“I don’t think you can expect six players coming in. I know there won’t be six players coming in,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in April when asked about Manchester United’s summer transfer plans.
Within days, his side had lost 4-0 at Everton and they wouldn’t win again all season, finishing off with a 2-0 defeat at home to already-relegated Cardiff City which served only to indicate just how badly United’s season had tailed off.
The result of their 12-match run-in which brought just two wins, two draws and eight defeats was a place in the Europa League rather than the Champions League, and as a consequence all bets are off when it comes to this summer’s transfer market.
Amid talk of growing dressing-room rifts, some players looking for transfers and Solskjaer losing faith in others, United go into the off-season needing a complete reset and with countless variables set to influence the final outcome of their wheeling and dealing.
Solskjaer will still hope that he can alter the current culture at Old Trafford without making a huge number of changes, but the volume of signings could depend entirely on just how many players seek to depart the Theatre of Dreams this summer.
Solskjaer and United will not give up on David de Gea easily, and despite the fact the Spanish number one is entering the final 12 months of his Old Trafford contract they will continue to attempt to persuade him to prolong his stay with the club rather than return to his homeland. With Real Madrid having multiple options already between the sticks, they are unlikely to go headlong for De Gea as they did in 2015.
Another season of Europa League football is hardly the most compelling of bargaining chips for United to offer though, and if the keeper decides his future lies elsewhere then United could well end up looking at somebody like Jasper Cillessen as a potential replacement. For now, though, another year and more out of De Gea is United’s sole focus between the sticks.
Ahead of him there will be changes made. Antonio Valencia said his goodbyes after 10 years at Manchester United following the final game of the season against Cardiff, while Matteo Darmian is likely to seek a return to Italy this summer having featured in only seven games in 2018-19 and having slipped ever further down the United pecking order.
The Red Devils have multiple targets in the right-back slot to replace Ashley Young as a first-choice starter, with Paris Saint-Germain’s Thomas Meunier having recently spoken of an uncertain future ahead amid links to Old Trafford. However, Crystal Palace’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka is likely to be preferred since the 21-year-old falls more convincingly into Solskjaer’s favoured category of young, hungry players with something to prove. The right-back has previously claimed he is wedded to the Eagles for the forseeable future, but United appear confident of adding him to their roster.
In the centre of defence, United have been extensively linked with Ajax’s Matthijs de Ligt. But with Barcelona leading the chasing pack for his signature and Manchester City also showing an interest it would appear that the Reds are currently third favourites for the 19-year-old’s signature. It would take quite the sales pitch to bring De Ligt to Old Trafford against that backdrop and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, who has been watched extensively by United in recent years, will be considered as the best alternative - although he will cost a fortune (over €100m) and there is currently no desire on the part of the player or his club to part ways this summer.
IN: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Kalidou Koulibaly
OUT: Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian
The big question this summer – as with most summers – seems to revolve around the future of Paul Pogba. The Frenchman is said to be desperate for a move to Real Madrid, but United will not sell him unless he makes the first move and will want to ensure they get their money back and more after his £89.5 million arrival three years ago. That could really test the resolve of Real Madrid, who would also be expected to offer him a raise on his current salary of around £290,000 a week.
If United do offload Pogba, that would increase the chances of them completing a deal for Lyon midfielder Tanguy Ndombele, who has emerged as their preferred midfield target in the early part of the summer. Declan Rice is another they have been extensively linked with, and West Ham United boss Manuel Pellegrini refused to rule out a sale of the England international when asked recently about the interest of United and Tottenham.
With Ander Herrera having already waved goodbye ahead of a move to Paris Saint-Germain, United could look beyond these two initial targets in order to boost their midfield stocks with Newcastle’s Sean Longstaff also touted as a possible addition.
IN: Declan Rice, Tanguy Ndombele
OUT: Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba
The sooner United can remove Alexis Sanchez from their wage bill, the better for all concerned, and they may well have to allow the Chilean to leave on a free transfer in order for all parties to move on.
Juan Mata’s future is up in the air with less than six weeks remaining on his contract, with no decision having yet been made by the player after United offered him a new short-term deal earlier this year. As things stand it seems likely that the former Chelsea player will move on, potentially returning to La Liga for his next step. Romelu Lukaku might also welcome interest from beyond Old Trafford but United will not be looking to sell in the first instance.
While there have been links with Gareth Bale in recent days amid what appears to be the end of his Real Madrid career, United do not see the 29-year-old as the priority that he has been in summers past. They have countless other targets who could fill the wing positions, with Swansea’s Daniel James a likely addition and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho also on the wanted list.
Nicolas Pepe could arrive rather than Sancho though should the Englishman decide to stay in Germany for at least another year as he appeared to intimate following BVB’s Bundesliga title near-miss. Pepe is set to leave Lille, as revealed by the French club’s manager Christophe Galtier at the weekend. And while he has been previously tracked by Arsenal, the Gunners are unlikely to meet the Dogues’ asking price. Chelsea could also be ruled out by their impending transfer ban and could prioritise other areas of attack should they have the suspension temporarily lifted.
Negotiations with Joao Felix are said by Portuguese reports to be underway, and the 19-year-old Benfica star would give Solskjaer another young option in a forward line which already includes Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. The latter had initially been considered for sale this summer but United don't see his exit as a priority at this stage.
IN: Joao Felix, Daniel James, Nicolas Pepe
OUT: Juan Mata, Alexis Sanchez