-back alternative. With Shaw still a massive 'maybe,' alternatives at the club are essentially odd-jobbing. In the Premier League, the pickings are slim, but if desperate, Bertrand would at least offer reliability and delivery from wide."

We will leave the final word to Musa Okwonga of ESPN, who suggested a player whose signing for West Bromwich Albion in the summer transfer window was considered something of a coup.

"Grzegorz Krychowiak. He has European experience at the highest level, can break up and create play, can be called upon to finish too," Okwonga said.

"He is a very intelligent player who was key to Sevilla when they won the Europa League twice, and would complement Fellaini, Herrera, [Nemanja] Matic and Pogba well and give United the extra depth they need in midfield."

I think Krychowiak might just be the pick of the bunch here in terms of suggestions.

The left-back situation could still be sorted by Shaw, and the lack of a right-winger is more of a theoretical issue than a practical one given how many goals United are scoring at the moment.

The midfield has looked pretty stodgy in Pogba's absence, though, and some new blood in there could help a lot.


Quotes obtained firsthand.

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