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Manchester United reporter notebook: How United are shaping up going into their winter break

Sky Sports News' North West reporter James Cooper assesses Man Utd's January transfer business and how they're shaping up ahead of the winter break

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Image: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United will head off to warm weather training on Saturday

Manchester United will get together on Saturday to travel to southern Europe for a warm-weather training camp with more distant options ruled out due to political and medical issues.

Their next game is not until February 17 when they take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, live on Monday Night Football on Sky Sports Premier League, but the remainder of the season will have two clear objectives: a top-four finish and silverware.

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Both have their own challenges and many fans might already concede United will come up short again as they did last year.

So what of the January transfer window and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's aim his squad would be stronger coming into February than it was at the start of 2020?

It probably is and as a collective the players he now has available might be easier to coach and improve, although the initial evidence in the goalless draw at home to Wolves was of a group in need of a break.

Promising debut

What will have heartened supporters is the performance of new signing Bruno Fernandes and his desire for the ball.


It's true that not everything the midfielder tried came off against Wolves and the pace of the Premier League is somewhat quicker than what he has been accustomed to in Portugal, but his positivity and passion were eye-catching and the next fortnight will be crucial to his integration.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United's draw with Wolves in the Premier League

Early signs, though, are good and the immediate impression he made in his first training session with his new team-mates was a strong one.

Bruno Fernandes and Raul Jimenez in Premier League action at Old Trafford
Image: Bruno Fernandes made a promising start to his Man Utd debut against Wolves

Fernandes on his own is not the answer but Solskjaer believes he's secured another important piece in the jigsaw that is the rebuilding of United.

It's a shame it took so long to push the deal through but the fact he has arrived and the scale of the fee demonstrates the backing Ole has from those above him.

As does the arrival of Odion Ighalo.

Ighalo the United fan

Once again Ighalo is not the solution to United's current travails, more of a sticking plaster, but Solskjaer wanted another forward to complement Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood in the absence of Marcus Rashford.

It's still unclear how long Rashford will be sidelined and while Martial has hit 12 goals this season, if he is not finding the back of the net then it is a lot to ask of 18-year-old Greenwood to be the main man.

Odion Ighalo, Manchester United
Image: Odion Ighalo arrived in England on Sunday after joining Manchester United on loan

What United wanted in the final hours of the window was a short-term solution.

Bournemouth were not willing to sanction a loan for Joshua King and, although Ighalo's name had been given short shrift earlier in January, suddenly the Nigerian striker was the best available option and the deal was done.

He's been in pre-season training with Shanghai Shenua so the next fortnight might be harder work for the 30-year-old than it is for many of his new colleagues, but the plan will be to make sure he's in the right shape to be a viable option at Chelsea.

Ighalo is a United fan and will be desperate to seize the opportunity he's been given.

Forty goals in 100 appearances for Watford is a clear indication he can score goals in the Premier League, but with the caveat he has not played at that level for the last three years since leaving for China.

United were not the only club in England's top flight that were scouring the globe for a striker but they, unlike others, did manage to get someone through the door.

Future plans

Questions are now, quite naturally, being asked about what summer transfer business United will embark upon, although the notion irked Solskjaer on Friday, perhaps because at that stage he was unsure he would get the January striking option he wanted and needs.

There's still a sense of frustration that moves to bring in Erling Haaland were thwarted, his impact at Borussia Dortmund has compounded the situation but United will look to bring in a striker of a similar stature to offer a different option to the likes of Rashford, Martial and Greenwood.

Image: Erling Haaland has scored seven goals in just 136 minutes for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga this season

If Fernandes is a piece of the eventual jigsaw then the most tricky transfer puzzle is in midfield, Paul Pogba's future as ever is unclear, and there's a feeling the squad still needs more quality in this area.

Even if Pogba stays, United are likely to bring in one new midfielder. Should he depart then they could be looking for two players in the middle of the park.

Paul Pogba is being linked with a summer move to either Real Madrid or Juventus
Image: Paul Pogba is being linked with a summer move to either Real Madrid or Juventus

Another established centre-back looks to be on the list too. Harry Maguire has made a solid start to his United career and scored a hugely important goal at Tranmere but there's a belief that he would be able to show more of his class and authority alongside a more accomplished defensive partner.

Solskjaer may also look for greater cover of his full-back positions, perhaps someone who can play on the left or the right, but the emergence of Brandon Williams, who can do just that, has been a major boost this season.

Expect United to continue their pursuit of Birmingham's 16-year-old Jude Bellingham in the summer, the club tried to lure the teenager to Old Trafford in January but always felt a move in the winter window would be difficult to complete.

Image: Manchester United are expected to be back in for Jude Bellingham this summer

Both Bellingham and United might be better served by his continued exposure to first-team football at St Andrew's but after months of scouting and also dialogue with Birmingham City the player's name will be on Solskjaer's shopping list for the next window.

The problem for United is Bellingham's name will also be on the list of many of their rivals both at home and abroad.

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