Man United have been one of the surprise teams this season. After a decade of underachievement since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, few expected a quick turnaround under new boss Erik Ten Hag.
That number dwindled even further after defeats in their first two fixtures, including an embarrassing 0-4 thrashing by Brentford. The sceptics have been proven wrong because the club is still in contention for a Champions League place and for both the FA Cup and Europa League.
Midfielder Casemiro supports the back line while removing Ronaldo, enabling Ten Hag to create a younger attack with greater flexibility and movement. These tactics have made United more free-flowing and entertaining to watch.
Attention is already starting to turn to the next stage of his rebuilding job, though, and who he will add to the squad for the 2023/24 season. These are some of the names in talks.
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One name that consistently crops up in connection with United is that of Tottenham striker Harry Kane. He wanted to leave his current club before the start of the season, and there is little doubt that a move to Old Trafford would tempt him.
It has been another impressive season for the 29-year-old, with well over 20 league goals, plus 8 in the Champions League and becoming the all-time top scorer for his country. He would guarantee the sort of goal return that could make a title push a realistic possibility but would cost a lot of money.
That could see Ten Hag turn to Victor Osimhen for the dominant presence he needs up front instead. The Nigerian Napoli forward is known to want to play in England and has 45 goals in 74 appearances for the Italian club.
Other possibilities include Benfica forward Goncalos Ramos and Evan Ferguson from Brighton.
The club also remains linked with a wide variety of midfield options. Ten Hag added Casemiro and Christian Eriksen in that area last summer but is rumoured to want further remodelling.
One player that may be on his way to Manchester is Gavi. He would undoubtedly add flair and creativity to the heart of the midfield and has excellent control, distribution and vision.
If there is a reservation about him, it is that his stats for both goals and – more importantly – for assists are not all that impressive. This season he has just one goal and three assists from 26 appearances for Barcelona, while last year, he managed two and five, respectively, in 34 games.
At 18 years old, there is also a real question mark about whether he could slot right into the United first team. That is true of another exciting young midfielder that Ten Hag is considering a move for by the media – 21-year-old Manu Kone.
United could face rivalry from Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Liverpool if they tried to sign him from Borussia Monchengladbach. Again he does not offer goals from midfield, with just one this season, but he has won 7.4% of battles in the air and on the ground and has an 87 pass completion rate.
That suggests he would add both steel and class to midfield.
Also, people have been looking at soccer odds on how many multiple successes could be achieved in Ten Hag’s second season. Key results signposting United’s progress this year included the 2-1 win over Liverpool in the third league game and a derby win over Manchester City by the same score.
Several media sources link the Red Devils with a bid for Axel Disasi from Monaco. He is a fixture in their team, and the French club will likely want more than £40 million if they are to part with him.
He could leave Monaco, making Old Trafford a possible destination. The 25-year-old central defender would add a commanding presence to the heart of the Man United backline and could be as good for them as Virgil van Dijk was for Southampton and Liverpool until this season.
He has an average of 0.9 tackles and blocks per game and 1.6 interceptions, but they are stats that Ten Hag can improve. Alternatively, he may opt for Alessandro Bastoni from Inter Milan.
With 1.6 tackles per game, 0.9 interceptions and 0.3 blocks, there is little to choose between them statistically. The 23-year-old is still pretty raw, though, and neither of these players guarantees United an instant top-class centre-back for the start of the 2023/24 season.
It will be interesting to see which of these players arrives at Old Trafford and how United progress next season.