Manchester United reporter notebook: Are Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side being left behind?

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Image: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would like to be starting the season with more new signings

The transfer window is in full swing, but are Manchester United being left behind as rivals splash the cash? Sky Sports News reporter James Cooper takes a closer look.

Sifting through social media you would be forgiven for thinking United had a shocking end to last season instead of securing a third place Premier League finish, while getting to two domestic cup semi-finals, such is the thirst among fans to see more fresh faces arrive to bolster the squad for the new campaign.

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Perhaps transfer window anxiety is understandable as rivals strengthen their squads and it will not be eased by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer using words like "if" and "hopefully" about further business in the coming weeks.

The Sancho saga

Jadon Sancho
Image: There is no end in sight in the Jadon Sancho saga

It is evident from what he does and does not say that Solskjaer would like to be starting the season with more new signings and is putting on a bit of a brave face right now.

We know Jadon Sancho is the club's number one target and it is understood the player would like to come to Old Trafford, but the gap between valuations has been described to me as "massive" and rather than optimism about pulling off such a major signing, there are a lot of furrowed brows at Old Trafford.

Who will play in midfield?

Solskjaer believes Van de Beek is an excellent addition to Manchester United's squad.
Image: Solskjaer believes Van de Beek is an excellent addition to Manchester United's squad.

Donny van de Beek has come in, but the Dutchman's arrival has been overshadowed by ongoing transfer window frustrations. United have signed a young player already proven on the highest stage, who can chip in with the sort of goals that might help close the gap on the teams above them.

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Van de Beek will also take the pressure off Bruno Fernandes. The suggestion is that Van De Beek, Fernandes and Paul Pogba will be rotated, although the Dutchman also has the discipline to sit in front of the defence alongside someone like Nemanja Matic, Fred or Scott McTominay.

Gareth Bale
Image: Have United missed out on Gareth Bale or dodged a bullet?

It is true the transfer hysteria has only been heightened by Jose Mourinho bringing in Gareth Bale and Sergio Reguilon, but both players are probably more needed at Tottenham than they are at Manchester United and will certainly be guaranteed more game time in North London.

The notion of Gareth Bale wearing a United shirt evokes transfer windows of the past, but after the Alexis Sanchez debacle this opportunity was quickly dismissed and while Reguilon might have been a quality addition, Luke Shaw enjoyed a strong end to last season and Brandon Williams has the potential to continue his upwards trajectory.

One more needed at the back?

 Eric Bailly of Manchester United is seen to by medical staff after a collision during the FA Cup Semi Final match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on July 19, 2020 in London, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors.
Image: Eric Bailly has been plagued by injuries during his time at United

One position that may not be strengthened before the October 5 deadline is centre-back, something that is of a concern to most United fans I speak to who have seen plenty of players linked with a move but nothing concrete emerging.

A "defender" is on the recruitment list for this window, but it may not be a player who can put the right sort of pressure on starting pair Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 0:51
Solskjaer says he's happy with Manchester United's transfer business so far but has to now 'play the waiting game' over bringing in other players.

Solskjaer speaks with increased confidence about the form of Eric Bailly, but he will have to shrug off his injury problems, a factor that's also paused the progress of Axel Tuanzebe who is another leading candidate.

Chris Smalling would be a viable alternative, but his heart seems set on returning to Roma and playing every week rather than sitting on the bench at United.

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Right now, though, there is a big gap between what his employers want for him and what his Italian suitors are prepared to pay. Interestingly, when it comes to centre-backs, 18-year-old Academy player Teden Mengi has been moved into the first team squad, with hopes high he is the next home-grown talent to come off the Carrington production line.

The number one dilemma

Dean Henderson, Manchester United contract signing
Image: Dean Henderson has signed a new contract, but can he depose David de Gea?

A key area for debate this summer has been about who will be in goal for the start of the new season.

United have tied Dean Henderson down to a long-term deal as he aims to become the first-choice goalkeeper for club and country. It is something Solskjaer predicted would happen but, as with England, Henderson might have to be patient for his chance at Old Trafford.

Despite some high-profile blips last season, David de Gea has won the club's player-of-the-year-award on several occasions, has played more than 400 games for the club, is still only 29 and is the club's highest-paid player.

Adding all those factors together, it would be a brave manager to look beyond De Gea initially, but he will be aware he will have to rediscover his best form or Henderson might get his opportunity sooner than even he would have imagined.

Summer transfer window - key dates and times

The summer transfer window closes at 11pm on Monday October 5 with a feast of activity lined up on Transfer Deadline Day on Sky Sports News and across our Sky Sports platforms.

A domestic-only window for deals between the Premier League and EFL then runs from October 5 and closes on Friday October 16 at 5pm. Follow all the news and analysis on SSN and across Sky Sports' digital platforms, including with our dedicated Transfer Centre blog.

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