The pursuit of perfection is an endeavor that is out of reach for most football clubs; however, in order to come out on top over the course of a long league season, it is almost always non-negotiable to have a strong spine. This is because every team that wins a title might have a weakness here or there.
The area in the middle of the field that extends from the goalkeeper to the striker and includes the central defenders and the midfield can have a significant impact on the way a team plays, and Manchester United have made significant strides in this particular area in recent years.
At this year's World Cup, their central defensive pairing of Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez are both participating for their respective countries, France and Argentina. On his resume, Varane lists a World Cup victory as well as four Champions League titles as one of his accomplishments. Martinez is a fighter who fights with all his heart and soul, and because of his passion and his quality, he has made an immediate impression at Old Trafford.It is a strong defensive pairing for Erik ten Hag, incorporating a right-footed option as well as a left-footed option, with both players being good on the ball and in one-on-one battles. The acquisition of Varane from Real Madrid in 2021 and Martinez from Ajax this summer will bring the total cost to almost one hundred million pounds, but it appears that the investment was well worth it.
Under Ten Hag's tutelage, the United team has made the most progress in the middle third of the field. Bruno Fernandes, who is currently performing very well, was already on the team when he took over as manager, but he has since brought in Christian Eriksen for nothing and Casemiro for seventy million pounds. The ages of the members of that trio are, respectively, 28, 30, and 30, so this is most definitely their time. They are at the peak of their abilities, possess a wealth of experience, and are of an extremely high quality.
That immediately provides United with a very strong backbone. The club has brought in four of these five players since the summer of 2021, and all five of them have signed contracts with the organization since the beginning of 2020. There is no pressing need to acquire players at either position, but it is possible that a more youthful central midfielder could be on the radar in the near future.
That leaves only one end of the pitch on either side. David de Gea is in the final year of his contract and has been having a good season, going past 500 games for the club, but this summer feels like it will be decisive for the goalkeeping situation at Old Trafford. David de Gea is in the final year of his contract and has been enjoying a good season.
It is abundantly clear that De Gea is not a completely natural fit for Ten Hag's system, and as a direct consequence, the team's plans to play out from the back have been scaled back. If the Dutch manager decides to stick with De Gea, it will be a demonstration of his pragmatic nature; however, if he decides to make a change, the time has come to bring in a goalkeeper who is more in line with his philosophy.
Anthony Martial is deserving of the opportunity to demonstrate that he can take the initiative in the attack for Ten Hag. This season, the French forward has struggled with injuries, but when he has played, he has been effective, as he has scored four goals and recorded two assists in approximately 300 minutes of competitive action. However, in order to stake a claim to be United's long-term No. 9 rather than an excellent squad option, the 26-year-old only needs to maintain his fitness for the remainder of the season.
In the wake of Cristiano Ronaldo's departure, Manchester United will look to bolster their attack in January, but it is highly unlikely that one of the players they acquire will take Anthony Martial's place. The summer may bring about a change in that regard.
An elite-level striker has been a long-standing priority for the summer transfer window in 2023, and Ten Hag will view the acquisition of such a player as a crucial component in the overall process of putting together his squad at Old Trafford. Victor Osimhen of Napoli has been taken into consideration as a possible target because he satisfies the requirements in terms of playing style and goals.
It will be interesting to see what Ten Hag does during the upcoming summer in terms of signing a goalkeeper and a striker. This will be one of the fascinating subplots leading up to Ten Hag's second season in charge. It is certain that he will have more options if United is successful in qualifying for the Champions League this season.
The 52-year-old will also be looking at other aspects of the team's roster in the coming days. To begin, he must acquire a new right-back, and he may also desire additional depth in certain positions.
However, if he has a whiteboard in his office that lists his best team, he will look at the spine of his current United side and think that it is looking pretty good.