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The Great Red Debate: Predicting Manchester United’s January transfers

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In this week’s Great Red Debate, Andi and Ryan look ahead to the January transfer window

Manchester United v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Ryan: With the international break rudely interrupting our club football binge, there are not many pressing Manchester United-related topics for us to discuss this week.

So, instead, let’s take the time to look back at the campaign so far and see if we can pinpoint which areas of the squad could do with some reinforcement when the transfer window re-opens in January.

United have already forked out around £150 million on new recruits for this season, smashing the world transfer record to bring Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford, as well as adding Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

The Red Devils certainly look better equipped for the addition of these players but there remain holes in José Mourinho’s squad.

There have been conflicting reports over whether the Portuguese will want/be allowed to splash more cash in the mid-season market.

Some claim that Mourinho must sell before he can buy and that the chequebook will remain closed unless a key target becomes available, while others have linked United to moves for the likes of José Fonte, Danny Drinkwater and Isco.

But before we delve into the possible and/or probable incomings, who do you expect to be walking through the Old Trafford exit door when the transfer window opens?

Andi: Let's look at the defence first, because it's possible that there could be a fairly sizeable exodus at the back come January. It's quickly become clear that Manchester United's two left-backs are Daley Blind and Luke Shaw, not least because Marcos Rojo has made quite the fool of himself in his appearances so far. Over on the other side, Antonio Valencia's strong early form has established Matteo Darmian firmly as back-up, and with Timothy Fosu-Mensah lurking, he might not even be that.

Yet both are full internationals and so will presumably want to find themselves some regular football. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Rojo leaves, assuming United can find a buyer, and while Mourinho might want to hang on to Darmian — who isn't actively terrible and can cover both sides — there will probably be plenty of interest from Italy.

As for the centre-backs, if somebody turns up with a decent offer then I wouldn't be too shocked to see Phil Jones walk out the door. Or possibly into the door frame. A terrible shame, obviously, since there's definitely some special talent in there somewhere, behind all the gurning and lumbering about, and he seems a pleasant and hard-working lad. But he's well down the pecking order and his body keeps breaking, which isn't a helpful combination. How about in midfield?

Ryan: There are a couple of players who immediately spring to mind when thinking of under-utilised midfielders at United: Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay.

like Rojo and Darmian, Schneiderlin is a full international, and if he wants to remain as one, he will need to play a lot more regularly than he has so far this season. I would be a little surprised to see him leave mid-season — I expect he’ll be retained for numbers at least until the summer — but I remember reading that Tottenham Hotspur were monitoring him with a view to a January bid so we’ll see how that goes.

Depay is in a similar situation. Just this week he spoke about how he isn’t happy with his current bit-part role. I think, whether now or next summer, the time to cut ties with the Dutchman is approaching; it’s not working out and there are no obvious signs of that changing. His first-team chances have been limited in recent months but when he gets on the field, he isn’t doing enough to be considered for a more regular role.

And, of course, there’s the forgotten man, Bastian Schweinsteiger. His situation is odd to say the least — banished from the first-team after Mourinho deemed him surplus to requirements. But the German midfielder appears relatively content to sit on his substantial contract, and any potential suitors would struggle to match his wages without United offering a hefty subsidy, so he may be around for a while longer.

The attacking positions seem to suffer from less uncertainty, would you agree?

Andi: Yes, with one notable, Wayne Rooney-shaped caveat. While I don't really expect anything to happen there, his interview the other day strongly suggested that at some point, if he doesn't get the positional shift he seems to think is inevitable, then he'll have to look elsewhere.

I am not being given that chance to go from there to there [attack to midfield]. It is all right talking about your career, saying you can extend it by doing this and that, but of course you need to be given that chance to do it.

Yet we saw Mourinho deriding the idea of Rooney-the-midfielder before the season and we saw Rooney, given the chance, turn in a moderately awful performance against Watford. That seems to have bounced him into the position of back-up striker, which is two kinds of frustration. As I say, I don't expect him to leave in January. But if he's still on the bench by then and I were running a Chinese Super League club and had a swimming pool filled with gold coins, I might think about making a bid. Just to see what would happen.

Arrivals, then. Is there anybody — either a specific player or a general kind of player — that you think United are clearly lacking?

Ryan: Valencia has done a decent job at right-back so far this season, but we heard Mourinho state his desire for "specialists" before the season, and I’d prefer a player more naturally suited to that position.

Monaco’s Fabinho was linked in the summer but he has recently signed a new contract and has become a full-time central midfielder this season, so that one might be off the table.

I would quite like to see a centre-back added too, especially if Jones leaves. Bailly has been immense, outperforming all expectations, but he’s due to take part in the Africa Cup of Nations in the new year, meaning Smalling and Blind could be our only fit and ready central defenders for two or three weeks. Fonte is the name that keeps cropping up; he’d be a decent short-term solution.

The links to Isco seem to have legs but I’m treating it with a "believe it when I see it" view. He’s a player I admire and he isn’t getting much game time at Real Madrid. But he plays pretty much the same position as Juan Mata and Mkhitaryan (and Rooney), so I find it hard to imagine United blowing £30 million-plus on a player who would be lovely to have, but one we don’t really need.

Is there anyone you exect to be brought in? And, within reason, anyone you’d like to see signed?

Andi: The short-term central defensive solution is the one that makes the most sense to me. Though having said that, if we assume that Bailly is missing from around a week before the AFCON is due to start, 14 January, and also that Cote d'Ivoire don't exit too early, then he'll miss league games against Liverpool (home), Stoke (away) and Hull (home), the FA Cup third round and possibly a League Cup semi-final, if United make it that far. So while it would be useful to have an experienced alternative, I don't think it would be disastrous to muddle through that lot with just Smalling and Blind, and the option of Axel Tuanzebe as back-up.

It wouldn't be very Mourinho, admittedly. But it wouldn't be the end of the world if United didn't bring anybody in.