Daniel James had begun to attract transfer attention early in the 2018/19 season because of his speed and playmaking ability for Derby in the Championship. A January move to Leeds fell through, but another half season of showcasing his very promising game caught the attention of an even bigger club, Manchester United. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer identified him early as a target, and Ed Woodward got the business done fairly quickly.
This one is hard to grade right now, because the motivation behind signing Daniel James is largely due to his potential, but he does bring youthfulness and lots of speed to the squad, which is something they’ve lacked in recent years. In the preseason he’s been used on both the left and the right, and has looked pretty comfortable at either position. United’s biggest need is definitely at right wing, and James can help fill that, but he’s still definitely adjusting to playing at a higher level. He looked very raw and inexperienced in the preseason, but that will hopefully change with more matches. He probably won’t be as impactful right away as many would hope for from a signing in such a key window for the club, but he’s got the tools to develop into a fine player in time.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka both addresses a huge squad need and brings a lot of talent to the squad. The young right-back has been a brick wall for the opposition in preseason, living up to the hype he created in his breakout season. He was at the top of many defensive statistical areas for a reason.
As with every other player on this list, we can only grade so much about the player because he hasn’t actually played a competitive match for the club yet. However, based on the above reasons this transfer is a home-run for United. Wan-Bissaka is a much needed reinforcement to United’s weakest position group, and has proven himself to be one of the best in the Premier League already.
Harry Maguire’s long transfer saga finally came to an end last weekend as Manchester United sealed his record breaking move from Leicester City. It was met with scrutiny from rivals for the high price paid, but it’s better to spend and have a defender than trust Smalling and/or Jones as starters for another season. Like Wan-Bissaka, Maguire has proven himself in the Premier League already, it’s just a matter of how he fits at United.
United’s defense was awful last season, but Victor Lindelöf was able to stick out regardless. He clearly needed a partner who could play to his level, and Maguire may just be that guy. With Shaw, Maguire, Lindelöf, and Wan-Bissaka, United may have a complete back four for the first time probably since the days of Vidić, Ferdinand, and Evra. They’ll certainly need it considering the midfield situation, but more on that later...
Needs that went unaddressed
The departure of Romelu Lukaku for Inter Milan was finally confirmed today after a long negotiation process. However, Solskjaer, who said he had replacement targets in mind, will likely have to operate without any replacement due to United’s inability to complete deals leading up to the deadline.
Fortunately for Solskjaer, United are not exactly short of attacking talent. Lukaku’s production was already being replaced last season by Marcus Rashford, who became the first choice striker after Solskjaer’s arrival. Though Rashford’s form stumbled after suffering an ankle injury, both he and Anthony Martial look more than capable of operating as a no. 9 after a preseason of getting in shape and adapting to Ole’s system. The squad now also features the attacking talents of Mason Greenwood, who excelled up top for the academy team. Depth could be an issue if injuries strike again, but for now United have options.
Now it’s time to discuss United’s most troubling position group, the center of their midfield. The engine room of any successful team, yet somehow low on the list of priorities for Ed Woodward. United kept Paul Pogba, despite his apparent desire for a “new challenge,” but they failed to replace Ander Herrera, who was let go for free this summer. On top of that, Nemanja Matić is clearly no longer capable of starting as a midfield anchor in the Premier League, yet he is somehow either United’s 2nd or 3rd best midfielder.
Solskjaer’s new formation calls for a no. 10, but that too went unaddressed in the transfer window. For a brief moment it seemed Paulo Dybala could arrive in a swap deal for Lukaku, but that fell through. Now the first choice option is either Mata, who is not getting any younger, Lingard, who is anything but reliable and consistent, or Andreas Pereira, who is a squad player at best.
Woodward’s inactivity is always costly, but now more than ever United needed reinforcements in midfield, and none were acquired. Solskjaer will look to the academy for depth, but there’s not certainty that any of them are ready to regularly produce at such a high level and under so much pressure.
He’s still here.
Overall, it’s been yet another underwhelming demonstration of Ed Woodward’s incompetency in scouting and acquiring personnel. Solskjaer made it clear that in order to properly reconstruct the team he needed to ship out and replace multiple players. Instead, he lost one of his best midfielders and a somewhat reliable goalscorer, is still stuck with a lot of overpaid and inconsistent squad players, and only got two proven players. Maguire and Wan-Bissaka look like excellent additions, but in front of them is a midfield that I will describe just as shaky to try and be nice.
Solskjaer was given the opportunity to save the club he loves, but he won’t be able to do so if the Glazers and Ed Woodward continue their circus of catastrophically underwhelming management.