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Five players Manchester United should NOT sign in January

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Do. Not. Want.

West Ham United v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by James Griffiths/West Ham United FC via Getty Images

It’s well known that Manchester United need to add to their squad in the January transfer window, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recently confirmed that the club are looking to strengthen in “many positions.” The center of midfield and the attack are the areas in which United are sorely in need of an injection of quality, as well as quantity. With the squad’s deficiencies plain to see, and United’s reputation in recent years for having more money than sense, the Reds have been linked with all manner of targets. While some of those rumored targets make perfect sense (we’re on our knees for Haaland, Ed), others are plainly bad ideas.

Here are five rumored transfer targets that United should avoid like the plague in January 2020.

Declan Rice

Declan Rice for the over £80 million evaluation reportedly held by West Ham United would be a foolish price to pay for United after its very public re-evaluation of its transfer policy. Yes, Rice is a promising young midfielder. Yes, Rice is an English international. However, Manchester United already have a Scottish Declan Rice in Scott McTominay and the United academy product is under a new contract and playing meaningful minutes.

Would spending Paul Pogba level money for a holding midfielder be the right purchase when United is most deficient in the advanced midfield role that requires creative flair? No. While the team needs more help all across the midfield, including a player in a holding role whose name is written in permanent marker in the team sheet, the amount of money for Rice is at least £30-40 million too high.

Rice is a fine midfielder that would probably play well at United, but he would start his United career under fire as Pogba-level expectations are piled on him. He’ll never be good enough to justify that price and he damn sure won’t be good enough to match the talents of a Pogba. That £80 million for Rice needs to instead be allocated to aiding or replacing Pogba’s skill set at unlocking 10-men defenses. One more factor to be considered, if you spent any minutes combing through our summer features, you would be privy to our idolization of Roy Keane either through love or fear. Keano, of course, has been rather opinionated as a pundit on Sky Sports and he did not have a good review of Declan Rice earlier this fall. So there you go, if Keano ain’t havin’ it, then I won’t either. - NH

Mario Mandžukić

Mario Mandžukić seemed like a sensible option for United this past summer. In a squad low on both experience and title-winning knowhow, Mandžukić was a player that could provide an injection of both. Romelu Lukaku’s departure also left United short of a proven number 9 who could provide both a goal threat and a physical presence up front. Signing a player of Mandžukić’s age also had the appeal of not creating a roadblock for the development of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Mason Greenwood. The young strike force would still have time and space to grow together, and Mandžukić could be thrown in when United needed a grown-up in the room.

That was the summer though. Since then, Mandžukić has made a grand total of zero appearances in Serie A, and hasn’t even been in the matchday squad for all but 4 matches. A 33-year-old who is nowhere near match sharpness, and who would command significant wages, now looks a much worse proposition. Mandžukić is a good player, but nowhere near the class of Zlatan Ibrahimović, for example, whose pedigree raised the standards at United when he signed. Mandžukić would also not be as seamless a fit as Henrik Larsson was, whose work rate, sharpness, and reputation made him an instant hit among the fans, and who the United players recall having an impact that far exceeded the few goals he scored.

United are in need of attacking reinforcements in January, but a declining striker from a slower paced league who is chasing one last pay raise — and who has scored 11, 10, and 10 goals total in the last 3 seasons, respectively — is probably not the answer. - BM

Ruben Neves

Ruben Neves is not going to leave Wolves unless he’ll be a first teamer, which begs the question, why would United go for him? He’s not any better than what we’ve got.

People like Neves because he’s hit a couple screamers (including against United) but don’t let those wonder-goals blind you. Overall his shot selection is terrible. In a year and a half in the Premier League he hasn’t taken a single shot from inside the box. His xG this year is still just 0.56, which is actually lower than Fred’s 0.60.

United don’t need a midfielder who will just blast inaccurate shots from outside the box. They need a ball winner in midfield and Neves just isn’t as good at that as either Fred or Scott McTominay. He has fewer interceptions, wins fewer duels, and gets into fewer duels than both of them. And oh yea, he’s played nearly 400 minutes more than Fred. Fred also tops him in recoveries per 90, 8.97 to 8.31. Even Fred’s 1.36 key passes per 90 is far better than Neves’ 0.72.

As a depth player Neves would be fine. But once you look past the two screamers a year he hits, he’s just a defensive midfielder that isn’t as good defensively and has less attacking creativity than our current midfield. Letting him walk into the XI would only make Untied worse. - PK

Christian Eriksen

Does Christian Eriksen have the exact skill set that Manchester United need right now? Yes. Does he immediately make Manchester United better? Most probably. Should United throw some cash out to bring him to Old Trafford in January? That’s more complicated.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made it clear he’s building his team around players who “want to play for Manchester United.” We already know that Eriksen’s preferred club is Real Madrid, which is...not United. If you’re going to diverge from that strategy, you better be getting a hell of a player.

And would United be getting a hell of a player? That’s tough to say. Eriksen is in the midst of a dreadful year, but we also know that a lot of that comes from his head and heart not really being committed to Tottenham this year. Thus, both managers he’s had have had a hard time trusting him.

But what if it’s not just that? Eriksen is two months away from his 28th birthday. Conventional wisdom says that 28 is right when a player should be hitting their prime. Except more recent data shows that attacking players actually tend to hit their peaks closer to age 26. In the past decade Eriksen has played 553 first team matches for club and country. That’s a lot of mileage on his legs and since he broke in just shy of his 18th birthday, he’s a bit of an “older” 28 than the average 28-year-old.

Signing Eriksen would be a move for right now. The Dane would need to shake off his lousy first half season and hit the ground running at Old Trafford. Anything less and the questions and pressure would only start to rise. Considering that he’s more likely at the end of his prime than right in the middle of it, the chances of things going south and him being another high profile January bust are pretty high. -PK

Toni Kroos

Pogba wants to go to Real Madrid, where he is wanted by the manager, but where the president is hesitant to sanction the required transfer fee. A part-exchange of players seems an elegant solution.

A classy, ball-playing German midfielder on the wrong side of 30 with significant miles on his legs — what could possibly go wrong? - BM