Manchester United’s first two games of the season haven’t been quite as bad as a year ago, but the relentlessly negative off-pitch news has intensified concerns.
Erik ten Hag’s side are three points better off than they were in 2022, although that could have been different had luck not been on their side at home to Wolves last Monday. That 90 minutes was where the good fortune ended, however, with last weekend’s 2-0 defeat at Tottenham compounded by injuries to Mason Mount and then Luke Shaw this week.
News of the latter’s issue came as a particular sucker punch. United announced earlier this week that their left-back would be absent for ‘a number of weeks’ but there are fears the prognosis could be close to two months and the timing could not be worse.
Tyrell Malacia is yet to feature this season after returning from holiday with an unspecified injury, while Brandon Williams secured his loan move to Ipswich on Thursday. It leaves Ten Hag with just one fit left-back, in untested Alvaro Fernandez, going into this afternoon’s meeting with Nottingham Forest and the upcoming fixtures.
There are only five days until Friday’s 11pm transfer deadline, giving Ten Hag little time to dip into the market for a position he did not expect to strengthen. The Dutchman does have options in his current squad and MEN Sport have assessed how he could proceed
When United welcome Forest to Old Trafford this afternoon, Ten Hag will almost certainly move Diogo Dalot across to left-back. The Portugal international fulfilled the role in Shaw’s absence several times last season – including United’s last game against Steve Cooper’s side, when he performed well and scored.
Dalot is experienced enough to step into an unusual role at short-notice and is comfortable going forward on either side. However, having two right-footed players on the left could provide a problem for the balance of the team.
Dalot’s move to left-back would also reduce cover on the other side. He could be moved back across if Aagron Wan Bissak became unavailable, although having to majorly re-jig the defence again could affect consistency of the defensive unit.
Trust in youth
Ten Hag does still have a natural left-back available, having kept hold of Fernandez up to this point of the transfer window. The 20-year-old has been in talks over a move to Granada – loan or permanent – although it is unclear whether Shaw’s injury will alter his future. Fernandez enjoyed an excellent loan spell with Preston North End last season, but stepping up from the Championship to the Premier League is a big ask. That jump up only gets bigger when it involves stepping in for Shaw at United.
Unsurprisingly, Ten Hag was asked about the left-back situation during his press conference on Friday. The Reds boss admitted he would be open to a short-term signing, but remained on the fence over whether they would push the button.
“It can be (that United sign a left-back),” he said. “I think we always have to anticipate on situations. If there are opportunities then yes, but it has to be the right player otherwise we have to deal with the current squad.”
Left back has not been among United’s targets this summer and while moving for a free agent or securing a loan signing might provide a short term option, a permanent purchase doesn’t seem the wisest solution.
The transfer window is in full swing and United have got their hands on three players well in advance of the September 1 deadline, with Rasmus Hojlund joining Mason Mount and Andre Onana at Old Trafford.
A goalkeeper, a midfielder and a striker were Erik ten Hag’s priorities heading into the summer window, but that doesn’t mean their business ends here, with further incomings and outgoings still on the cards..
Our team of United experts will be on top of all the goings-on at Old Trafford for the remainder of the summer window and beyond, and you can get the latest updates and inside information to your phone by joining our new free WhatsApp community below.