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Transfer window analysis: How did Manchester United do?

Money spent: loads! Money made: not very much. Squad status? Pretty good ...

Hull City v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

While the transfer window was slamming shut elsewhere around the country, up at Old Trafford it was closing gently with a soft [click]. United's only dealings on a generally ridiculous day of three-year loans and unanswered telephones were a few departures from the fringe of the squad. But was business done early business done well? Let's have a look.


What Jose Mourinho wants, it appears, Jose Mourinho gets. United's new manager was clear that he was after four players to strengthen four areas of the team: a central defender; a dominant central midfielder; a quick, direct attacking player; and a striker. Tick, tick, tick and tick.

It's early days, but it's hard not to conclude that at least two of those signings could not have been more perfect. Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be getting on a bit, but the touch, the strength and the ludicrous spring are all present and correct, as is the finishing, at least so far. It might be nice to have the 27-year-old version, but the elder statesman will do, particularly since it means Marcus Rashford will get games.

And as for Paul Pogba, it's not just that he's really good. (Though he is. He's really good.) United's midfield has been crying out for a midfielder that plays with personality, drive, and the belief that the entire centre of the park belongs to him and him alone since Roy Keane's legs finally decided they couldn't keep up with Roy Keane's smouldering fury. Admittedly, you'd never see Keane shaving a snake into his beard, but there's all kinds of personalities out there and all manner of paths to brilliance.

The other two signings, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, come with slight notes of caution. For Mkhitaryan, the only concern is that he's come in at considerable expense and with a serious reputation but hasn't yet made the first team. The most likely explanation is that Mourinho — who has been effusive about the Armenian's qualities whenever the question has come up — is letting Mkhitaryan get up to speed, and doesn't want to drop Juan Mata (who has been playing well) or Wayne Rooney (who has been playing badly but doing good things) while the team is winning. Mkhitaryan's thrilling cameo against Hull may force his manager's hand.

Bailly, for his part, has gone straight into the first team and taken to the Premier League like a duck to a pancake. But the Ivorian remains relatively young, relatively unpolished and an absolute certainty to get sent off/fall over/smack one into his own net at some point. How he responds to that will be important. Also, he's likely to disappear for a month come the African Cup of Nations; that's not his fault, obviously, but it does pose a problem for the squad.

Indeed, if there was anywhere that might have required extra reinforcement it is the defence. Luke Shaw looks thoroughly healed but his backups are either Marcos Rojo or Daley Blind, while Antonio Valencia has started the season well but certainly has defensive mistakes in him. His backup is Matteo Darmian, who you may recall making a Bailly-esque start to his United career before Louis van Gaal philosophised all the fun out of him. And the backup to the backups is Ashley Young, perhaps?

There there's the middle. United's central defensive options are ... let's go with slightly peculiar. Chris Smalling, at 26 years old and with 209 United appearances, is the senior defender, yet his extended break at the beginning of the season has allowed Bailly (age 22) and Blind (26) to strike up what looks a decent partnership. And behind them we find the patently insecure Rojo (26) and the enigma that is Phil Jones (24). There's a notable lack of established, proven excellence and experience in there, which isn't normally the case with a Mourinho defence, and might necessitate a certain conservatism in midfield, at least in the big games.

Churlish to complain, of course, given all the above. But hey, we're pessimists.


The fundamental question here is 'Did anybody leave that Manchester United would like to have kept?' And the answer here is 'Probably not,' which is thoroughly acceptable. It's always a shame to see a few highly-rated prospects leave having not fulfilled their potential — Nick Powell and Will Keane in particular — and the bizarre arrival-humiliation-and-departure of Victor Valdes will always feel like a bit of a wasted opportunity. But ultimately, United called the shots, and when Ashley Fletcher scores 35 goals this season for West Ham, United will have nobody but themselves to blame.

Is there anybody United should have sold? As noted above, there is room for improvement in the defence and had Darmian, Rojo or even Jones been replaced, it wouldn't have been too distressing. None should have been shipped out without replacements, however, and Darmian perhaps deserves a chance to go through the devangaalisation process. The other two are perfectly fine options if they're playing ten or fifteen games a season and can keep themselves fit. If they end up playing 30 or incapable of playing any, that might be a problem. (It feels both sad and strangely liberating to be finally abandoning the Phil Jones, Greatest Player Ever theory.)

Plenty of United fans — this aspect of tBB very much included — would have suggested Marouane Fellaini and expected Juan Mata to go, but the former has reinvented himself as Claude Makelele and the latter's been keeping Mkhitaryan out of the team, so they've probably earned their place. And quite how necessary Young and Jesse Lingard prove to be remains to be seen, but both are versatile, useful and hard-working. Lingard in particular feels very Mourinho. Memphis Depay gets another season on the basis that he's still young and his flash cars annoy journalists.

The only real oddity is Bastian Schweinsteiger, who could presumably have had his pick of clubs around the world but decided to stick around. Mourinho has indicated that he will prefer academy players ahead of the occasionally-injured, occasionally-fit German legend, but Schweinsteiger himself is more optimistic:

I have a contract with United until 2018 and you know what the atmosphere is like at Old Trafford and it’s my dream to run out there again. I hope I get the chance to help the team again.

As the Manchester Evening News point out, there's enough room in United's Europa League squad to include Schweinsteiger along with everybody else. So if he's not in there, Mourinho's really making a point.

Of those sent out on loan that might be expected to come back, Adnan Januzaj and Andreas Pereira are in need of regular football, albeit for contrasting reasons. Januzaj, after his disastrous spell in Dortmund, needs to prove that he's got the application to go with his undoubted talent, while Pereira just needs to play some football. The same goes for Cameron Borthwick-Jackson: assuming Luke Shaw stays fit, better to have him playing than warming the bench. And with that in mind, it does seem strange that Sam Johnstone ended up staying. He's good enough to be playing regularly at a pretty high level, but instead he'll be third choice for a season in which he'll turn 24. Not ideal.

Full list of transfers

In: Eric Bailly (Villareal, £30m approx.), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG, free), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Borussia Dortmund, £26.3m), Paul Pogba (Juventus, £89m)

Out: George Dorrington (released), Victor Valdes (released), Nick Powell (released), Oliver Rathbone (released), Tyler Reid (Swansea City, undisc.), Joe Rothwell (Oxford United, free), Ashley Fletcher (West Ham United, free), Jimmy Dunne (Burnley, free), Oliver Byrne (Cardiff City, free), Paddy McNair, Donald Love (both Sunderland, £5.5m joint fee), Tyler Blackett (Reading, undisc.), Will Keane, James Weir (both Hull City, both undisc.)

Out on loan: Guillermo Varela (Eintracht Frankfurt, season), Adnan Januzaj (Sunderland, season), James Wilson (Derby County, season), Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (Wolves, season), Andreas Pereira (Granada, season), Dean Henderson (Grimsby Town, January), Joel Pereira (Belenenses, season)