There have been several false dawns for Manchester United in recent years, some of which have led fans to believe that success was possible again. But in truth, the team that once dominated English football has never looked the same since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down as manager in 2013.
And yet, there are certain signs that new manager Erik Ten Haag is the right man for the job, and that he will deliver trophies to the club in the near future.
Perhaps more importantly, there is a sense that Manchester United now boasts several players good enough to achieve the goals of silverware.
The squad is certainly not perfect yet, and there are more signings needed before United fans can claim they are back on a par with the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool, but there is a growing core of players at the club who feel like true “United” players. These are the players that Ten Haag must build the club around.
At the turn of the year, there is a good feel about United. The club is now among the betting favourites to finish in the Top 4, and thereby qualify for the Champions League next season.
The team might also nick some silverware, with the EFL Cup and FA Cup possibilities. The Europa League, for which they have been given odds of 9/1 by Mr Green sports betting online, could also be a possibility, certainly if they can vanquish Barcelona in the next round.
But Ten Haag will be tasked with winning Premier League and Champions League titles in the near future, and he will need to grow his squad while maintaining the nucleus of the team he has now. Certain players will be key. Below we list five of them who must stick around to help Ten Haag succeed:
Manchester United’s stand-in captain divides opinion, but he is the heartbeat of the side. Many critics have pointed out that the Portuguese midfielder plays better when his compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo is not on the pitch.
That problem has become moot, however, as Ronaldo has now departed. Nonetheless, Fernandes looks to be back to his best – he was one of the best players at the World Cup – and he has been in excellent form since returning to Manchester.
He regularly tops the charts for assists and chances created, and we know he can score a goal or two. He is a marmite player, but United fans have grown to love him. Not only should he be central to Ten Haag’s plans, but he should also be allowed to retain the club captaincy.
An interesting one. De Gea is in the middle of contract negotiations, and there is a chance that he departs the club in the summer. Some football fans will believe that is okay, claiming that De Gea is a fine shot-stopper but lacks the footwork necessary for modern goalkeeping.
Comparisons with Ederson (Man City) and Alisson Becker (Liverpool) show that De Gea comes up short in passing. And yet, the Spaniard has been a rock for the club, winning the player of the season award several times for United.
More importantly, he seems to have developed his footwork under Ten Haag. Who would replace him, anyway? He should stay.
Rashford is important to Manchester United for several reasons. His form has been patchy, and he has not yet developed into the world-class player that many believed he would become.
However, he is more than just a player – he is an emblem of the club. Born in the city (Wythenshawe), he is part of the Manchester United Academy that has had such success in the past. He is part of the club’s traditions of taking local lads and making them into superstars.
Paris Saint Germain is said to be interested in bringing Rashford to France in a mega deal, but he should stay and become a club legend at United.
Because of the huge success he had for many years at Real Madrid and with the French national team, it is easy to forget that Raphael Varane remains just 29 years old. As a central defender, he might have six or seven years left at the top of his game.
Injuries have been an issue with this United tenure so far, but he is, as United fans like to say, a Rolls-Royce of a defender when he is on the pitch. If he stays fit, then United will have the colossus at centre-back that they have wanted since the days of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
Last but not least, the brilliant Casemiro. Truth be told, many Premier League analysts and pundits have woken up to just how good the Brazilian midfielder is. Of course, they knew he had success at Real Madrid, but many believed he was a no-nonsense defensive midfielder when he is so much more.
Now in his 30s, we can’t say that he is the future of the club, but he will be integral for the short and medium-term success of Manchester United. Probably the best player United has had in this position since the days of former captain Roy Keane. He must stay.
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