Manchester United has a big summer of player movement on the horizon, and it will have to make significant decisions regarding some of its biggest names while trying to restore its place among England and Europe's elite.
As Manchester United suffers a run of form worse than anything it has endured in almost six decades, it’s increasingly apparent that there needs to be another major overhaul of personnel in the summer, ideally in line with a coherent plan–something the club has lacked since Alex Ferguson and David Gill departed in 2013.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said that making “half a dozen” changes would be counterproductive, but when United is taking its decisions on the squad this summer–which could be made more difficult if there's no Champions League matches next season to promise its targets–who should stay, who should go, and who should the club be thinking very carefully about?
Take a look through the entire first-team squad:
DAVID DE GEA – IN THE BALANCE (contract to 2020)
De Gea has probably been United’s best player since Ferguson left. He still has games, such as at Tottenham this season, in which he presents himself as a one-man wall. But the iffy form that has afflicted him with Spain has begun to creep into his United game. Repeatedly, he seems to be caught flat-footed by long-range shots. There’s also a developing theory that he’s a slightly old-fashioned goalkeeper in that he tends to remain deep rather than operating as a sweeper-keeper, his discomfort in the role perhaps explaining why he always seems so jittery for Spain. There seems to be little chance of De Gea signing a new contract if United misses out on the top four this season, which means that if a decent offer is on the table this summer (although there are no obvious suitors now that Real Madrid has Thibaut Courtois), the club should probably take it.
SERGIO ROMERO – KEEP (contract to 2021, with option of extra year)
Romero is a solid backup, seemingly content with his role on the bench. Replacing him is absolutely not a priority.
LEE GRANT – KEEP (contract to 2020)
Third goalkeeper is far from a pressing issue for the club, and the 36-year-old Grant is under contract for another season, though his continued presence could further delay any potential inroads for 22-year-old Joel Pereira. Grant's only minutes this season (20) came as a red-card replacement for Romero in the League Cup.
ERIC BAILLY – IN THE BALANCE (contract to 2020, with option of extra two years)
Bailly had a promising first season at United but has been less impressive since. Real Madrid is reported to be interested, and the player may favor a return to Spain–in which the major question is how tempting the fee on offer would be.
MATTEO DARMIAN – RELEASE (contract expires this summer)
United has reportedly offered Darmian a four-year extension to his contract, remarkable for somebody who’s only started 10 league games in the past two seasons. His heart, though, seems to be set on a return to Italy.
DIOGO DALOT – KEEP (contract to 2023, with option of extra year)
Perhaps Dalot is good enough, perhaps he isn’t, but he is only 20 and worth persevering with to find out.
PHIL JONES – KEEP (contract to 2023, with option of extra year)
Jones has struggled at times this season, but he recently signed a new deal, and it may be that if he ever manages an extended run without injury, then he will deliver on at least some of the promise of his youth. It’s doubtful any potential buyer would pay enough to make selling him worthwhile.
VICTOR LINDELOF – IN THE BALANCE (contract to 2021, with option of extra year)
Lindelof has shown enough signs of promise this season to make it worth offering him a contract extension. If he doesn’t sign it, though, United should be looking to sell. The Swede hasn’t done enough to make it worth risking losing him on the cheap.
MARCOS ROJO – SELL (contract to 2021, with option of extra year)
Rojo signed a new deal last summer, but after an injury-ravaged season in which he has started only two league matches, he seems certain to leave with United reportedly preparing a contingency fund to pay off his contract.
LUKE SHAW – KEEP (contract to 2023, with option of extra year)
Shaw has been one of United’s more consistent performers this season and appears to have made a full recovery from his horrific leg-break.
CHRIS SMALLING – IN THE BALANCE (contract to 2022, with option of extra year)
Smalling signed a contract extension earlier this season and so he will almost certainly stay. Whether his performances justify that, though, is a different matter.
ANTONIO VALENCIA – RELEASE (contract to 2019)
Fullback is perhaps the cruellest position in the way age can suddenly overtake a player. One week he is coping, the next his legs have gone and he finds it impossible to keep up with his winger. Valencia hasn’t played in the league since January 2, in part because of a calf injury, and it’s hard to see him playing for United again.
ASHLEY YOUNG – IN THE BALANCE (contract to 2020)
The shift to fullback prolonged Young’s United career, but he has struggled in recent weeks. Had United not extended his contract in February, he might have been on his way now. As it is, there seems little point in offloading a solid club man, but next season will almost certainly be his last at Old Trafford.
FRED – IN THE BALANCE (contract to 2023 with option of extra year)
Poor Fred. That the Brazilian is a much better player than he has shown this season was clear in his time at Shakhtar. There’s a reason Manchester City wanted to sign him. His first season in England has been dismal, but sympathy and patience are perhaps due to a player parachuted into such a mess.
ANDER HERRERA – RELEASE (contract to 2019)
Herrera will leave on a free transfer (almost certainly) for Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season. It’s not catastrophic for United, but it does seem indicative of the lack of care afforded to squad-building that the contract of a useful and versatile 29-year-old was allowed to run down, especially when he never seemed to have a great burning urge to leave.
JESSE LINGARD – KEEP (contract to 2021)
Lingard is another who will be expected to extend his contract in the near future. Although injuries have restricted his involvement and he always seems younger than he actually is (he is 26), his form over the past couple of seasons means he should be one of the mainstays of United’s immediate future.
JUAN MATA – RELEASE (contract to 2019)
Mata always seemed an odd fit at United, and all the more so after Jose Mourinho’s arrival. At 30 years old and out of contract this summer, his time is surely up, with MLS a potential destination.
NEMANJA MATIC – IN THE BALANCE (contract to 2020, with option of extra year)
Matic was one of those most to blame for the debacle at Everton. He has never, at United, recaptured the sort of form that made him such a key presence in Chelsea’s title success under Jose Mourinho in 2015. At 30 and with only a year left on his contract, it barely seems worth selling him unless an improbable high offer comes in.
SCOTT MCTOMINAY – KEEP (contract to 2023 with option of extra year)
McTominay has begun to emerge in his own right this season having started his career being the kid Mourinho played to make the point that he wasn’t picking Paul Pogba. There’s plenty of promise there, although it does perhaps make clear how bad things have become at Old Trafford that United’s great young hope might be the new Darren Fletcher.
ANDREAS PEREIRA – SELL (contract to 2020)
He’s 23, and there’s little sign that Pereira can develop into a first-team regular. There’s no point offering him a new deal, so he may as well be sold this summer for whatever fee can be raised.
PAUL POGBA – SELL (contract to 2021, with option of extra year)
Pogba has never seemed entirely settled in his second spell at United and has never played consistently well for the club. If big money is available–and Real Madrid seems interested–then United should sell and reinvest the funds.
ROMELU LUKAKU – IN THE BALANCE (contract to 2022 with option of extra year)
Lukaku is a bewilderingly inconsistent player, not even inconsistent in the same way. His capacity to play across the front three, his physical presence and the fact he is the most proven goalscorer at the club probably make him worth keeping, but should a huge offer come, United would be unlikely to reject it.
ANTHONY MARTIAL – IN THE BALANCE (contract to 2024 with option of extra year)
Martial is enormously talented, but he is not consistent and at times seems to lack hunger. Mourinho would have sold him last summer had the board not vetoed it. Given the need to raise cash for investment, it may be that a large offer would be accepted this summer.
MARCUS RASHFORD – KEEP (contract to 2020 with option of extra year)
Ask United fans which player they would be most upset to lose, and the answer would be almost universal: Rashford. At 21, he is already a remarkably well-rounded forward, although he must dream of better service. He should be the central strut of future planning.
ALEXIS SANCHEZ – SELL (contract to 2022 with option of extra year)
Sanchez may end up being the most costly transfer in United’s history, not just for the money expended on him but for the way he has disrupted the wage structure at the club. His form has fallen off a cliff in Manchester, though, and it’s hard to imagine who might sign him.
PLAYERS OUT ON LOAN
TIMOTHY FOSU-MENSAH – IN THE BALANCE (contract to 2020 with option of extra year)
A difficult season at Fulham culminated in a knee injury, but the versatile defender had shown promise at Crystal Palace the previous season. The likelihood is that once recovered from surgery he’ll be loaned out again, after which a decision can be made.
CAMERON BORTHWICK-JACKSON – SELL (contract to 2020 with option of extra year)
The defender has done little at Scunthorpe to suggest he can make the breakthrough at Old Trafford.
AXEL TUANZEBE – KEEP (contract to 2020 with option of extra year)
Another young defender, he has struggled with injuries but has generally done well at Aston Villa.