- Manchester United's lack of squad depth is a major concern, with injuries already putting strain on the team.
- The midfield is particularly vulnerable, relying heavily on Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes.
- The underwhelming summer transfer window has left United relying on older players and hoping for quick returns from injured stars.
It is always risky, and unadvisable, to make any predictions at this point in the season – you often end up red-faced come May. Nevertheless, with three games played, Manchester United will need some real overhaul to be in contention for a top spot.
The Red Devils have had an unsteady start to the Premier League. The 1-0 victory over Wolves was less than convincing, and they were quickly uncovered by a rejuvenated Tottenham Hotspur side the following weekend, losing 2-0.
The precarious start to the season then turned woeful as Nottingham Forest put two past the Red Devils in the first five minutes of the game at Old Trafford. Despite coming back to win 3-2, the result left United with more questions hanging over their heads than answers.
Erik ten Hag, United’s manager, said after the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham that his players “didn’t run” and were “distracted.” He went on to say that he spoke with the players after the first weekend’s unconvincing victory over Wolves. “I gave them the feedback that this is not acceptable,” he said.
But Ten Hag can speak to the players at great length if he wants, but the real problem is there is just simply not enough of them. United’s lack of depth is glaringly obvious, and the issue has already been thrust into the spotlight with injuries to Luke Shaw and back up Tyrell Malacia, who could both be out until November.
Manchester United's squad depth for the 23/24 season
That leaves Ten Hag with third choice Sergio Reguilon, who they scraped to sign on loan on Deadline Day from Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur. This is after they couldn't strike a deal with Chelsea for Marc Cucurella.
Shaw and Malacia are adding their names to a growing list of injury pains for United with Mason Mount and Raphael Varane already sidelined, with Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay having missed matches after falling out of favour at the club and seemingly refusing to leave despite not being wanted.
The left and centre-back positions are wide open and should be of serious concern for Ten Hag. United have some more options on the right side of the central position, like newly signed Jonny Evans, who may have to step in for Varane if Maguire cannot, but Evans himself missed 10 games last season with a calf injury. On the left side, Lisandro Martinez and Victor Lindelof are the only names fighting for the centre-back position.
The squad’s lack of depth is concerning on a number of levels. The most obvious concern is when it comes to injuries and the lack of suitable replacements. The lack of rotation puts more physical pressure onto the players, and likely takes a mental toll without any options to replace them, the side can become disjointed. Then you have to take into consideration the hectic schedule wants the Champions League returns later this month.
This was already exposed last season as United desperately needed options to cover Casemiro, who picked up a cumulative seven-game ban last season. Flying tackles, like those of Casemiro, could put Ten Hag’s side in big trouble very quickly this season. Picking up any multi-game suspensions will only further expose the lack of options at the Dutchman’s disposal.
And when you remove the Brazilian from the starting line up, the rest of the midfield collapses in on itself. Although Christian Eriksen continues to be a reliable cog in United’s machine, his fitness will always be a question mark and how far he can be reasonably pushed. His flair and technical abilities have been able to get United out of sticky situations, though, including last week’s 3-2 victory over Nottingham Forest which Eriksen spearheaded after securing the first of his side’s three goals.
Bruno Fernandes continues to impress and his winning goal last weekend once again proves the value he holds in the squad, but he and Eriksen are not enough to hold up the middle of the park. Signing Sofyan Amrabat was a step in the right direction, but the fact the deal took nearly until the end of the transfer window to be completed should ring alarm bells at Old Trafford.
Manchester United summer signings
Mason Mount (Chelsea)
Andre Onana (Inter Milan)
Jonny Evans (Leicester City)
Rasmus Hojlund (Atalanta)
Sergio Reguilon (Tottenham)
Altay Bayindir (Fenerbache)
He was ranked fifth at the World Cup for combined tackles and interceptions. United is in desperate need of someone besides Casemiro who can cut through sides and adopt a hard-nosed approach. Amrabat can supplement the Brazilian in this way, but avoid the suspensions that Casemiro has become all too familiar with.
The Moroccan has an impressive work rate, and he excelled at the 2022 Qatar World Cup, covering the most distance by any player. He is also an effective defensive player, for which the Red Devils may now be thanking their lucky stars for. But United need him as a creative player to service Rasmus Holjund, Antony, and Marcus Rashford. Covering distance over three weeks at a World Cup is very different to doing that for 38 games in the Premier League, without even considering European nights against Bayern Munich on the horizon.
On top of that, when you look at United’s squad, there simply is not enough competition for positions up front either. Hojlund will be back sooner than the rest of the other injured players, but he will need to be slowly introduced so Ten Hag will likely have to monitor his play and perhaps substitute him for Martial at some point in the first few games back.
Manchester United has had an underwhelming summer transfer window, and they are already seeing the repercussions of that just three games into the season. Erik ten Hag is going to have hold out for the January window, but as it stands, a lot of United’s chances are relying on the fitness of older players with a lingering hope that some of their star players can return to the action sooner rather than later.